Lisa Tam: A favorite poem

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by Hanshan, Tang Dynasty poet

This poem speaks to me, and has done so since I came upon it in a small book of Zen poems I purchased in Santa Cruz several years ago.  I was at the onset of a divorce, and full of anxiety about my future.  Hanshan’s poem was a reminder to me that all that striving and worrying was pointless.  I also had spent years playing “roles”: mother, wife, community leader, daughter, etc..  Recognizing this, I vowed to no longer block whatever feelings I experienced, but rather to be truthful with myself about who I really am.

Lisa Tam
Age 53, Poet
San José


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Man, living in the dust,
Is like a bug trapped in a bowl.
Alll day he scrabbles round and round,
But never escapes from the bowl that holds him.
The immortals are beyond his reach,
His cravings have no end,
While months and years flow by like a river
Until, in an instant, he has grown old.

Hanshan
(translated from the Chinese by Burton Watson)

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1 Comment

Filed under Favorite Poem

One response to “Lisa Tam: A favorite poem

  1. Tim Tomasi

    Lisa,

    Thank you so much for this terrific poem. It’s imagery is powerful and stunning.

    Tim Tomasi

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