Monday, May 25, 2009

shi: At Tiruvannamalai


At Tiruvannamalai   each day's distinct
while what remains the same   remains the same

the ancient mountain seems   but freshly inked
the one who's scrawled it plays   a gracious game

the formless hides   in every form and name
causation's chain   if infinitely linked

pure destiny   ignites the mystic flame
at Tiruvannamalai   each day's distinct


All things the eye beholds   are a play of paint
so skillfully shines the art   they appear quite real

whatever seemingly is   peradventure ain't
the Self behind   these objects well conceal

you're royally hoodwinked! how does it make you feel?
the mural upon mind's wall   so vast and quaint

loses   with vairāgya   its dark appeal
all things the eye beholds   are a play of paint


O let me stay in the Ashram   some days longer
it takes time to grow tomatoes   or glimpse God

the force that's elsewhere dim   seems here a bit stronger
one even observes the universe   grow odd

in a way that's hard to pin down   I've not trod
around the mountain yet   while here I linger

my brooding mind   reveals itself as broad
O let me stay in the Ashram   some days longer


[Written at Sri Ramanashramam (Ramana Ashram), -- poem 1: May 25 (after a day distinguished by a first walk up and over the mountain, Arunachala); poems 2 & 3: May 27.]

Initially, I discovered this particular form (which I've dubbed the "boomerang poem") in Chinese poems of recent dynasties (I'm doubtful the form existed as early as the Tang; perhaps it appeared in the Ming -- but this is sketchy speculation, my scholarship being inadequate). Only a few such poems have seen translation, far as I'm aware (I believe I recall one or two in the anthology Sunflower Splendor). In any event, I've enjoyed playing with this variant of shi-in-English now and again.

note to poem 2:
vairāgya (Skt. [from vai meaning "to dry, be dried" + rāga meaning "color, passion, feeling, emotion, interest"]): dispassion / detachment / renunciation

notes to poem 3:
line 2: this line paraphrases (or anyway recalls) a passage from Francis Brabazon's Stay with God (1958), vide: it takes time . . . tomatoes

lines 5-6: circumambulating the mountain (giri pradakshina) -- some 14 kilometers -- is a principal practice for pilgrims to Arunachala.

Poem 3 could (hypothetically) have been presented as a literal (rather than merely literary-rhetorical) plea, though it wasn't so employed in the instance. But (on asking for some additional time) Ashram authorities did kindly grant me one day more.

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