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 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.