Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist-blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there's been no rain
The pine sings, but there's no wind.
Who can leap the world's ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?
Hanshan ('Cold Mountain', known as Kanshan in Japan) was a legendary poet and sage from the Chinese Tang Dynasty, "a mountain madman in an old Chinese line of ragged hermits," as Snyder describes him. "When he talks about Cold Mountain he means himself, his home, his state of mind."
Inspired by Ezra Pound, Beat poet Gary Snyder studied Chinese and translated 'Cold Mountain Poems' (1958), a selection of 24 of the several hundreds of Hanshan's surviving poems, later published along with his own poetry in 'Riprap'. Describing Hanshan and his friend Shih-te, Snyder adds with Beat enthusiasm:
He and his sidekick Shih-te (Jittoku in Japanese) became great favorites with Zen painters of later days - the scroll, the broom, the wild hair and laughter. They became Immortals and you sometimes run onto them today in the skidrows, orchards, hobo jungles, and logging camps of America.
Snyder was in fact largely responsible for inspiring the Beats' interest in Zen Buddhism. A longer discussion of Hanshan's relevance for the Beats features in Jack Kerouac's 'The Dharma Bums', published in the same year as Snyder's translations. When Gary (Kerouac) first visits Japhy Ryder (Snyder) in his little shack of a house, the conversation starts off with:
"What you doing?"
"Translating Han Shan's great poem called 'Cold Mountain' written a thousand years ago some of it scribbled on the sides of cliffs hundreds of miles away from any other living beings."
Here's another poem. Note Snyder's subtle modernization, helped by the word 'car'.
In a tangle of cliffs I chose a place -
Bird-paths, but no trails for men.
What's beyond the yard?
White clouds clinging to vague rocks.
Now I've lived here - how many years -
Again and again, spring and winter pass.
Go tell families with silverware and cars
"What's the use of all that noise and money?"