Man-shu's "Original Account" poem (Ben shi)

Poem reproduced from Japan Studies Magazine (Chinese), Taipei, No. 369, 1995

In the spring rain on the balcony playing the shakuhachi,1

When can I return to see the Chekiang tides?2

In awn-grass sandals with my broken alms bowl, nobody cares to know me,

How many have I trod past, bridges by the cherry trees?

(The Gardener's translation)

1Originally from China, shakuhachi is a 55 cm. five-hole vertical bamboo flute first appearing in Japan in the 7th century. In the 17th century it was associated with a Zen Buddhist sect of beggar-monks. Nowadays it is sometimes used even in jazz music. (Japan: An Illustrated Encyclopedia, 1993)

2Better known as Qian-tang (Ch‘ien-t‘ang) tides, the natural spectacle Zhe-jiang tides are tidal currents the "head" of which can rise up to 3.5 metres at the trumpet-shaped estuary of the Qian-tang River in Chekiang Province. The most spectacular tides come on the 18th day of the Eighth Moon, around September or October. (Ci hai, 1979 edition)

The Original Account comprises ten poems each of four lines, the opening poem being displayed here. The entire work does hint at some love affair Man-shu might have experienced in Japan, but which he always hid in his own mind. This is my interpretation. When he wrote it he was 26 in 1910.

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Manshu's fiction

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From the Gardener: Louis Chor. Canada, August 1997. Corrected 26 August 1997. Revised June 2006