For many years now, Palinurus has been much on my mind. Palinurus at the helm--in fear and dread--dread of the water; dread of the waves, dread of the thick mists, and dread of that god damn boat that was all that kept Aeneus and his men from the cold waters below.
Is it not one of the great Western literary images par excellance? A boat drifting in stormy seas... Like Romeo bitterly complaining that he is "no pilot"--and so, alas, remains unable to steer his boat away from the tragedy of being utterly dashed up against the rocks.
Palinurus' boat is no Polynesian outrigger gliding gracefully, effortlessly on the water's surface-- headed south toward Tahiti-- no, theirs is a tiny boat full of gaping holes being tossed about atop cold, deathly waters.
Sometimes at night when I close my eyes, I almost feel the rise and fall of the swell.
And we all know what it is like to feel as vulnerable as Palinurus.
Others would gratefully succomb to the temptation of sleep. Release, as he called it. But not Palinurus-- for his promise was too great. And so he grasps the tiller--griped in fear and bathed in the mists of sleep.
You see, this is why I hate boats.
Sailing toward Athens across stormy Adriatic waters-- all I could think of was the limbless bronzes, sunk down at the bottom looking up at us. Laughing at our temerity. Yes, I pity Palinurus-- I pity his promise, I pity his occupation, I pity his fate. And, I loath the feckless waves.
Today, though, Ting-Jen had posted the poem and photograph by Dong Hong-Oai above on facebook.I wanted to try a translation of my own and in doing so I felt the image of the drifting boat on stormy waters to be turned on its head... drifting... for isn't Liu Zongyuan continuing in the tradition of Tao Yuanming's 採菊東籬下-- Plucking chrysanthemums by the eastern fence? The old man alone fishing in the snow is no depressing poetic cry lamenting his fate like in Romeo and Juliet. Quite the opposite for the image illuminates what is the serenity achieved by a lifetime of cultivation at the end of the hero's journey.
All alone in a boat, in the snow--with nothing but a straw raincoat and a conical hat.
Of being easily contented 易安.
I'm not afraid of storms; for I'm learning to sail my ship. -Aeschylus;
At the Borobudur, there is one stone relief depicting the buddhist story of the seafarers. I don't know too much about it--just that sometimes a boat (goard/egg/boat of salvation) is likened to that which carries a person to enlightenment. Googling "boats and buddhism" and "boats and daoism," I discover what is a really very different view of this literary image and metaphor. I would love to learn more--for now my favorite that I came up with is this below:
Life is like stepping onto a boat that is about to sail out to sea and sink. Shunryu Suzuki