Friday, January 29, 2010

Poetry Friday: Chuang Tzu And The Butterfly

A quick post today, as I am busy revising a manuscript.

Chuang Tzu And The Butterfly

Chuang Tzu in dream became a butterfly,
And the butterfly became Chuang Tzu at waking.
Which was the real — the butterfly or the man?
Who can tell the end of the endless changes of things?
The water that flows into the depth of the distant sea
Returns anon to the shallows of a transparent stream.
The man, raising melons outside the green gate of the city,
Was once the Prince of the East Hill.
So must rank and riches vanish.
You know it, still you toil and toil — what for?

— Li Po

"And still you toil and toil -- what for?"

I think that even if I were working on this manuscript only in a dream, I would toil and toil. Actually, it's not "toil": it is joyful effort striving toward clarity rather than rank and riches. Maybe that makes all the difference.

Li Po was a Chinese poet who lived from 701 to 762 CE, during the Tang dynasty. His many poems are heavily influenced by Taoism. He is considered one of the two greatest Chinese poets. (Yet another great poet to add to my reading list.)

The poem refers to a well-known passage from the work of Chuang Tzu (also written Zhuangzi), a fourth-century BCE Taoist philosopher whose work was important in the development of Chan Buddhism. (More for the reading list ...) The famous butterfly dream:

Once Zhuangzi dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn't know he was Zhuangzi. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuangzi. But he didn't know if he was Zhuangzi who had dreamt he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuangzi. Between Zhuangzi and a butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. (2, tr. Burton Watson 1968:49)

1 comment:

  1. Molte grazie per aver pubblicato questo testo! Lo cercavo da "a lot of time" (un sacco di tempo) e non riuscivo mai a trovarlo...
    Questa poesia mi dà una grande sensazione di pace e di serenità... che è difficile da mantenere, in tempi duri e spietati come questi.


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