"Once I went to sit at Han Shan" [shi in translation]
Once I went to sit at Han Shan
lingering on for lo these thirty years
of late I came to call on friends and kin
the bulk had gone to the land of mist and tears
slow it fades! as does a guttering candle
long it flows! alike a meandering rill
in morning light beholding a lonely shadow
unwontedly the tears twainly spill
In still more rambling comment-box chitchat, partly following further this "to rhyme or not to rhyme" topic, I made some reference to the role of classical Chinese poetry (which I studied in the original, when I was in my 20s) in my meandering route toward writing formal English-lang. poetry. By way of attempting to give some flavor of this (a picture being worth a thousand words, and a poem worth 10,000), this evening I recast my own old translation of an 8-line poem from the Tang dynasty Buddhist recluse known as Han Shan ("Cold Mountain"). Han Shan was among the first Chinese poets I studied avidly.
The word rendered here as "guttering" (if memory serves, Snyder settled on that word; I've erstwhile favored "dying," but now I like his good choice in this) -- a word signifying extinction (the extenguishing candle, one may say), is the same ancienet Chinese word that, when Buddhism was introduced, was chosen to translate (from the Sanskrit scriptures) the word Nirvana. [In old Chinese grammar, the selfsame word may be noun, verb or adjective, depending solely on its position in the sentence. Thus, as noun, it can be Nirvana; as adjective it's guttering.]
"To sit at Han Shan" of course implies, to meditate as a recluse in the mountains. Cold Mountain was indeed remote and cold. Han Shan's early poems seem to reflect a life in the city, perhaps as a petty beaurocrat. Some implication of a reversal of fortunes and anyway, the impulse of a spiritual search appear to have prompted his withdrawal from the world.
The Chinese word "zuo" (sit) is the "za" of Zazen (sitting meditation) in the Japanese pronounciation.
For sake of something hinting at a more familiar idiom (and, okay, the rhyme), I've resorted to "the land of mist and tears." The original Chinese idiom is "the yellow springs." (Either way, the realm of the dead is invoked by euphemism. Yellow is the color of the earth element; "below the ground" would be the basic meaning. I feel sure there's an old story behind the phrase, but have not yet tracked it down.)
The grammatical parallelism of the 5th and 6th lines is superb in its spare elegance and balanced contrasts -- a trait exceedingly important and pervasive in Chinese poetics.
The pronoun (the self as subject) is implied (but not stated) vis-a-vis the shadow and the tears in the final two lines (that is, translators might more typically opt for "my shadow" and "my tears"). This is characteristic of classical Chinese poetry. In fact, the pronoun (the "I") is likewise not stated anywhere else in the poem! -- but for clarity in English, I've pulled it into the poem explicitly in the 1st and 3rd lines. Albeit not needing written presence in the Chinese grammar, it's unambiguously present (as the unstated subject) in the poem's initial sentences. An English poem, seeking to mimic this characteristic as style, might perhaps go for something like, "Went to the hills . . . sat for 30 years . . . lately returned to call on friends and kin."
"tears twainly spill": i.e., from the (poet's) pair of eyes
I had introduced the topic of Chinese poetry as a way of explaining my personal route toward writing formal English verse. The implicit hypothesis (or conceit): if metrical, rhyming English poetry had not existed, it would be necessary to invent it (the better to reflect the feel of quialities found in Chinese poetry).