Han Shan in Dharma Bums – Kerouac

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Japhy: “Han Shan you see was a Chinese scholar who got sick of the big city and the world and took off to hide in the mountains.”

Ray: “Say, that sounds like you.”

Japhy: “In those days you could really do that. He stayed in caves not far from a Buddhist monastery in the T’ang Hsing district of T’ien Tai and his only human friend was the funny Zen Lunatic Shih-te who had a job sweeping out the monastery with a straw broom. Shih-te was a poet too but he never wrote much down. Every now and then Han Shan would come down from Cold Mountain in his bark clothing and come into the warm kitchen and wait for food, but none of the monks would ever feed him because he didn’t want to join the order and answer the meditation bell three times a day. You see why in some of his utterances, like—listen and I’ll look here and read from the Chinese,” and I bent over his shoulder and watched him read from big wild crowtracks of Chinese signs:

“Climbing up Cold Mountain path

Cold Mountain path goes on and on

long gorge choked with scree and boulders

wide creek and mist-blurred grass

moss is slippery though there’s been no rain

pine sings but there’s no wind

who can leap the world’s ties and sit with me among white clouds?”

Ray: “Wow.”

“Course that’s my own translation into English, you see there are five signs for each line and I have to put in Western prepositions and articles and such.”

Ray: “Why don’t you just translate it as it is, five signs, five words? What’s those first five signs?”

Japhy: “Sign for climbing, sign for up, sign for cold, sign for mountain, sign for path.”

Ray: “Well then, translate it ‘Climbing up Cold Mountain path.’ ”

Japhy: “Yeah, but what do you do with the sign for long, sign for gorge, sign for choke, sign for avalanche, sign for boulders?”

Ray: “Where’s that?”

Japhy: “That’s the third line, would have to read ‘Long gorge choke avalanche boulders.’ ”

Ray: “Well that’s even better!”

Japhy: “Well yeah, I thought of that, but I have to have this pass the approval of Chinese scholars here at the university and have it clear in English.”

Jack Kerouac, Dharma Bums, p. 21

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excerpt from Dharma Bums:

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