One who aspires toward greatness will eventually find himself alone, peering down on the valleys from which he began. Very few will ever seek after him, and if he has even an ounce of sense, he’ll dash the hopes of those who do send them back down to the valleys below. The imagery here is taken from stories of poets in ancient China leaving public life for a very simple one, alone on a mountain. Friends and acquaintances would occasionally make the hike to visit them, bringing tea, and a few supplies. These hermits often continued their creative pursuits there on the mountain, needing little more than ink, brush and parchment.
i have lived here for years now, here
in this alpine vale, high at the head
of a deep ravine that forks and branches like
lightning, scoring a third the southern face.
at this altitude one must face the sun
or a simple hut will bear no comfort
against the cold. one must gather wood
for the night when pines shade the noon.
in those days i left smoke-filled valleys
for vistas that every day catch my breath.
my feet have spun trails like a spider’s
web, spiraling out through the trees.
my hut, a lean-to really, is but the most
meager of commodities. a hundred yards
this way a hole collects my dung. before
long it will be a hundred yards that way.
every few months a face appears, bobbing
amid the trees as an old acquaintance
seeks me out for conversation and tea.
they no longer ask when i will return.
they leave ink and parchment and take
with them what thoughts have occurred
as i dug up roots, picked wild grains and
berries, chopped wood, or simmered stew.
they tell me these thoughts have found
a following. once in a while a new face
bumbles into camp, seeking the elusive
spring that slaked some thirst within them.
i offer what little i have, and they ask about
the old poet who lives on the mountain.
gently i suggest they may have lost
their way and in the morning point to a path.
i tell them it leads back to the world below,
describing landmarks and hinting at failure.
for too many pilgrims would leave me starved
and dying come winter. they only ever come
with palms stretched open—empty. a red
squirrel barks warily, a brown jay swoops
and caws, and i turn back to meditations
that ultimately yield a small fire that warms
my bones and licks inky shadows dry
on a piece of parchment while i nod off
to the sound of wind or rain, or to the all
pervasive silence of falling snow.
In many ways, this forms a half-decent metaphor for the reclusive being I’ve become myself, one who still seeks to continue his work as a poet.