The day after the eclipse… Through great forethought (read: coincidence), I’m reading David Hinton’s Hunger Mountain with my class this week. Hinton explores the many ways in which classical Chinese poetry and philosophy (especially Taoist and Ch’an philosophies) evince relationships between consciousness, language, and cosmos that are almost unimaginable within minds constructed within the English alphabet (read: me). The “self” is also present in these old Chinese poems (through its continuity with uncarved being) in ways that side-step some of the duality and I-centeredness of English. Hinton’s writing is an interesting  complement to Robin Wall Kimmerer’s meditations on Potawatomi language in Braiding Sweetgrass: when the world is represented in verbs, its life is honored in a way that noun-heavy (“it”) English cannot achieve.

Back to the moon:

月 glyph means moon or month.
朋  is the glyph for the grapheme friend. (In classical Chinese. Modern written form combines the glyph with others, so 朋 is not now used alone.) Friend was originally a string of cowrie shells, then wings of a bird, then moons.

Now: friend is two, standing close. Two moons, standing upright, together. Friend, shells, wings, moon. Moon is alone. Moon is friend.

More etymological archaeology of relationship from Hinton:

情, to feel, to love, emotion. From “heart-mind” and “the blue-green color of landscape.” To feel is to be in the sensory moment of the land, inner and outer unwalled. “Consciousness and landscape” are integrated, momentarily. Mountain, forest, mist, mind.

然 “thusness of things in perpetual transformation” — dog 犬 meat 肉 roasting over a fire 灬, “an ontological process both grizzly and ablaze with itself.”

Of course, the shuffle of alphabet that is modern English has its own cosmic, bloody, soil-clodded roots:

consider: with the stars

pedigree: foot of crane

hood-winked: eye-sewn crane

regret: cry again

companion: with bread

environment: surrounded, but not part of me

human: earthly being, not of the gods

lunatic: periodic, moon-birthed insanity

On this last, note the Chinese poets made a practice of moon-watching, sometimes with wine and 朋, but often alone-but-not-alone, the cosmos finding itself. Lunacy. Eclipsed, a forsaking darkness.

8 thoughts on “

  1. Rosemary C. Stiefel

    This is wonderful David. I have not read Hunger Mountain, but I intend to. Thanks for your insight on Chinese Poetry. I read a good bit of it and as a visual artist, the imagery of those moon poems particularly, have inspired several paintings.
    Rosemary Stiefel

  2. Karen Pick

    Synchronicity? Here is an account, albeit half-baked and full of self, of a trip to a bird rehabilitation centre yesterday, with my son, on which we broke bread for the first time in I don’t know how long:

    I am the little falcon, the one who hovers, tiny and tough.

    He prefers the owls, something to do with their air of soft might.

    We drove home under a moon poised to eclipse. We chose to enter our homes rather than watch, satisfied with the sight of it rising over the cleansing green that bordered our route, emblems of a day spent gabbing as friends. As though the word Dire had never occurred. As though we’d not been felled by circumstance. As though there’d been no blackout in our lives, blindsiding darkness and pain.

    And so I dreamed of wings and flight, over and over again, a motif chosen by the Night (and not me), as though the legacy of the damaged birds we’d driven so far to see were not one of sorrow, but of progression, key to light.

    Thank you, David. There is much to ponder in what you’ve shared.

  3. Cheryl Heinz

    Added to my reading list. Working on learning Mandarin (slowly): 月 and 朋 are in my vocabulary (though the latter as part of 朋友 — a modern ‘friend’). (And I know dog as 狗 — so there’s a mystery for me to work on.) Thank you!


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