By Peter Y. Chou,

Line in Poem Literary Sources
Splendid things— purple flowers, purple paper
and a spacious garden covered with snow
wonderfully wonder— snow on the marble
snow-white against stone-white mountains
Sei Shonagon, Pillow Book, Section 84 (994 AD)
Sei Shonagon, Pillow Book, Section 84 (994 AD)
Ezra Pound, The Cantos, Chapter 84 (1956)
Ezra Pound, The Cantos, Chapter 84 (1956)
Out of this beauty something must come
beauteous blessings— the spring of blossoms
Chartres is great and Beethoven's Quartets
higher still: Emptiness— Infinite Zero
Ezra Pound, The Cantos, Chapter 84 (1956)
Shakespeare, Sonnet 84; Basho, Haiku 84 (1678)
Rainer Maria Rilke, Duino Elegies, VII.84 (1923)
Thomas Merton, Cables to the Ace, Poem 84 (1968)
yet from this Nothing everything comes—
the heron flies over the Silent Land,
orange sunrise beyond the mulberry grove,
and the river gleams between the villages.
Thomas Merton, Cables to the Ace, Poem 84 (1968)
Papyrus of Ani, Chapter 84 (c. 1250 BC)
Wang Wei, Poetry, Poem 84 (c. 750 AD)
Wang Wei, Poetry, Poem 84 (c. 750 AD)
Mother waters— pour out your wine again
the joy that ever melts and flows in song
light flakes pour down on the poet's page
sun and moon and countless stars singing
Joyce, Finnegans Wake, 84.30-31 (1939); Hafiz, Verse 84 (1380)
Rabindranath Tagore, Gitanjali, Verse 84 (1912)
William Carlos Williams, Paterson, p. 84 (1958)
Walt Whitman, Passage to India, 5.84 (1871)
O love, O night, O dome of sky— tell us
we are only one dark space, a drop of
sheer nothingness— not asleep nor dead
but something is— an unravelled mystery.
Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets, Sonnet 84.9 (1960)
Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets, Sonnet 84.12 (1960)
Paul Brunton, Notebooks, Vol. 15, 8.84 (1988)
Paul Brunton, Notebooks, Vol. 15, 8.84 (1988)
When the first light of heaven descends
from its home— we pay our homage
to father sun never ceasing to begin
the splendor of day where we wake to
Rig Veda, Book 5, 84.3 (circa 1500 BC)
Ezra Pound, The Cantos, Chapter 84 (1956)
e.e. cummings, 95 Poems, Poem 84.1-3 (1958)
e.e. cummings, 95 Poems, Poem 84.4-5 (1958)
the precious pearl in glorious light
swallows in the sky, lilies in the pond,
the sparrow builds its perennial nest
being joyful when the moon grows full.
Pearl Poet, Pearl, Line 84 (1400)
Wu Ch'eng-en, "Journey to the West", Ch. 84 (1518)
Emily Dickinson, Poem 84, Lines 6-8 (1859)
Mohammed, Holy Koran, Ch. 84.13, 84.18 (c. 650 AD)
The moon in the center of its white page,
the moon is your heart— keep it pure
Pearl beyond price— peaceful & timeless
the enlightened— always active for others.
Pablo Neruda, 100 Love Sonnets, Sonnet 84.5 (1960)
Rumi, Quatrains 84, (1270); St. Hesychios, Text 84 (800 AD)
Merrell-Wolff, Pathways through to Space, Ch. 84 (1936)
Santideva Bodhicayavatara, V.84 (c. 700 AD)
The swans sing sweetly— Poet, go home
write, compose— make your poem a flower
that opens itself like a tiny temple door
so that all may come in and be refreshed
Plato, Phaedo, 84e (360 BC); Williams, Paterson, p. 84 (1958)
Williams, Paterson, 84 (1958); Mary Oliver, "Flare" ll. 84-91
Mary Oliver, Leaf & the Cloud, "Flare" Lines 84-91 (2000)
Mary Oliver, Leaf & the Cloud, "Flare" Lines 84-91 (2000)
Every morn and eve in prayer— free
at ease, everywhere a calm spring wind.
They ask me "Whose song do you sing?"
These days I only sing  la-la-la
Hafiz, The Divan, Verse 84 (c. 1380)
Chao Chou, Sayings of Joshu, 84 (c. 890 AD)
Seung Sahn, Whole World Is A Single Flower, Koan 84 (1992)
Keso Shogaku, The Crane's Bill, Poem 84 (c. 1450)

Meditation Notes to Poem:

This poem was written in honor of my mentor Professor Harold A. Scheraga's 84th birthday on October 18, 2005. Harold is still active doing research on macromolecules & protein folding. I was fortunate to spend seven happy years in his lab at Cornell learning about polypeptides and proteins, but probably even more about the passion of doing something that we love dearly. I've honored that passion in "Meditations on 82: Let the Beauty We Love Be What We Do"— a poem for Harold's 82nd birthday. The title for this poem comes from Koan 84 "Whose Song Do You Sing?" in Zen Master's Seung Sahn's The Whole World Is A Single Flower (1992). In reply to that question, Zen Master Hyang Gok replied: "I received one word from Zen Master Un Mun and I have never exhausted it." Likewise, the passion for research I learned from Harold at Cornell has stayed with me and I have never exhausted it while sharing my insights on proteins and now in poetry. For the context of sources for the lines, consult my web page On Number 84 to see how this poem was constructed. Despite the difference in space and time of the composition of each line, what unites these writers quoted is the number 84. That is, the writer's words appeared in verse 84, sonnet 84, chapter 84, line 84, or page 84. This poem is a mosaic from some 30 poets and philosophers all over the world. The sources date from the Rig Veda of India (1500 BC), The Payrus of Ani of Egypt (1250 BC), and Plato's Phaedo of Greece (360 BC) to modern American poets such as Mary Oliver's The Leaf and the Cloud (2000). It is hoped in the words of Ezra Pound's Canto 84— "out of this beauty something must come"...

Splendid things— purple flowers, purple paper:
Section 84 of Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book is titled "Splendid Things". She writes: "Anything purple is splendid, be it flowers, thread, or paper." Shonagon is writing about life in the Emperor's court in Japan (circa 994 AD). It is interesting that the color purple is associated with royalty. "Tyrian Purple" is the purple dye of the ancients dating back to about 1600 B.C. It was produced from the mucus of the hypobranchial gland of various species of marine mollusks, notably Murex. It took some 12,000 shellfish to extract 1.5 grams of the pure dye. Rome, Egypt, and Persia all used purple as the imperial standard. Purple dyes were rare and expensive, so only the rich could afford them. In 1909, the German chemist Paul Friedlander determined the major chemical composition of Murex dye as 6,6'-dibromoindigo. (History of purple in shellfish, royalty, & printing)

the heron flies over the Silent Land:
The source of this image is from Chapter 84 in Papyrus of Ani: Egyptian Book of the Dead: Chapter for being transformed into a heron— "I am held in respect to the breadth of the sky, my strides are towards the towns of the Silent Land." The heron is a solar bird which shares much of the symbolism of the stork and crane; it is also vigilance and quietness. It is also a bird of the waters. In Egyptian mythology, the heron is the first transformer of the soul after death. The Bennu is thought to have been a species of heron, or possibly the phoenix, as it is also symbolic of the rising sun, regeneration, the return of Osiris, as the bird of the flooding of the NIle and renewal of life, since it leaves the river and flies over the fields when the Nile rises. (J.C. Cooper, An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols 1978, p. 83). The Silent Land is a metaphor for death or afterlife— the Bardo state after death and before rebirth. Longfellow has a poem Song of the Silent Land" which ends "To the land of the great Departed, / Into the Silent Land!". Just as sunset signals the death of daytime, sunrise signals the rebirth of morning. Hence, the next line of this poem— "orange sunrise beyond the mulberry grove".

orange sunrise beyond the mulberry grove / and the river gleams between the villages:
I've borrowed this image from Wang Wei's Poem 84— "The sun is hidden beyond the mulberries / and the river gleams between the villages." The three colors of the mulberry's three stages of ripening, white, red, and black, are used to symbolize the three stages of man's life: white, the innocent child; red, the active youth; black old age and death. In China, the mulberry is a Tree of Life and has magic powers against the forces of darkness. It also represents industry and filial piety. (J.C. Cooper, Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols 1978, p. 110). Thus, beyond man's transitory life of birth to death, is the eternal sun (soul)— timeless beyond day and night. And between the villages (man's habitat), the River of Life (Spirit) is always gleaming and flowing.

Chartres is great and Beethoveen's Quartets higher still:

In Duino Elegies, VII.81-84, Rilke writes: Chartres was great, and music / reached higher still, transcending us,". The feeling of transcendence is evoked in the opening lines of George Oppen's poem "Chartres": The bulk of it / In air. In place of Rilke's "and music reached higher", I'm specifying Beethoven's Last String Quartets (Opus #127-135 composed 1816-1826) as equally if not more inspirational. Read J.W.N. Sullivan's Beethoven and his Spiritual Development on the transcendental quality of Beethoven's last compositions. Listening to them, we feel sky-borne and a deep inner peace pervading our entire being. Beethoven once confided to friend Karl Holz that that while all of his sixteen quartets were unique, "each in its way," his favorite was the C sharp minor, Op. 131. Prof. Manfred Clynes said, "anyone who has heard Beethoven's Last Quartets tends to become stronger."

When the first light of heaven descends:
The source of this line is from the Rig Veda, Book 5, 84.3 (c. 1500 BC) in a song of praise to Prthivi, the Earth Goddess: "When from the lightning of thy cloud the rain-floods of the heaven descend." I've adapted it here to conjure the opening lines of Genesis: "And God said, Let there be light." In a cosmology context, this is the image of the Singularity— where this entire universe is born in a Big Bang from a single dimensionless point of Nothingness. The singularity theme is present in the 2nd, 3rd and 5th stanzas of this poem— images of Emptiness, Infinite Zero, one dark space, and sheer nothingness. Yet, out of this Nothing, comes the first light— reminiscent of Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood: "But trailing clouds of glory do we come / From God, who is our home"

the precious pearl in glorious light & pure pearl beyond price:
The pearl of great price comes from Matthew, XIII.45-46 when Christ compared it to the kingdom of heaven: “Again the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls: Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.” Gaskell in Dictionary of All Scriptures and Myths (1960) compared the merchant to the ego or lower self, and the pearl to the Higher Self. When we get a glimpse of the Cosmic Self, we abandon the petty desires of the illusory ego for the experience of our true Eternal Self.

My enlightenment experience on pearls:
Before the 6th International Biophysics Congress in Kyoto (Sept. 3-9, 1978), I toured with a group of biochemists for a week to many Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. However, my sudden illumination didn't come there but at Mikimoto Pearl Island in Toba. At the Pearl Museum, I learned about Kokichi Mikimoto (1858-1954), the first man to successfully harvest cultivated pearls in July 1893 after many failures. To cultivate perfectly round pearls, oysters need to be opened and seeded. The oyster's irritant may be a grain of grit or shell which starts the nucleation process. There were many display cases with pearl jewelry, a pearl crown, Pearl Pagoda, and the Pearl Liberty Bell that were breathtaking. But my illumination came on seeing a cardboard display showing the main constituents of pearls to be calcium carbonate: I did a little calculation in my head on the molecular weight of CaCO3 = 40 + 12 + 3(16) = 40 + 12 + 48 = 100. "No wonder the pearl is perfect, its inherent molecular structure adds up to 100!" I said to myself, "and its rounded perfection comes from imperfection, seeded by a grain of sand." I was so carried away by this spiritual revelation that I went over to Mikimoto's statue by his Memorial Hall and bowed before this Pearl Master. When I ran to our Biochemist Tour Bus, they were about to leave without me. (Pearl: June Birthstone)

make your poem open like a tiny temple:

In her poem "Flare" from The Leaf and the Cloud (2000), Mary Oliver invokes the image of the poem wanting to flower, "to open itself / like the door of a little temple / so that you might step inside and be cooled and refreshed". The Chinese character for poetry, shih (shí) is composed of two parts: yen (yán), words and szu (), temple. Hence, good poetry is an expression of the sacred, serving to enlighten our mind.

These days I only sing  la-la-la:

La is the 6th tone of the diatonic scale in solmization: Do, Re, Mi, Fa, Sol, La, Ti, Do. It is the syllable sung to this note in a medieval hymn to St. John the Baptist. Webster Dictionary gives a second definition for "La"— "interjection used for emphasis or expressing surprise". When we read the entire quatrain where this line comes from, we can feel the "Ah ha" moment of the 15th century Japanese monk's spiritual awakening when he wrote: For twenty years I've sought the Other. / Now, letting go, I fly out of the pit. / What use oneness of mind and body? / These days I only sing la-la-la. (from Zen Poems of China and Japan: The Crane's Bill, Poem 84). In the Analects of Confucius, XI.25, we find a similar story. Confucius asked his four disciples about their aspirations. Tzu Lu wished to be a minister commanding 1000 chariots. Ch'iu wished to teach people rites and music to make the state prosperous. Ch'ih wished to be a minor assistant to a shrine. Tien replied last: "Mine is different and cannot compare with the other three. During late spring, I would like to bathe in the River Yi, enjoy the breeze at the rain altar, and sing before returning home." Confucius sighed, lamented and said, "I am with Tien." So this poem which starts with splendor of the Emperor's palace, of things purple, the symbol of royalty— ends with the image of a monk singing in the stream. And Confucius would join this chorus of the simple life rather than the comforts of the Emperor's court. This is my answer to Seung Sahn's Koan 84: "Whose Song Do You Sing?"

| Top of Page | Poem 84 | On the Number 84 | Home |

© Peter Y. Chou,
P.O. Box 390707, Mountain View, CA 94039
email: peter(at) (12-6-2005)