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September 27, 2011


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轉蓬 is tumbleweed (Salsola pestifera, an Asian plant which came to the American West during the 19th century.

Others say that it's Salsola tragus from the Ukraine.

Hi John, I can't find it but I am sure that I saw a translation for that line, "a tumbleweed blowing in the wind" which works... but obviously I prefer to just leave it "blowing in the wind" because that other translation as far as I can see is not standard...... Maybe someone else will have more to say... I did ask Professor Wang about the Cranes of Yangzhou again (because the Japanese meaning of 有揚州鶴 means something different from simply "go to heaven" but rather means やりたいことを、一気に全部やろうとすること。 So, the good professor explained it like this:


Legend has it that a few guys got together and started talking about what their greatest wish would be. One of them said he would like to be the governor of Yangzhou; one said that he would like to become a millionaire; another said that he would like to ride up to heaven on the back of a crane and become an immortal; the last one said he would like to ride to Yangzhou on the back of a crane with a million dollars in his wallet. He wanted to have the best of the other three people's wishes all in one wish. Thereafter, people used the phrase "ride a crane to Yangzhou" to stand for "utterly perfect, totally ideal situations," and also for "extravagant, unrealistic hopes."

This puts it closer in meaning to the Japanese concept of "going for it all" but another friend says this:

The last line refers to a story about someone who wants to ride a crane to Yangzhou with lots of money -- foolishly hoping for something that cannot ever be attained. So the key is to focus on the important things.

I have been meaning to translate the Caos and their cronies for some time. Chinese shi poetry first became respectable at the highly irregular Cao court.

Total cronies! Why don't you start with the one above? I would love to see how you handle the last line... the above is my last shot at it. But it needs work. There are some Buddhified comments about it in the comments thread of the original post a Poem to Cross a Desert with. I think really the poem is not Buddhist but very much about this world--family, hometown, the capital, politics and keeping one's heart in the right place (maybe?) I also think the poem by Tao Yuangming and Su Shi above echo the sentiments beautiful... Aren't I a geek? ;-)

The Caos were a little bit Taoist and not at all Buddhist, but the reality is that they were an upstart warlord dynasty in a rather precarious situation. Their role in the rise of the shi is a real problem bacause Cao Cao the founder is hated by all good Chinese Confucians, novel-readers, and operagoers. Cao Cao affected Daoism but I think that we can assume that he bent it to his own needs and whims. To my knowledge he is the most successful megalomaniac ever to write a megalomaniac poem. Most megalomaniac poets are losers or second string players, but Cao Cao was big time. One battle won and one usurpation warded off and he would have been the founder of one of the great dynasties.

Here is the other one:

昔日齷齪不足誇, 今朝放蕩思無涯。
春風得意馬蹄疾, 一日看盡長安花。


齷齪 means what in this poem? In 1983 I learned it as an idiom meaning something like "scumbag", "creep", or "lowlife" (I think).

The site I linked to above (under poem) glossed it as 苦労 and that is a real Japanese way of putting it. Poet is talking about all the insufferable crap or hardship he had to put up with to pass the examinations!! That poem is where I got the sub-title of my blog, of course!! In Japanese, 花 could only mean sakura but here the flowers of Chang'an could only be peonies... ;)
(Was at the pool--sorry to be late responding. Are you East or West?)

I was craning my neck over a slim volume. . . . I had failed to sell it again and again. It was unshelved having no place in my room, returned again from another used book store unwanted. A thought flashed through my mind, "what if I am really meant to have this book, perhaps it wants to be here with me," Sort of like my dad used to say, "A women walks here own way through life until a man steps in her way she doesn't want to walk around," and if this book were a women the saying would certainly have been true. But again, I paid no attention to my thought or the book. But it kept getting in my way, because I had no where to put the unwanted thing. tonight: I randomly opened the neglected thing, a assuredly turgid study of Shinran's thought and the light in my eyes travelled down to this quote:

"When one believes in the Original Vow of the Tathagata for one moment, he is assuredly "caused to receive" unsurpassed virtue without soliciting it. Unconsciously he receives profound blessing. It is the law which manifests therefore various insights (Satori) naturally (Jinen)"

from the "Shinran Kyogaku" quoted in Bloom's "Shinran's Gospel of Pure Grace"

Because fathoming the measureless immensity of love implicit in the exponentiated Bodhisattva Vow of Amida, itself triggers realization (satori) or is it that knowing he had fallen from his own Buddha Nature and expected only to realize it truly in Paradise, the Original Vow, whatever that may have been, was felt to touch him as if the vow had been taken for him, and moved by Amida's Grace, to ride his crane to paradise.


昔日齷齪不足誇, 今朝放蕩思無涯。
春風得意馬蹄疾, 一日看盡長安花。

齷齪 means "narrow minded" in classical writings.
放蕩 means "unconventional", but also dissolute.
春風 is also a metaphor for "sexual intercourse", and 得意 means "satisfied"
長安花, in a young man's poems, usually means "the courtesans in the capital"

When the Tang courtesan/poetess/Daoist nun 魚玄機 wrote her poem "Selling Wilted Peonies" (賣殘牡丹) in Chang'an, she was clearly using peonies as a metaphor for herself.

"Written After Passing the Civil Service Exam"
Mèng Jiāo

Years ago I was so narrow minded,
nothing to brag about,
but now I'm really living it up,
my mind unconstrained.
My horse's hooves are worn out
as I ride the crest of success,
seeing every blossom in Chang'an
in a single day.

Or, on the other hand, it could be that I'm just a horny old man?

Jan 8-)

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