The History (Legend) of Cold Mountain (the poet)

Cold Mountain exists. And the poet, Cold Mountain, he exists too (even if it is legend, even if it is fact).


(Legend has it that) the poet lives on the wild edge of a mountain we call Cold Mountain, one of many peaks within the Heaven-Terrace Mountains. (Legend has it that) the poet lives alone on Cold Mountain. (Legend has it that) the poet has forsaken his name (turned it loose on the wind). (Legend has it) this poet’s name, like prayer flags, has ribboned away and is gone.


This mountain (like all mountains) stands alone and is singular: Cold Mountain.

But when they (whomever might, and few do) call our poet’s name, they call the mountain’s name: Cold Mountain. (Legend has it) our poet is now a part of the mountain. Like a gorge or cirque or meadow. The gorge and the cirque and the meadow are not the mountain. But the mountain is the gorge, the cirque, and the meadow.

(Legend has it that) a friend from the village below, and the wild forest itself, feed Cold Mountain. The nearby monks call Cold Mountain insane. But how can a (part of a) mountain be insane? Cold Mountain thinks they waste air on enlightenment. Enlightenment swells within them, he writes, just as enlightenment swells within Cold Mountain and is exhaled as a cold morning breeze. Why chase after what you possess? Why chase after what possesses you?


(The poet) Cold Mountain spends days wandering Cold Mountain (the mountain). (Legend has it that) the poet knows the mountain’s every dark place and vista. (Legend has it that) the poet knows the mountain like you or I know our bank accounts or our day jobs or our commutes home or our lovers who have left us long ago.

On his wanderings, with no destination in mind (How can there be a destination when he is already home on Cold Mountain?) the poet scrawls poems on rocks and trees. He etches in the words that he catches on the mountain wind, that he feels in its cold breeze, that the animals (those birds) chirp in his ears.

So how did someone like me get here?

                         (he writes.)

   This far up, pines need no wind to sing.

                                                                                                                                                           (he scrawls in a tree.)

Empty your gaze and this world’s beyond silence.

                                                          (he chisels into a rock.)

This wild joy at wandering boundless and free.

                                                                                      (grows into a pine.)

These poems become a part of (the trees and the rocks of) Cold Mountain.


The mountain stands alone and is singular. But his words (these mountain poems) are too a part of Cold Mountain. The poems and the words and the couplets are not the mountain. But the mountain is the poems, the words, the couplets, and the poet. Cold Mountain.


But how have we (you and I) found these tree-couplets, these rock-stanzas? (According to legend,) a government official spends days wandering Cold Mountain. On these wanders, he discovers tree-poems, rock-poems. He recognizes the genius of the mountain (and the words it births). So our government official records the poems before the trees grow around the words. Before the moss and dirt cover the words. Before the words fade into Cold Mountain.


And our poet, what of him? He (this man only known by the name of his mountain) is last seen slithering his body tight into a crevice on Cold Mountain. Into Cold Mountain.

 Not alive, not dead.

                                      (Cold Mountain calls, he calls.)

Author: Sean Prentiss