Saturday, September 17, 2011

Zen & Tao Poetic 7 - Snake and Sparrow

蛇雀 (譚子化書卷1道化)

蛇化为龟,雀化为蛤。彼忽然忘曲屈之状,而得蹒跚之质;此倏然失飞鸣之态,而得介甲之体。斫削不能加其功,绳尺不能定其象,何化之速也。且夫当空团塊,见塊而不见空;粉塊求空,见空而不见塊。形无妨而人自妨之,物无滞而人自滞之,悲哉!

My translation:

Snake and Sparrow (from Tan's Book of Change)

Snake evolves into tortoise,
Sparrow changes into clam.
The former forgets its coiling movement and becomes one staggered walker,
The latter loses its flying structure and now wears a hard shell.
Carvers cannot accomplish the tasks with chisels,
nor can they determine the new forms by strings and rules.
When changing nature is shielded by transient form
We see transience instead of change
Form doesn't fool man, but man fooled himself,
Form doesn't hinder man, but man hindered himself.

Paul's comment: Tan's imagery on animal change is not so far-fetched as one might thus respond to his Snake and Sparrow. Richard Dworkin once said (I'm paraphrasing): give me any animal and a complete control of the environment, I can allow evolution to take its course and change it into any other animal. As Newton once said (again I'm paraphrasing): give me a long enough stick and a fulcrum, I can move the earth. They were all poets!

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