Three Poems by Tom Montag

These three poems by Tom Montag are re-imaginings of poems by the Chinese poet Han-Shan. In one poem, Han-Shan assumes the voice of a singing girl. In the second, he writes of his earlier life with his wife and family. In the third, he finally shows us himself as the hermit on Cold Mountain. Montag attempts to be true to the poems Han-Shan would have written had he written in English. Although Montag does not read Chinese, he has read several translations and saw poems still locked away in them, struggling to get out. Here Montag attempts to free three of those poems. The numbering of these poems is consistent with the numbering used by Robert G. Hendricks in his complete, annotated translation, The Poetry of Han-Shan.


I lived in Han-Tan, she says.
You can hear the sound

of the city in my singing.
I’ve lived here long enough

I know all the old songs.
If you’re getting drunk, don’t

think about going home.
Linger here til morning.

You can sleep in my bed.
I have a lovely quilt.

Slip with me beneath it.



A thatched hut in the country
is good enough. There’s not much

traffic here. The quiet woods is
full of birds. The broad streams teem

with fish. My son and I gather
nuts and berries. My wife and I

work marshy fields. What will you find
in the house? This bed full of books.



They say you cannot
drive sadness away.

I didn’t believe that.
I did drive mine off

yesterday, though today
it tangles me again.

The month comes to an end
but my sorrow does not.

A new year begins and
brings even more trouble.

Have you guessed that beneath
this ordinary cap

stands a man who’s been
sad a very long time.


Tom Montag’s books of poetry include: Making Hay & Other Poems; Middle Ground; The Big Book of Ben Zen; In This Place: Selected Poems 1982-2013; This Wrecked World; The Miles No One Wants; Love Poems; and Seventy at Seventy. His poem “Lecturing My Daughter in Her First Fall Rain” has been permanently incorporated into the design of the Milwaukee Convention Center. He blogs at The Middlewesterner. With David Graham he recently co-edited Local News: Poetry About Small Towns.

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