Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent sinological book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017. His newest book of poems in Dutch, Intocht (Introit) has been available as a POD from the American Book Center since June 2018.

He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.

Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog. His newest book of poetry in Dutch is Intocht (Introit), issued by the American Book Center in June 2018.

After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In June 2019 he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of National Taiwan Normal University. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. For many years he sang in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Yang Lingye’s 羊令野 ‘Sutra Leaves’ 貝葉

Sutra Leaves

by Yang Lingye, translated by Lloyd Haft[1]


Locked within my galaxy
are you and I. Upon a Sutra Leaf
we are witnesses to the Buddha.
Two holy relics, planted
in the eyes within my eyes,
illuminate the heart within my heart,
festoon the top of the Bodhi Tree.
A lamp. Goes with me
like the stars of morning and evening.

Goes with me:
the cosmos is carried on a single Leaf,
hidden in my palm. And like a relic
it flashes in your eyes.

Tonight the Seven-Story Pagoda is more elegant than ever,
adorned with the charm of a coiffure.
Bell tones fade within the clouds.
There is only the wind chime beside your ear
to awaken with its swaying
the war drums, the fire of the centuries.
And in that rolling sound,
that roaring blaze,
the night will rust no longer.

Within your eyes
the night will rust no longer.
The night will rust no longer in my heart.

The ravishing posture of a pagoda.
The boundless content of a leaf.
The radiant halo of a relic.

Locked within. My heart.
Locked within. My eyes.

The night is very beautiful.
The night will rust no longer.


At the moment of cock’s cry, five o’clock,
I am reading a patch of constellations
in the corner of the window.
My eyes awaken, fixed on the Cross.

No wind.
The butterfly on your hair-tips wants to fly,
the sun your feet hold down wants to fly.
But inside the window. Outside the window.
The cock’s cry locks the time
at five o’clock.

I swallow the first cupful of daylight
which adorns once again
your brow, eyes, lips.
The vibrating wings of a butterfly.
And the cock’s cry locks the time
at five o’clock,
the night will rust no longer.

The mystery of desire leaks forth
from the edge of every leaf
and the stars no longer thirst
for the sleep of constellations.
I look up at my Lady,
my Self. Night upon those lips.
The moment’s radiance soft,
smooth as a fossil.
The structure. Does not rust.
The night. Does not rust.

My hand feels myself, and at that moment
a hunger compels me
to swallow the story in a book.
But my Lady is trembling
at five o’clock.
The hair-tips: no words.
The bed: no dream.
The night which will not rust
lies folded on a Sutra Leaf.


I behold myself unencumbered.
The third of the Sutra Leaves:
Beauty Beyond Form.
Ego is Form.
Ego is the Void.
It is the Third Leaf.

The ego in a leaf is the Buddha.
The ego in a flower is the world.
I am conceived in the Third Leaf.
I am constructed in the Third Leaf.

The kernel within the kernel of a fig
has no dreams,
knows no obstruction.
When there is no ego in the kernel
there is a kernel in my mind.
When there is no kernel in my mind
there is ego in the kernel.
Ego comes. Ego goes.
Ego hears. Ego thinks.
Thus. Thus. Ego is in the midst of it.


My drunken boat without oars
drifts past lips, drifts past eyes,
drifts past the coastline
of your lofty, unprevaricating nose.

Forever that one line, land’s boundary,
departing from me.
Thrown toward me.
Just at the moment when that one line
is strangling me.

A blue hunger and thirst
entangles the brows of Tantalus.
The fish and dragons are sleepless,
the seaweed dishevelled.
If the Bird of Eternal Regret
awakens the ancient wine in a bronze vase
I’ll drink, blanketed in moonlight
in endless rolling mist.

A chart of the sea. My latitude and longitude
are not drawn in.
The green lights of those nameless harbors
keep hungering for the sight
of drunken flushed faces.
But my hawser cannot keep mirages
from sinking away.

Within the splendor of a cactus
I will watch for the swimming figure of Leander
to guide my drunken boat without oars
to moor tonight beneath your beacon.
Next to your lips.


You adorn your drunken beauty
with the colors of all wines.

And at that moment, I drink.
It is not mist,
not fog.
Rocking me in the eye of your typhoon.
And then the trembling.
And then the arising.

In the bottom of the glass
the Seven-Story Tower collapses.
My lips touch
the confusion of your hair.
The gods rebel in the tumult of an instant.

Tumult. Pure joy revolves
in the halo of a grape.
And the pupil of every eye in the foam
broods upon the matter of tomorrow’s sunrise.

And at that moment, I drink.

The beauty of your drunkenness
spreads between bed and sleep,
touching the hunger and thirst of an epoch.
I drink. My drunkenness becomes
a sky full of stars.


In the Heavenly City of Jasmine
a ring-shaped road goes round and round
the summer days, staking beautiful nostalgias
at roulette. They fall in rich confusion.
Shooting down the sun in a wineglass
with a smile of Enlightenment
you sound the full depth,
decorating the curtains of dusk
with many a beautiful face.

Last night’s story becomes
a reprint of an etching,
covering my walls, shielding my eyes.
Rolling and unrolling willingly
in the rumor of a breeze beside your hair.

Silence is a way-station
in bas-relief on your spade-shaped cheeks.
At a single glance from a drunken eye
countless cities will fall.

Fall in the rose bushes, blossom by blossom
adrift, rising and falling with the footfalls
in a far passageway, not knowing in what style
tomorrow’s miniature landscape will be arranged,
or by what hand.


On the Seventh Leaf
I am tailored by that hand.
A new moon graces my shirt front.

A poinsettia awakens at midnight in the window
and you awaken in Bethlehem.
And the gods cry your name
in the first stroke of the clock.

Every eye is printed
with the candlelight softness
of that moment. So,
go ahead and mould your world.

All the future is held within your eyes.
Just the way sleigh tracks,
written in the ground at the sky’s first clearing,
awaken the first jasmine blossom here.

Babies’ smiles
are unfolding among the leaves
a poetic calendar of seasons
and watching you attentively
within the eyes of this world.


Last night the honeysuckle
blossomed in Pan’s fingers.
When did the clouds finish reading
the goats’ hoofprints?

Wistful flute sounds
pour from the fingers.
And whisperings, sentimentally
lingering on blades of grass,
are stitching across the whole window
the renovated colors of dawn.

Eyes heavy with homesickness
comb through dishevelled clouds on a forehead.
At the moment of the stars’ downfall
a pair of reindeer came leaping for joy,
leaving behind an echo in the valley of night.

On that echoing wave
my name is written,
my portrait painted.

And the cloud-tresses, as ever tenderly
encircling the moment of mystery,
come out of that world.
Come out.
The wind of the wilderness
turns us around. A waltz commences.


The man who paints the sun
has never yet succeeded
in painting his own shadow.
So difficult to catch: to the east, west,
south, north. So difficult
to catch yourself within the round, round sun.

To catch.
A beautiful butterfly, during a waltz in a dream,
teases the hem of your skirt, catches the shadow
painted by the sun.

But the man who paints the sun
is confused by its shifting positions
on the seasons’ pearly teeth;
he chews on an unfamiliar language, chews on
odds and ends of his own shadow.

Twists himself upon
the projection of the sun, between
folds of meditations.
Kisses the Lady’s ankles, crawls ahead,
past the inner precincts, rising steeply
on to the top. Within the clouds
I hear my name being called.

Sing! Sun,
paint the Self’s shadow between the Sutra Leaves,
sun! Paint it! Press all the tones of nature
fold on fold between heart and heart.
And then revolve; and then follow
the projection of a shadow, a sound wave’s

In the world’s revolving,
time’s ever-existing axis
shows a new face, while a wave-like gesture of hands
paints roses on the sun’s forehead.


A miniature landscape.
The bittersweet beauty of June
is captured in my cactus.

Then a tenth sun is painted
beneath a Sutra Leaf.
You are trimmed into a tiny laurel tree
with a crown to cover your forehead.
And the crescent moon of desire
puts a love to the slow torture
of hair and leaves. –
The brothers of the sun sing their own dirges,
paint their own portraits.

Seasonal color blindness affects an eye
that holds many secrets in storage.
Inexhaustible firmament, with what
shall I decorate you?

Thirst between the lips, summoned to drink
the ritual rain of spring –
coming out of hibernation
jolt by jolt I awaken
beneath a southern window,
awakening upon a Touch-Me-Not.


Give to me hands.
Give to me lips.
Between tree and tree, between star and star,
encountering each other in the instant of the centuries.

Grasp the clouds of a season to adorn
your brow. Brew the rains of a season
as drink for your eyes.
The sound of the sun’s footsteps
installs itself in the postures of our sleep.

But the night is without color, without form.
Carve me on time’s wall of shadows.
When I look upward, paint the blue of eyeballs.

But the sound of the clock is in bas-relief.
The fairy dragon does not soar,
the phoenix does not dance.
Among these columns, these pavilions,
a Lady leaped out of my forehead.

A what leaped out?
A red sun, razing
passionately as roses
the last bastions of Self.


Goddess-of-Mercy Mountain
gradually comes through in bas-relief.
And we shift position
at every moment. On a palette of evening haze
the perception of lips and eyelashes
emerges in pastel.

And a desire beyond all senses
flames up in the looking upward.

Leaving all echoes behind on the trajectory
we take a truer road, just this once
foresaking distance, causing a rift
between time and space.

Scenes are daubed at will
between human pupils and lips,
molding ravishing expressions
for this world. And my left foot extends
to the ends of the earth; my right foot
sinks into a corner of the sea.

The one who came crawling
beyond that threshold, the prodigal,
awakens to horses’ hoofs, cocks’ cries.
And the face of the years – a counterfeit coin
flung into the sunlight.

The gold of silence, cast into an image
of Her Who Heareth the cries of the world.


The black and white of hair about the temples
is entangled with debates on life.
And you are not content with death;
you’ll be back from there.

The tears and laughter of this season
still lie swaddled within
your sleeping form.
In the sunlight, you are a naked infant.
        A flower, after enduring the bee’s sting,
sucks honey of the first vintage.
And from the honey of death, you will recall
Mother’s first milk.

All the suppositions have already started.
And you, for all your masks,
are a wakeful drinker. Contemplate
your own shadow on the wall of the world.

The oyster at the bottom of the sea,
pregnant with a radiance,
ignores the fish eyes peering side to side.
Sometimes being reduced to ash
is purer than burning. A joy
is calling you onward.

Calling you onward, the threshold of death.
You’ll be back from there.

[1] Originally published in Raoul D. Findeisen and Robert H. Gassmann (eds.), Autumn Floods: Essays in Honour of Marián Gálik, Berne etc.: Peter Lang 1998, pp. 387-399. A few slight errors have been corrected in the present text. I wish to thank Lucia Hau-Yoon, William Tay, T. I. Ong-Oey and Warren K. J. Sung for the many hours they spent helping me with this very difficult text.
The 20th-century Taiwan poet Yang Lingye (pseud. of Huang Zhongcong 黃仲琮 , 1923-1994) has not fared well in the hands of compilers of anthologies. After a period of growing prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, he seems to have drifted out of the spotlight, I hope temporarily. If present-day readers had to categorize his poetry, the words ‘Modernist’ and ‘Buddhist’ might both be used. Personally I would vehemently add the term ‘Existentialist’ (in a broad sense) to these.
Sutra Leaves has been called both a ‘long poem’ and a sequence or suite of poems. The original Chinese text, first completed in 1959, is available in the posthumous selected volume of Yang Lingye’s poetry Jiaohuade nanren 叫花的男人 published in Taipei in 2004 by Erya 爾雅. That volume also includes the text of the prose-poem sequence Notes on Facing the Wall 面壁手記 from which I have published selected translations in the previous blog post.
In 1995, I published a brief article outlining my own approaches in reading and interpreting Yang Lingye’s poetry. I hope to revise and expand it soon. It can be accessed under the link ‘On Yang Ling-yeh’s (羊令野) poetry’ on this blog.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Yang Lingye’s 羊令野 ‘Notes on Facing the Wall’ 面壁手記

from Notes on Facing the Wall
prose-poems by Yang Lingye 羊令野, selected and translated by Lloyd Haft[1]


A soul is undergoing the Death of a Thousand Cuts, from its own graver. The final form has not yet emerged. But already your hands hang down, the look in your eyes drifts with the gloom, your lips are shivering in the season of ice.

Now that you’ve lost all the sketches, how are you going to sculpt a Self? You have lost your way among the beautiful and the ugly: caught between humans and spirits. You draw a cross on your sole: east south west north. Where are you going to set out from?

All the mountains are already rising. Amidst that ancient solemnity, escorting the clouds you surge along into a cosmos that awaits enlightenment. The field of your heart resounds with your superhuman footfalls.


Merely lifting your hands, you become a ladder to the clouds. And a desire arises. The beauty of flying: you call and the wind pays obeisance.

Who’s to ascend by means of you? Those spaces beyond clambering. And you: a tortuous road through the sky, unfolding into the Void.

It’s that way of standing: what trees mean. What distracts me. While your solitary shadow keeps all its dangerous depth.


Wind, lightning cannot touch you, nor the carpenter’s axe. You are a gnarled oak, beyond mark and measure. Sun and moon swirl in your growth rings.

Fragrant nor pretty, though you walk an unfamiliar road you unfold a landscape of your own, using the sunlight to form a shadow on the ground.

Remembering ruins: pillars and beams meant to stand, burned in the fires of lost empire. But you, the lowly oak, have a corner of the green hills all to yourself, luxuriantly being nothing special.


You heard a bullet leaping along the trajectory. And then a life burst out of your breast. What you are holding in your cupped hands is that kind of life: kneading the sound of metal into an image of tomorrow, its fire-colored face washed up from the blood that a million human cries drowned in.

Behind your eyelids the sea thickens, becomes a tear. Mountains are pressed by your palms, becoming grain-sized fossils. When you forge yourself into a sword with which to prop up the sky, the very constellations come tumbling down.

You have no name in the books of time, though your body is a history that can never be read to the end. And from somewhere, against a background of curling smoke and battlefields, the sunlight of life emerges in pastel.


Your footsteps are an inquiry into my whereabouts. And free from the depths of my valley the oriole’s song rises, woven into the brocade of a landscape. Wakeful blue eye, who was it that planted the exiled willow beyond its habitat, and sold springtime at a giveaway to the dwellers in the sunny South?

And how many refrains are you still going to sing? The westward road stretches even longer, your shadow has grown thin as a daisy: why not trim it into a bonsai? Who will bring you an autumn with which to color the Southern Mountains?

So you brandish the cup, urging your own shadow to drink. Your gaunt fingers pluck cold strings. For whom will you play the lute that your face is?


The lute that your face is sounds your autumnal plaint across the red of autumn leaves: that blood-washed ball, the setting sun. The final fall of the city of loneliness.

The first snow flies as a flag of surrender above the drunken guest’s temples. From in a mirror you read aloud the proclamation: joys and sorrows to be altered beyond recognition! A banner painted with battlefield scenes comes snapping into view.

Gather up the gunfire complexion of yesteryear; make of it a stiff border for the travel bag that your flesh is. Like the clanking ring on the haft of an ancient sword, the wailing walker’s footprints trudge out song beyond all following.


Smash open any of the audible worlds, and you come leaping out. Iron and steel blossom with graceful sparks in obeisance to you. In every house enjoying the sleep that is the fruit of autumn.

It’s an imprisonment, like a peachpit, and spring peeps out of it. While the language of flowers longs mightily for a wind to write it wide.

You forge a Self in stones and metals; the quiet flow of time falls silent to allow your shadow to pass.


The neighbor to the east raises chrysanthemums; the neighbor to the west makes wine. And there you are, sad and between, heaping yourself into a mountain. Call Tao Qian and he doesn’t answer; call Li Bai and Du Fu, they won’t come. Your solitary shadow is carved in silvery moonlight across a garden of allusion.

It is always at these moments when the willow’s drunkenness congeals into blue eyes. Just in the midst of your ease, a gaze is fixed on you.

Walk circles around the pine, the chrysanthemum. Sample the face in the wineglass. To be sure, the wine’s no longer the fruit..


Your scales become sediment, become an arc of moonlight on water beyond the angler’s reach. Your wings are adrift, a cloud no arrow will touch. And so you let your shadow wander, wide as sea, empty as sky.

But what is embroidered on the map of your heart? You’ve laid all the patterns aside, giving the flowers back to the snow, marrying the moon off to the wind. As you let yourself melt away into nature, the very face of this world mutates.

Inside your body a time of honesty is taking shape. A beautifully wrought fountain of blood is being opened, rejoining the purple river’s flow while you keep charting your little course across the heart’s transparencies.


You are the cracked earth that even the clouds’ long stilts can stamp no moisture out of. In what the sunlight’s golden blade dissects – in those parched crevices, you keep hoping to find an edible fish. And who’s to tap a well of autumn water in those blind eyeballs? In a vase full of tears, a soul is dying of thirst.

Twisting your own hair into a rope, you hang passionately from whatever appears, while gloom interlaces the thicket of your hair with a boundless, vague luxuriance. Who will trap the light of autumn and kindle a torch of red leaves for you?

Get the moon to lend you a diviner’s coin: can that obscure text, your fortune, be translated into the darkness of tomorrow, into the forwarding address of a lost shadow?


Your long arms dragged, became oars; your loose hair became a sail and you were pulled down every kind of stream. Who knows the winds, the tides you poked your way through.

It must have been the river that wine turns into, that you came bobbing along. Are you the one who caught the moon? Your net bulges with the numberless eyes of autumn.

While moonlight wanders through the alleys, you remember a dried-up river bed. And then your boatman’s song falls, falls the full length of your shadow.


Who could stir up your footprints from the campfires’ ashes? The last gunshot still rings with the news: fire contact made. Every tree waits in its original state.

The butt of the gun in your hand is already sprouting with spring fungus. The myriad birds sing sadly; the hundred flowers are spattered with tears. Who’s to read yesterday’s Diary of a Hunter? Weekend: green unicorn circling left and right, colorful phoenix dancing up, down.

But your body rises as a tree that marks the years on a map without coordinates. One by one the wind-eroded clouds come out of hiding.


Night after night your two eyes, which have survived the first frost, gaze upward, becoming a skylight at autumn’s end. Who will siphon off the stars you overflow with, and wash your grieving shadow clean?

If two migrant birds were to fly out slowly from behind the crystalline curtains of a boudoir, the Milky Way would not be the home they returned to. Like snow, like falling stars their multifarious feathers would drift one by one into oblivion.

Two ploshing springs keep coming, painting a stream of blue across the sky: sun and moon, held in your longing, that sunflower exploding, that dawn.

[1] The 20th-century Taiwan poet Yang Lingye (pseud. of Huang Zhongcong 黃仲琮 , 1923-1994) has not fared well in the hands of compilers of anthologies. After a period of growing prominence in the 1970s and 1980s, he seems to have drifted out of the spotlight, I hope temporarily. If present-day readers had to categorize him, the words ‘Modernist’ and ‘Buddhist’ would probably both be used. Personally I would vehemently add the term ‘Existentialist’ (in a broad sense) to these.
The term mianbi 面壁, which I here translate literally as ‘facing the wall,’ is also a traditional Buddhist term for meditation practice. One of its modern meanings is [ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary 2003]: to ‘engage in pursuing something difficult.’
The original Chinese text I have used is from Yang Lingye zixuan ji 羊令野自選集 [Yang Lingye: Works selected by himself], published by Liming Cultural Enterprises 黎明文化事業 , Taipei, 1979. Thanks to Liming for permission. The original contains 94 numbered sections, of which I have selected and translated 13.
In 1995, I published a brief article outlining my own approaches in reading and interpreting Yang Lingye’s poetry. I hope to revise and expand it soon. It can be accessed under the link 'On Yang Ling-yeh's (羊令野) poetry' on this blog.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Bosvijver (gedicht)

Moeder, wat u samenbracht
alles wat zich mij

heeft willen noemen
was mij veel,

meer dan alle toppen
van het bos rondom.

Als vissen om een drijvend korstje
vraten aan uw hart gedachten

ieder met een mond,
elk een honger.

Inwachtend, in-
dragend liep u vol.

Uw lijdens groeiden uit,
werden leden: mijn

longen uw verlangen,
nieren uit uw nood,

lippen uit uw hongerende mond,
woorden uit de lippen

die als wolken in de koele morgen kwamen.
Zo bracht ik verder wat zich in u

zocht, nergens vond:
honger het enige dat bij u bleef.

Nu alle jaren, alle ringen
weg en alle lijn verwaaid,

terug in het bos van toen,
hier aan de oude oever, denk ik

terug aan u,
hier aan u

waar moet ik u vinden anders
dan beneden,

onder in het water
dat de bomen spiegelt nog, niet meer u?

Hier aan u
hier laat ik weer,

laat ik neer wat weegt,

hangt ons als een honger aan elkaar.

--Lloyd Haft