Zong Le – Blistering Night

Zong Le (宗泐, 종륵, 1317-1391) was a Ming dynasty Buddhist monk of the Linji School (宗, 임제종). He was born in Taizhou (臺州, 대주) in Zhejiang Province (浙江省, 절강성); his original surname (俗姓, 속성) was Zhou (周, 주); his courtesy name (字, 자) was Jitan (季潭, 계담); and his pen name (號, 호) was Quanshi (全室, 전실). From childhood, Zong Le disliked the mundane world. At the age of 8, he entered Jingci Temple (淨寺, 정자사) to study under the tutelage of the head monk, Xiaoyin Daxin (笑訢, 소은대흔). He progressed, and attained tonsure (剃度, 체도) at the age of 14 and was ordained a monk (具戒, 구족계) at the age of 20. After being ordained, Zong Le continued his studies and resided at various temples, including Shuixi (水西寺, 수서사) and Zhongtianzhu (中寺, 중천축사) Temples. At the command of the Ming Emperor, he was posted at Tianjie Temple (天寺, 천계사), where he was tasked with compiling and editing the Chinese Buddhist Canon (大經, 대장경). To further his work, Zong Le traveled to the countries west of China to retrieve more texts. Upon his return, Zong Le was appointed as the head monk of all of China (僧祿世, 승록사우선세). Because of his run-ins with jealous court officials, however, Zong Le did not stay long and retired from the post to live in solitude. At the age of 74, he passed away (入寂, 입적) at Shifo Temple (石佛寺, 석불사) in Jiangpu (江浦, 강포). 

In the poem below, Zong Le frets about the heat of a summer night. Under the solar terms of the traditional Chinese calendar, the hottest days of the season were supposed to fall between the Minor Heat (小暑, 소서) and the Major Heat (大暑, 대서). These days fall around July 7 and July 22 respectively every year on the Western Gregorian Calendar, and mark when the Sun is between the celestial longitudes of 105 and 130 degrees.

暑夜 서야

Blistering Night

此夜炎蒸不可當 차야염증불가당 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)
開門高樹月蒼蒼 개문고수월창창 平平平仄仄平平(韻)
天河只在南樓上 천하지재남루상 平平仄仄平平仄
不借人間一滴凉 불차인간일적량 仄仄平平仄仄平(韻)

This night’s sweltering dampness — I cannot bear.
With the door opened, upon the tall tree, the moon is blue and azure.
The heavenly stream only lies above the southern pavilion,
But does not even lend mankind one droplet of its coolness.

Definitions:

This • night • heat • steam • not • can • to suffer
To open • door • high • tree • moon • blue • blue
Heaven • stream • only • to exist • south • pavilion • above
Not • to borrow • man • among • one • droplet • cool

Notes:

  • Heptasyllabic truncated verse (七言絶句, 칠언절구). Riming character (韻, 운) is 陽(양). The poem generally complies with the rules of recent style poetry (近體詩, 근체시).
  • 天河(천하) – Literally “heavenly stream.” Refers to the Milky Way.
  • Korean translation available here.
2 comments
  1. Very timely! We’re going through this very heatwave right now over here. Curiously, reading this makes it a little easier to breath.

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