Saturday, September 20, 2008

Shide (monk)

Shide was a minor Tang Dynasty poet in Guoqing Temple, in the Tiantai Mountain range on the East China Sea coast; roughly contemporary with and Fenggan, but younger than either. He was close friends with both and together they formed the "Tiantai Trio". Shide lived as a lay monk, and worked most of his life in the kitchen of Guoqing Temple.

An apocryphal story relates how Shide received his name: Once, Fenggan was travelling between Guoqing Temple and the village of Tiantai, when at the redstone rock ridge called 'Red Wall' he heard some crying. He investigated, and found a ten-year old boy who had been abandoned by his parents; and picked him up and took him back to the temple, where the monks would raise him.


Shide wrote an unknown number of poems, but 49 have survived. They are short; and rarely exceed 10 lines. They are typically on a Buddhist subject, and executed in a style reminiscent of Hanshan's. Indeed, Shide's Poems 44 and 45 have often been considered to really have been written by Hanshan; not impossible as the two were especially good friends- see Poem 33:

''We slip into Tientai caves,''

''We visit people unseen-''

''Eat magic mushrooms under the pines.''

''We talk about the past and present''

''And sigh at the world gone mad.''

''Everyone going to Hell''

''And going for a long time.''

The case for Poems 44 and 45 being misattributed is further strengthened by the fact that Poem 45 is otherwise the only poem in Shide's canon which contains motifs- which are common in Hanshan's poetry. See Poem 45:

''Up high the trail turns steep,''

''The towering pass stands sheer;''

''Stone Bridge is slick with moss.''

''Clouds keep flying past,''

''A cascade hangs like silk,''

''The Moon shines in the pool below.''

''I'm climbing Lotus Peak again,''

''To wait for that lone crane once more.''

Common subjects include back-sliding monks and the foolishness of worldly people in both short-sightedness and their sins; like in Poems 43, 38 and 30, respectively:

''By and large the monks I meet''

''Love their wine and meat.''

''Instead of climbing straight to Heaven''

''They slip back down to Hell.''

''They chant a sutra or two''

''To fool the laymen in town,''

''Unaware the laymen in town''

''Are more perceptive than them.''

''People crowd in the dust,''

''Enjoying the pleasures of the dust.''

''I see them in the dust''

''And pity fills my heart.''

''Why do I pity their lot?''

''I think of their pain in the dust.''

''Take these mortal incarnations''

''These comical-looking forms''

''With faces like the silver moon''

''And hearts as black as pitch.''

''Cooking pigs and butchering sheep,''

''Bragging about the flavor,''

''Dying and going to Frozen-Tongue Hell''

''Before they stop telling lies.''

Other subjects included him and his friends. See Poems 27 and 39, respectively:

''Partial to pine cliffs and lonely trails,''

''An old man laughs at himself when he falters.''

''Even now after all these years,''

''Trusting the current 'like an unmoored boat'.''

''A young man studied letters and arms''

''And rode off to the Capital,''

''Where he learned the Hsiung-nu had been vanquished;''

''And all he could do was wait.''

''So to kingfisher cliffs he retired,''

''And sits in the grass by a stream''

''While valiant men chase red cords''

''And monkeys ride clay oxen.''

And sometimes he simply wrote about the Tiantai mountain range where he lived. See his final poem, Poem 49:

''Woods and springs make me smile;''

''No kitchen smoke for miles.''

''Clouds rise up from rocky ridges,''

''Cascades tumble down.''

''A gibbon's cry marks the way,''

''A tiger's roar marks the way.''

''Pine wind sighs so softly,''

''Birds discuss sing-song.''

''I walk the winding streams,''

''And climb the peaks alone.''

''Sometimes I sit on a boulder,''

''Or lie and gaze at trailing vines.''

''But when I see a distant village,''

''All I hear is noise.''

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