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”;


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 projected as 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.

(translations used with permission by Dr. Beata Grant)

Two Song-lyrics of Shang Jinglan 

1.    Vain longing,
The slender twigs of willows tussle in the wind
Tussle in the wind.
Space: the roads are distant
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?

2.    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.


Guxu: Paying a Visit to Huang Jieling and Not Finding Her In
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?