Poem: “Testimony – for the Eightieth Birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama” By Woeser

2015 06 07 Testimony

Photo of Potala Palace taken from the Lhalu Wetlands (Photo taken on October 1, 2013)

High Peaks Pure Earth is happy to post the English translation of a poem by Woeser which was written for the eightieth birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

The eightieth birthday fell on 6 July, 2015, yesterday, according to the western calendar and was on 21 June, 2015 according to the Tibetan calendar. The poem was posted on Woeser’s blog yesterday: http://woeser.middle-way.net/2015/07/rfa_6.html and was translated into English by A.E Clark.

The poetry volume of Woeser’s, Tibet’s True Heart, translated by A.E Clark remains one of the few publications in English of Woeser’s poetry and is highly recommended.

 

Testimony

for the eightieth birthday of His Holiness the Dalai Lama

by Tsering Woeser


‘Twas just before nightfall, twenty years ago.
I still remember the one who poured out those verses:
She was young, a poet
Settling into the System,
Even submitting to the assignments handed down by her Work Unit.
But by luck it turned out beautifully
When she was dispatched to a spa at the hot springs east of Lhasa.
The place swarmed with tradition and folklore,
Uncanny but charming, like the water snakes darting in the pools.
There was a little temple, and nuns with shy smiles
Who chatted matter-of-factly about Guru Rinpoche and dakinis.
I felt great affection for them, though we had barely met.
I live within, and disregard the human web outside;
Thus heedless of the braying and the blows,
I seize what lights my path and write it down:

On the road, a pious mudra’s not complex,
But it ill suits a tainted brow.
A string of special mantras is not hard,
But they’re jarring, from lips stained with lies.
I clutch a flower not of this world
And search with glistening eyes, in haste before it perish,
That I may present it to an old man in a deep red robe.
A wish-fulfilling jewel,
A wisp of a smile:
These bind the generations tight.

On that road the scenery teemed with metaphors.
Take those hidden forms of men,
Deep in meditation caves beneath the mountains.
Had I been so bold as to intrude, whom would I have met?
Or among the horses passing near,
The black one who didn’t bow his head to graze but stamped his hooves — why?
And that woman, so young to have tied on the multicolored apron of a wife,
Who bore fagots on her back with words not of complaint but of gentle praise for Tara.
Yet from Lhasa came the ban: for the feast of Trungkar, as in past years,
It was forbidden to burn incense, forbidden to cast tsampa . . .
I live within, and disregard the human web outside;
Thus heedless of the braying and the blows,
I seize what lights my path and write it down:

On the road, a pious mudra’s not complex,
But it ill suits a tainted brow.
A string of special mantras is not hard,
But they’re jarring, from lips stained with lies.
I clutch a flower not of this world
And search with glistening eyes, in haste before it perish,
That I may present it to an old man in a deep red robe.
A wish-fulfilling jewel,
A wisp of a smile:
These bind the generations tight.

It’s just before nightfall, again; these twenty years have flitted by.
In the capital of empire, far from home, I am a stranger in a strange land.
Settling into minority status, and marginalized,
I’ve found a bit of freedom,
Though it’s hard to break through the gathering darkness.
Very well; like Mandelstam,
I wait through the night for dear guests and the rattle of chains at the door.
What we long for has not come, and this incarnation of our life is in decline.
It’s not easy to keep bearing the grief of separation
And the untimely deaths of the young, one after another, who do not know the meaning of weariness.
I call Heaven and Earth to witness: karma shall make its weight felt in due time.
I live within, and disregard the human web outside;
Thus heedless of the braying and the blows,
I seize what lights my path and write it down:

On the road, a pious mudra’s not complex,
But it ill suits a tainted brow.
A string of special mantras is not hard,
But they’re jarring, from lips stained with lies.
I clutch a flower not of this world
And search with glistening eyes, in haste before it perish,
That I may present it to an old man in a deep red robe.
A wish-fulfilling jewel,
A wisp of a smile:
These bind the generations tight.

June 28 — July 1, 2015
Beijing


(Transl. A. E. Clark)

Notes:

On the road . . .  Excerpted from a poem Woeser wrote in May 1995 on the way home from a visit to the hot springs at Meldro Gungkar, east of Lhasa.  A slightly different version of the poem can be read in English here.

Guru Rinpoche  An Indian mystic named Padmasambhava who came to Tibet in the eighth century C.E. and played a decisive part in the dissemination of Buddhism there.  The medieval account of his life is filled with miracles.

A wish-fulfilling jewel  This legendary object appears frequently in both Hindu and Buddhist folklore and iconography. The term is also an honorific title for the Dalai Lama.

Trungkar  The celebration of the birthday of the Dalai Lama

We wait through the night  From the final couplet of Osip Mandelstam’s “Leningrad.”  Bernard Meares interprets the “dear guests” as a veiled reference to the police.

This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)

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