Poetry: Li Po – Sitting Alone by Ching-t’ing Mountain

I love the simple beauty of Chinese poetry. While reading, you can get so caught up in the serene, scenic view that you can forget that there is a deeper truth resting within the words. Such is the case when I read “Sitting Alone by the Ching-t’ing Mountain.”

The flocks of birds have flown high and away,
A solitary cloud goes off calmly alone.
We look at each other and never get bored –
Just me and Ching-t’ing Mountain.

Li Po, “Sitting Alone by Ching-t’ing Mountain,” Norton Anthology of World Literature, 976.

I have found that this poem has been translated in various ways, though the above is the first and favorite way I have heard it. But there is another translation I like as well.

All the birds have flown up and gone;
A lonely cloud floats leisurely by.
We never tire of looking at each other –
Only the mountain and I.

Li Po, Alone Looking at the Mountain

Such a simple poem; such beauty. Reading this poem, you find yourself sitting at the foot of a mist-footed mountain, gazing up at its craggy heights. You watch it, both unmoving, as birds and clouds reflect each other as they pass the other by. Many things change, but in the life of a man, a mountain is the most reliable thing. Like in Hebrew poetry, Chinese poetry often has lines that reflect each other. Here, you have the reflection of birds to the clouds, their movement just the same. But the following lines reflect each other but contrast the first two. We have movement, and stillness. Change, and constancy. Flightiness, and familiarity.

There is a comfort in such things. And yet, while we sit and watch time go by, we can get ruffled by both change and regularity. We can fight them both, or one or the other at a time. Why can’t things continue as they have? Why can’t things stay the same? But both are part of the human experience. And like Li Po, we must take life as it is. And this, even as we allow ourselves to be transported back to the Ching-t-ing Mountain with LiPo. So in the moments of reading, which perhaps may be reflected in our daily life, we pause and look at the constant things as those transient dreams go past. We never tire of this dance because, unlike the mountain, we trust in a more reliable thing than either the seasonable birds or the crumbling mountain.

Blessings to you and yours,

~Madelyn Rose Craig

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