The Song Dynasty poet Yang Wanli (1127–1206) currently has a mere three-line entry on Wikipedia and there is no anthology of his verse in translation currently in print. However, it is easy to pick up a copy of Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow second-hand - something I've done, as you can see above. The book's title comes from a four-line poem which begins 'the pure wind makes me chant poems, / the bright moon urges me to drink.' There is quite a lot of drinking in these poems (the translations by Jonathan Chaves, published in 1975, perhaps indicate their age by the way he describes this as getting high). A love of poetry also comes through - for example in the lovely short poem 'Reading by the Window', in which Yang opens a book of Tang Dynasty poetry to find inside a peach blossom petal, still fresh, that had been caught inside the previous spring. But nature is his main theme and there are examples in this book of what can unhesitatingly be described as 'landscape poems', recalling a view seen from a boat, a mountain temple or a moon viewing terrace.
Landscape poems like these may frame the world like a painting but their words are able to convey sound and motion and time passing. There are two 'Evening Lake Scenes' for example, in the first of which Yang watches geese in Vs and crows in flocks, flying over a lake and taking their time settling down for the night. In the second he describes the sunset:
In his introduction, Chaves highlights Yang's 'obsession with capturing the momentary changes in natural phenomena'. This is from a poem recording his impressions as he crossed between Zhedong and Yongfeng on a spring day in 1179.I sit watching the sun set over the lake.
The sun is not swallowed by mountains or clouds:
it descends inch by inch, then disappears completely,
leaving no trace where it sinks into the water.
The sunlight must be moving the waves by itself;
the sky is calm, and there is no wind.
Wu Zhen, Fisherman, c. 1350
One of the Chinese paintings reproduced as illustrations in Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow
Yang Wanli is the last poet in David Hinton's anthology, Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poets of Ancient China. Hinton says that 'with him China's rivers-and-mountains poetry had opened up virtually all of its possibilities'. He highlights Yang's adherence to Ch'an Buddhism and the way it gave rise to a 'crystalline attention to things themselves ... The rivers-and-mountains realm was the natural terrain for this attentiveness, as its grandeur so easily calls one from the limitations of self to the expansiveness of a mirror-like empty mind that contains all things.' Here, to conclude, are four lines from Hinton's translation of a poem Yang wrote after a hike to Universal-Completion Monastery.
As our boat lacing mists angles off the cove's willow shores,
cloud mountains appear and disappear among the willows.
And the beauty of climbing a mountain while adrift on a lake?
It's this lake's mind - that gaze holding the mountain utterly.