Rupert Arrowsmith doing a second reading of his poem 'The Way to Bhutan' at the Mountain Echoes literary festival in Thimphu, Bhutan in 2015.
The poem was dedicated to His Majesty Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck, the Fourth King of Bhutan, and the poem was first read to open the 2015 festival. After the first reading, Arrowsmith presented the original typescript of it to the Royal Queen Mother, Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck, in an antique silver document cylinder from Burma.
The poem has been published in the global literature magazine Wasafiri (31/1 (March 2016), pp 48-49).
Text of the poem is as follows:
The Way to Bhutan
A Japanese forest of damp pine and camphor
Was where it caught me in the end, Buddhism,
I having sought the bright eye of a sculpture
In a temple of wood
once riven by lightning.
For some weeks I crouched by a whitewashed wall,
Watching the tides of my own mind lap
‘Til a monk rapped my back with a timber
(For slouching – in Zen a sloppy habit)
The deeps of the white wall seemed to imply,
There is another place –
A place of snows,
A place in the sky.
Next was a land of salt and fine dust, in China
Right hand of the Silk Road that once had spanned
a bright Buddhist continent,
its light long gone out
between caliph and commissar.
A stone face loomed from a broken cave
Roomed half in nirvana and half outside,
in carven relief
it seemed to explain,
There is a place where it all still exists –
A place walled by mountains,
Hard to attain.
In Burma I found it, when I went south,
Each mountain crowned with a temple town,
the very air humming
with monastic murmur.
And I shaved my skull,
and put on crimson,
And in the forest I begged and was silent,
beginning to understand,
beginning to get it all.
But even there in the lull of the hall,
I seemed to perceive,
There’s another land yet,
Where it never went out.
And I saw a track of monks, one behind another,
More than two thousand summers, all the way back
to the Western Ghats
to the first halls of India,
sliced out of rock with the skill of a laser,
so flat, the floor where they sat and were silent,
those who were first to have shaved their heads.
So I went to that place, but the halls were dead,
(even to tourists,
if not to bats)
And in their stillness they seemed to have said,
There is a place where it all continues,
A place where the air is bright with life.
And high to the North, the law too had died,
A place where a Buddha once had braced
Great shoulders against a gray mountainside
But now lay a pile of gunpowdered fragments.
A place that had once shone,
Gone into a blank desolation of fear.
But the broken stones seemed still to say,
There is a place that is still Shambhala,
Where the King
and the Law
and the people are One.
I have spent many years in search of that place,
But now, Bhutan, I humbly approach.