Freshly translated poems reveal the complexity, self-realization, and spiritual freedom of three classical Daoist women poets.
Yin Mountain presents a fascinating window onto the lives of three Tang Dynasty Daoist women poets. Li Ye (c. 734–784), Xue Tao (c. 768–832), and Yu Xuanji (843–868) lived and wrote during the period when Chinese poetry reached its greatest height. Yet while the names of the male poets of this era, such as Tu Fu, Li Bo, and Wang Wei, are all easily recognized, the names of its accomplished women poets are hardly known at all.
Through the lenses of mysticism, naturalism, and ordinary life, the five dozen poems collected here express these women’s profound devotion to Daoist spiritual practice. Their interweaving of plain but poignant and revealing speech with a compelling and inventive use of imagery expresses their creative relationship to the myths, legends, and traditions of Daoist Goddess culture. Also woven throughout the rich tapestry of their writing are their sensuality and their hard-wrought, candid emotions about their personal loves and losses. Despite that these poets’ extraordinary skills were recognized during their lifetimes, as women they struggled relentlessly for artistic, emotional, and financial independence befitting their talent. The poems exude the charged charisma of their refusal to hold back within a culture, much like our own, that was cosmopolitan yet still restrictive of women's freedom.
Skillfully introduced and translated by acclaimed translators Peter Levitt and Rebecca Nie, these wonderful poems will resonate with the lives of spiritual practitioners today, especially women.
About the Author
PETER LEVITT is the guiding teacher of the Salt Spring Zen Circle community in British Columbia, and he is the author of ten books of poetry, including Within Within, One Hundred Butterflies, and Bright Root, Dark Root. He is also the author of Fingerpainting on the Moon: Writing and Creativity as a Path to Freedom, cotranslator and editor (with Kazuaki Tanahashi) of A Flock of Fools: Ancient Buddhist Tales of Wisdom and Laughter and The Essential Dogen: Writings of the Great Zen Master, and the editor of Thich Nhat Hanh’s classic The Heart of Understanding. In 1989, Levitt received the prestigious Lannan Foundation Award in Poetry.
REBECCA NIE is a transmitted Chinese American Zen master of the Jogye Order, scholar, and award-winning algorithm and new media artist. Born and raised in China, she came of age in Canada and the United States, and now she serves as the Buddhist Chaplain-Affiliate at Stanford University. Ms. Nie is also the founding abbot of M.V. Seon Sanctuary, dedicated to unleashing humanity's full potential through artistic expressions and offering systematic training in Eastern wisdom-spiritual traditions.
“How wonderful to meet my long-lost sisters from Tang Dynasty China. Their voices cross many hundreds of years and many thousands of miles to reach me. They speak to me of their struggle for recognition as women, of their love of the natural world, of their commitment to a spiritual path. They inspire me with both their courageous assertions of autonomy and their longings for connection. Big thanks to the translators for this great gift.”—Susan Moon, coeditor of The Hidden Lamp: Stories from Twenty-Five Centuries of Awakened Women.
“This exquisite collection of poems by three Daoist women who lived during the Tang Dynasty is filled with beauty, surprise, the everyday, and the sublime. It is a book that will move and inspire, and one that we will return to again and again.”—Joan Halifax, author of Being with Dying and Standing at the Edge
“With Yin Mountain, translatorsPeter Levitt and Rebecca Nie invite us into the worlds of three exceptional Tang-era Daoist women poets. Redolent with imagery and metaphor, steeped in the familiar and the strange, the poems in this collection comfort and challenge as they dance between interpenetrating dualities of mind and body, love and loss, yearning and contentment, intimacy and distance. Savor these poems—in translation and the original Chinese characters—with the guidance of Levitt and Nie’s contextualizing notes. Clouds and rain, silk and talons, dragon bells and hawk perches, wild moths and pebble friends—such things will never be the same after reading this book.”—Chenxing Han, author of Be the Refuge: Raising the Voices of Asian American Buddhists
“These beautiful translations reveal the spiritual depth of these powerful women’s poetry, and take us deep inside the mysteries of Daoism’s ancient goddess culture.”—Meredith McKinney, translator of The Pillow Book
“Yin Mountain is an easily accessible and reliable introduction to the lives and work of three enticing Daoist women poets of medieval China. These elegantly rendered poetic traces of their self-realization in the face of many of the same challenges we face today cannot but comfort and inspire.”—Stephen R. Bokenkamp, translator of A Fourth-Century Daoist Family: The Zhen’gao, or Declarations of the Perfected, Volume 1
“There is no better way to capture the primordial essence or spirit of things than through the breath of poetry. In Yin Mountain, Levitt and Nie bring to life through poetry the goddess culture not often acknowledged in Chinese Daoism. Here, three Daoist female poets are brought into the light where all can experience the passion of yin and the love and mysticism within it. This book is truly an added gem to the existing ancient teachings of priestesses, nuns, and goddesses around the world.”—Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, author of The Shamanic Bones of Zen
“The introduction of women poets from ancient China to Western audiences is itself an epoch-making endeavor. The brilliance of the translations in Yin Mountain and the elucidation of the background material are breathtaking.”—Kazuaki Tanahashi, cotranslator of The Complete Cold Mountain: Poems of the Legendary Hermit Hanshan
“Ever since Ezra Pound ‘discovered’ Chinese poetry for the English-speaking world, the strange and delicate allure of this subtle tradition has been part of our culture. After about a century of translation of important male poets, we can now see, in this beautifully translated volume by Peter Levitt and Rebecca Nie, the other side of the coin. Yin Mountain presents the works of three well-celebrated Daoist women: Li Ye, Xue Tao, and Yu Xuanji. With useful and succinct introductions to each poet and head notes to make appreciation of each poem fully accessible, Levitt and Nie’s versions are lovely—in the fullest sense.”—Norman Fischer, author of Nature, There Was a Clattering As . . ., and When You Greet Me I Bow “I always wondered what was on the other side of China’s Poetry Mountain. Thanks to Levitt and Nie, now that I’ve become the guest of Daoist priestesses and courtesans, I have to ask myself whether I should let my friends know or keep this to myself.”—Red Pine, coeditor of The Clouds Should Know Me by Now: Buddhist Poet Monks of China
“While male poets of the era are well known, these women have remained virtually unread. These spiritual, sensitive, and surprising poems offer a memorable introduction to three singular women poets.”—Publishers Weekly