Snowflakes, Blossoms: Friends of the Way

stonesnowflakeTexts:  poems by 17th-century Buddhist Chan/Zen nuns: Two song-lyrics of Shang Jinglan, and Guxu’s “Paying a Visit to Huang Jieling and Not Finding Her In”;

Premiered fall 2015, Scripps College, and recorded fall 2016, at Manhattan School of Music.

Recorded for Volume 2, Voices of the Pearl,  June 2018.

Composer: Marjorie Merryman.

All three texts express the experience of distance and absence between 17th-century Buddhist Chan/Zen nuns. Displaced by war and political upheaval, they have turned to a life of material simplicity, contemplation, scholarship and poetry. Their muted expressions of longing suggest deep emotion, but ultimately they arrive at a heightened acceptance, spirituality and oneness with the natural world.

This is a work for two sopranos (or soprano/mezzo soprano), flute or Chinese flute, harp and percussion (Chinese and or western), with a duration of 12-15 minutes.

Texts and Translations
(translations used with permission by Dr. Beata Grant)

1. Parting from Master Guxu in the Snow (from “Two Song-lyrics of Shang Jinglan” )  • 憶秦娥·雪中別谷虛大師
空留戀
楊柳裊裊隨風戰
隨風戰
彌天道遠
流光如箭
從壺夜月凝光殿
逆風翦碎鵝毛片
鵝毛片
飛翔莫定
何時相見

Vain longing,
The slender twigs of willows tussle in the wind
Tussle in the wind.
Space: the roads are distant;
Time: like an arrow it flies.
Night moon in the inner quarters, frozen light in the hall,
A perverse wind shreds the goose-feather snowflakes,
The goose-feather snowflakes
Swirling ceaselessly about:
When will we meet again?
— Shang Jinglan (1602-1676)

2. Telling of my Sorrows (from “Two Song-lyrics of Shang Jinglan” ) • 訴衷情· 雪夜懷女僧谷虛
無端小立瑣窗前
飛絮影連天
蒲團雪深三尺
參透幾多禪
花欲綻
烏猶寒
孰相憐
歌翻白雪
蓬弄竹花
兩鬢霜添
I stand awhile for no reason by the latticed window;
The shadows of swirling catkins join the sky,
Piled up on the meditation mat, three feet of snow —
How much Chan has she been able to penetrate?
Blossoms about to burst open,
The crows are still cold:
Who feels for them?
Songs flutter in the white snow,
Reeds turn into bamboo flowers,
Frost tinges the hair at one’s temples.
— Shang Jinglan

3. Paying a Visit to Huang Jieling and Not Finding Her In  • 訪黃皆令不遇

遙聞佳客至
雙槳度江風
道侶原相結
禪心孰與通
雲翻寒袖影
花落小池紅
不見孤舟返
愁予暮色中
From afar I hear this distinguished guest has come;
Her boat’s double oars cutting through the river wind.
Friends in the Way are bound together from the start;
Hearts set on the Chan – to whom can one speak of this?
Clouds shift: shadows are cast on chilled sleeves;
Blossoms fall: the little pond is tinged with red.
When I do not see your solitary skiff returning,
Shall I entrust my melancholy to the colors of dusk?
— Guxu (mid 17th century)