Poetry, Religion, Spirituality
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“Following Hanshan” by Fenyang Shanzhao

Tao master Hanshan, purported creator of Chinese "Cold Mountain" poetry

Montreal-based writer and translator Chris Byrne offers these new, original translations of nine “Imitations of Hanshan” poems by Fenyang Shanzhao, a Zen master who played a central role in developing “literary Zen” during the Song Renaissance (960-1279 AD) in China, widely considered a golden age of art and culture in Chinese history. Pictured above: Hanshan (left), Fenggan (middle), and Shide (right), Triptych on hanging silk scrolls, Ueno Jakugen, 18th century, Japan.

Gary Snyder’s lively translations of Hanshan (Cold Mountain), along with their fictional account in Jack Kerouac’s Dharma Bums, have since inspired numerous poets and translators to mimic Hanshan’s raw poetic style. Most are unaware, however, of their participation in a millennium-old tradition of composing Cold Mountain verses.

Chinese Zen master Fenyang Shanzhao (942-1024), or “Master No-Virtue,” was one of the first to appreciate Hanshan’s literary wit and eccentric wisdom. He follows Hanshan in identifying self with place—yet makes it his own. His verses locate the solitude and remoteness of Hanshan’s dwelling in the Tiantai mountain range to the South within his own mental and physical home ground, invoking the metaphor of the path that leads nowhere but here.


The path to my home is not far away—
      a golden bridge right here in a golden realm.
along the fragrant ridge, a grove of fluttering flowers,
      the misty fog melted upon the sun.
clear and cool, one thousand valleys are still
in the vermilion court—ten thousand worthy nobles
       I laugh Cold Mountain’s laugh,
       as the Zen master labors right under foot.

my entire body is Cold Mountain—
              only able to nurture sleep.
clinging apes in the lofty mountains above,
              a tiger set loose along the edge of the stony creek,
flowers dispersed by the fragrant breeze,
              crisp pines poking out of the fine mist.
The path through the thinning bamboo wears me down—
              this must be the land of immortals!

        the vermilion sun rises in the East,
        rosy clouds unfolding into a single expanse of light.
bright and clear, the differentiations of the ten thousand things,
pure and clean, the bubbling current along the ridge.
       butterflies dance amidst a grove of fluttering flowers,
       orioles cry within the lush, misty willows.
Who can know these feelings
        that make me think of you in the South?

Rain falls, moistening the fields,
     the wind rattles, chilling the pines.
People these days all head to the marketplace,
     while this old mountain man sleeps in his hut.
Like drunks, they don’t understand,
     like fools, they just straighten their hair.
When this white-faced macaque howls,
     a frightened pair of apes comes out.

Master No-Virtue lives on the West River,
          a lot of wild inspirations in his mind.
Across the vast emptiness of this wide world,
         rippling rivers braided between its oceans and peaks.
I sit alone, thinking of the one who knows me,
at the sound of the bell, my fine-feathered friends gather around.
         When I want to speak words that never end,
          I clasp my hands and laugh—ha! ha!

The trail marked with fortune and bliss
              is long from the start—
clouds emerge from the edge of the empty sky,
              rain squalls, filling pools and ponds.
In spring, birds murmuring and mumbling,
In autumn, geese scurrying to and fro.
          Who else could know these thoughts?
          I alone must cultivate Fenyang.

A land seeded, naturally grows high,
            you must know this one bit of truth.
Even if you study the ultimate from now to eternity,
            dust will remain in the illuminated darkness.
At the frontier, the wind and frost come fast,
            within the vast sky, the rain and dew return.
Though far away within the Tiantai range,
            you are still right next door.

In quiet solitude, I dwell within emptiness,
              where few others ever arrive.
through the window—the bright moon is still
across the doorway—the sunlight fans out
           cranes gathered in the trees of the front yard
           orioles singing from the top of my roof
Who else could attain this mind?
              I look up and gaze towards Tiantai!

Throughout the ages, when has it ever been forgotten?
            all year long—it is just within.
lush blossoms fragrant along the riverbank,
the soughing pines echoing within the creek.
      as the clouds disperse: the stillness of the three islands
      as the rain clears: the range of the five peaks
Since ages past, it’s never been hidden—
         look up at the golden realm within the blue heavens!

Chris Byrne is a translator and scholar of Chinese poetry as written by Zen monastics and Buddhist laywomen. His interdisciplinary research and translations have appeared in Philosophy East and West, International Journal of Buddhist Thought and Culture, and the Journal of Religion and Culture. His current projects include translating an early Zen kōan collection and completing a monograph, entitled Poetics of Silence: The Poetry of Zen Master Hongzhi Zhengjue.


  1. Zengetsu Myokyo says:

    Thank you, Chris, for this work that you involve yourself with, and to The Secular Heretic for supporting such work!

  2. Thank you, Chris. These gems of intimate beauty provide the reader an intuitive understanding of the teachings of Zen Master Fenyang Shanzhao. Nice work!

  3. Kate says:

    This is so great. Thanks for your contribution!

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