Ascending the Pagoda at the Temple of Kind Favor

by Cen Shen* (715 – 770)

The pagoda, rising abruptly from earth,
Reaches to the very Palace of Heaven….
Climbing, we seem to have left the world behind us,
With the steps we look down on hung from space.
It overtops a holy land
And can only have been built by toil of the spirit.
Its four sides darken the bright sun,
Its seven stories cut the grey clouds;
Birds fly down beyond our sight,
And the rapid wind below our hearing;
Mountain-ranges, toward the east,
Appear to be curving and flowing like rivers;
Far green locust-trees line broad roads
Toward clustered palaces and mansions;
Colors of autumn, out of the west,
Enter advancing through the city;
And northward there lie, in five graveyards,
Calm forever under dewy green grass,
Those who know life’s final meaning
Which all humankind must learn.
…Henceforth I put my official hat aside.
To find the Eternal Way is the only happiness.

* Alternatively, Cen Can or Cen Jiazhou. Translated by Witter Bynner, with Kao Shih and Hsueh Ch’u, in The Jade Mountain (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1929).

The photograph by Alex Kwok shows Giant Wild Goose Pagoda within Daci’en Temple in Xi’an, China.