Hamill’s A Dragon in the Clouds

Although I didn’t like Sam Hamill’s A Dragon in the Clouds nearly as much as I did Margaret Chula’s Grinding My Ink, I did enjoy reading this short collection of Chinese and Japanese inspired poetry.

My favorite poem in the book is, as I understand it, a translation of Ryokan’s

I never longed for the wilder side of life
Rivers and mountains were my friends.

Clouds consumed my shadow where I roamed,
and birds pass high above my resting place.

Straw sandals in snowy villages,
a walking stick in spring,

I sought a timeless truth: the flowers’ glory
is just another form of dust.

It may be that the poem merely provides a nice contrast to these hectic days of getting ready for Christmas, but I suspect that this particular poem holds a much deeper truth for me than that.

The first two lines could perhaps serve as a succinct summary of my own life, and the next two lines describe most of the mountains I hike here in the Pacific Northwest. While I have never hiked in the snow with my sandals, I have hiked many a mile around Mt Hood in them, with and without my hiking stick. It’s the last two lines, though, that come closest to conveying my life-long spiritual journey.

Though I think I found Hamill’s “translations” most inspiring, I did find a number of his original poems interesting, too. My favorite it is probably:

Wanting one good organic line
I wrote a thousand sonnets

Wanting a little peace,
I folded a thousand cranes.

Every discipline a new evasion;
every crane a dodge:

Basho didn’t know a thing about water
until he heard the frog.

It’s obvious that Hamill and I share some common goals, and we’ve even attempted to attain those goals using some of the same techniques. I’ve practice origami and sumi painting not so much for their own sake but to learn a self-discipline I often find lacking in myself, only to discover that these attempts at self-discipline were more apt to be an escape from boredom, an indulgence in “newness,” than a path to true enlightenment.

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