Pat Enkyo O’Hara on an Anonymous Poem by a Sung Dynasty Nun
Searching for spring all day, I never saw it,
straw sandals treading everywhere
among the clouds, along the bank.
Coming home, I laughed, catching
the plum blossoms’ scent:
spring at each branch tip, already perfect.
Everybody is looking for something. The writer of this poem, a Sung Dynasty nun, is seeking “spring.” How do you seek spring? How do you seek happiness? Or enlightenment?
Well, seeking requires going somewhere or doing something in order to find. And yet, it is that which seeks that is what is sought. With this nun, we traverse a mountain path, hear the creaking of straw sandals, find ourselves among clouds and at a riverbank. Trailing her, we feel the grit of our own longing, our desires for more.
Then she catches the scent of plum blossoms and laughs. It’s as if, suddenly coming to her senses, she realizes what’s been there all along. How could she have missed it? There is “spring at each branch tip, already perfect.”
We can experience the scents, sights, and sounds of spring only in this moment. Spring or awakening can only be experienced when we drop our idea of it. When we come home to its reality in our daily life, then the gnawing of “I want” becomes the joy of “I am.”
Poetry translation by Sam Hamill and J.P. Seaton from The Poetry of Zen.