Poetry

Han Shan – A Bug Crawling in a Bowl

“Years and months flow by like a stream—
Another little while and he’ll be an old man.”

– Han Shan


Han Shan was an 8th century recluse and erudite fool who spent most of his life living apart from society in the Tientai Mountains in China, often with his counterparts Shide and Fenggang. Han Shan’s poems are now part of China’s Ch’an (Zen) and Taoist legacy, rooted as they are in the quiet nature of the namesake Cold Mountain and the poet’s effusive humor that keeps reminding his absent readers of the worthlessness of worldly pursuits.


Man’s life, in this flourish of illusive dust,
Is exactly like a bug crawling in a bowl.
All day long it runs round and round,
Never getting out of the brim.
Sainthood of immortals he can’t obtain,
But troubles he counts endlessly.
Years and months flow by like a stream—
Another little while and he’ll be an old man.

Han Shan
From: Taste of Han Shan (Cold Mountain)

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