Kanji for Muryoko

'Infinite Light'

Journal of Shin Buddhism

Peter Kelly

Autumn Landscape Roll:


[ The text of the poem ]



Cantos I-IV

The rivalry of T'ang Dynasty painters Wu Tao-Tzu and Li Ssu-hsun. Their journey to the western province. The commission from the emperor and the painting contest. The emperor's judgement. Wu's disappearance.

Wu's Journey

Cantos V-IX

Wu's wanderings in the landscape. He arrives at Tao-Chien's cottage. Wu reads the book of Chuang-tzu. On departure enters a wood and sees the seven trees. Winter comes and he arrives at a lake. Meets an old fisherman and they talk.Wu arrives at the mountain and begins his ascent.

Cantos X -XII

Arrival at the gate and the four warrier kings. Entry to the Hall: the Buddha's altar. The four regents described.

Canto XIII

Wu enters the empty hall and worships the buddhas Description of Kuan-Yin.

Canto XIV

Wu's petition to Kuan-Yin

Canto XV

The fire: one of the statues is on fire. The appearance of the Ch'an monk. Arrival of Tao-hsuan (Vinaya master). Dialogue between Tao-Hsuan and the mad monk. Wu reveals his presence. The monk is revealed as Hui Neng.

Canto XVI

Shakyamuni's Fire Sermon.

Earthquake in the temple. Ti Tsang (Ksittigarbha) emerges from a chasm in the temple floor. His blessing by Shakyamuni and his descent into the realm of Yen-lo

Hell Cantos xvii-xxii

Canto XVII

Ti-tsang descends the winding stairs to the seven cuboid dungeons and sees the realm of the hungry ghosts.


He arrives in Wu-chien's cave. The damned cross the river and sink in blood. Those who escape are harried by Yen-lo-s legion and driven into the wiry mesh. Ti-tsang walks along the highway between the seven files of armoured trees. Punishment of the libertines described. His arrival at the excremental lake and the punishment of hunters and butchers etc.

Canto XIX

The second ward: the punishment of thieves and robbers. The third ward: the sexually damned. The fourth ward: drunkards and drug addicts.

Canto XX

The fifth ward: liars, gossips, sycophants, utterers of oaths, obscenities; traitors. The sixth ward: idolators, those who cling to ego. Tsi-tsang's speech to the misguided. His eloquence routs erroneous creeds. The eighth ward: The five most heinous felons in Hell's hottest region: parricides, matricides, killers of lohans and buddhas, creators of schisms.

Canto XXI

Ti-tsang's arrival at Yen-lo's citadel and Feng-tu's Hall of Judgement. The terrifying appearance of Yen-lo. The type of punishments decided by the ten royal judges.

Canto XXII

The judgement of the old man on his death bed. The ordeal of Yen-lo. Ti-tsang raises the magic flaming gem. The burst of white light and the dissolving of Hell. The redemption of the damned. Wu's prayer. The temple floor closes.

Pure Land cantos


The monks hear Shan Tao invoke the Name of Amida; the renewal of Nature, arrival of the birds singing. The heavenly cortege of maidens playing instruments. Shan Tao beholds Ching-t'u: the Heavenly City. The seven rivers. The purified take a banquet. The devotees of Amida in the Pure Land. The retinue of buddhas and bodhisattvas sail on rafts of clouds; Pu-hsien on his elephant;Wen-shu on his lion. The kalavinka birds dance.

Canto XXIV

The wooden buddha in the temple which was aflame is transformed to Amitabha: a sunburst of molten gold from his heart, arrows dart. Description of Amitabha. Shan Tao's invocation and prayer. Amitabha sits on his throne; the Bodhi Tree ascends.

Canto XXV

Shan Tao contemplates the jewel trees in an avenue. The enthronement of Tai-Shih-chi and Kuan Yin beside the Buddha. The lotus lake. The awakening of the newly born in the lotus buds; they are collected in boats and brought to the Western Paradise; their transformation. Music in Heaven.

The Patriarchs describe their doctrines

Canto XXVI

Shan Tao's description of the pilgrim's route along the narrow path and its dangers. The Buddha's voice exhorts him; Shan Tao invokes the Name; the bodhisattva's arrival. All welcome him. He runs along the path to Ching-t-u's gate; resolves to go back to China to teach.


Chi-I and the Tendai sect and the Lotus Sutra. Invocation of P'u-hsien (Samantabhadra)


Chin Kang-chi (Vajrabodhi) master of tantric esoteric school. Vadjrabodhi's invocation of the two mandalas. Description of the mandala with Vairochana with the four buddhas and bodhisattvas. Description of Samantabhadra, Manjushri, Avalokitesvara, Maitreya

Canto XXIX.

Manifestation of the Diamond World; Vairochana's description.Descriptions of Akshobya, Ratnasambhava, Amitabha, Amoghasiddhi. The diamond palace on Mt. Sumeru.

Canto XXX

Fa Tsang (Hua-Yen): his demonstration of the doctrine of interpenetration to Empress Wu. The luminous assembly of buddhas build a tower out of the five great elements - a five tiered pagoda. Fa Tsang enters the tower which then multiplies. His wanderings in its palaces and halls. The yellow lotus bloom opens to reveal the five centres. The sage and his disciple ascend the inner staircase. The union of paths and the brain. Hua-Yen's spiderweb of jewels.

Canto XXXI

K'uei-chi (Yogacharya school) His paen to Consciousness Alone. Manjushri described with the lion.


Chi Tsang (San-lun's 5 th patriarch). The Buddha laughs and destroys the temple roof. The patriarch's final say. Hui Neng justifies the burning of the statue. The Emperor Ming's astonishment when the landscape in the scroll vanishes.

Introduction to the poem

Harold Stewart began Autumn Landscape Roll almost immediately after he had finished By the Walls of Old Kyoto which was published in 1981. The writing of the epic would take him nearly fifteen years and he was still writing notes for it a few weeks before he died in 1995. He clearly considered it to be his magnum opus and often worried that he may not live long enough to complete it. He battled with heart disease and a variety of illnesses during those fifteen years and was several times near to death. This no doubt focused his mind on the subject of the after life which informs so much of the content of the poem. As well as composing the poem he immersed himself in the doctrines of Jodo-Shin Buddhism and made a deep study of the Pure Land Sutras under the guidance of his teacher and friend in the dharma, Professor Hisao Inagaki. He assisted him in bringing out an English translation of the sutras, published in 1994 as The Three Pure Land Sutras. At the front of the book are three reproductions of mandalas which Stewart had in his collection and which were a source of inspiration for the poem.

It requires great stamina and determination to plan and complete a poem of this length: at 5356 lines it must be one of the longest in the language, rivalling Paradise Lost and The Faerie Queene and, in its subject, inviting comparisons with Dante's Commedia. It also signifies a great ambition to take one's place amongst the likes of Milton, Spenser and Dante. Two poets who influenced Stewart, Wordsworth and Keats, wrote long poems but even they did not attempt anything as ambitious.Before the advent of the short poem and the sequence of short poems as the prevailing genre of Modernism most poets had dreamed of writing an epic, or at least a long poem, which would establish their reputation as a poet of substance and invite comparisons with the figures of the past. Harold Stewart certainly believed it was the long poem which would make his poetic reputation and apart from his translations of haiku preferred to write in extended forms. The few attempts he made at the lyric mode are not notably successful and he needed the amplitude of verse paragraphs to express his genius.Of course he realised that what he was attempting to do was unfashionable and flying in the face of contemporary practice. The age of an audience, or rather a readership, for long narrative or discursive poems had passed with the Victorians and the Edwardians and now, if people wanted to read poetry at all, they preferred short poems or collections of short poems.The advent of the novel in the nineteenth century had largely displaced the readership for long poems. Typical poems of the twentieth century, like Eliot's The Wasteland were concentrated, allusive, difficult and required commentaries to be understood. Stewart was reacting against Modernism and its poetics when he consciously decided to write in traditional metres and use rhyme and abandon free verse. He was also trying to re-establish the tradition of expounding and narrating mythological themes but instead of drawing upon Biblical and classical sources he used material from Taoist and Chinese and Japanese Buddhist legends and scripture. As Far-Eastern poetry does not have an epic tradition (unlike India) Stewart set out to create one.

Stewart's view of poetry and the role of the artist was influenced by his reading of the Traditionalist writers Rene Guenon, Frithjof Schuon and Ananda Coomaraswamy. The latter, in particular, wrote of the role of the artist as a craftsman who was dedicted to creating artefacts which would serve the cause of religion in the form of images and icons or expound the traditional beliefs in the form of epic, dramatic or expository verse.He had much to say about the role of metre and rhyme in the Sanskrit epics and the role of imagery which appealed to Stewart. Coomaraswamy saw the poet as a mouthpiece of the Tradition, inspired by the gods, and his role was to tell the stories of the gods and heroes or to expound the religious ideas in myth and symbol rather than to express his own subjective views. Some of this 'impersonality' pervades the writing of Autumn Landscape Roll, although one can sometimes discern a personal voice behind the mask of one of the narrative voices in the poem: Wu Tao Tze.

Stewart took quite seriously the role of the poet as an impersonal voice of Tradition quite early in his poetic career. Although intially he was influenced by modernist verse (we know that he was enthusiastic as a young man for the verse of Mallarme, Valery, whom he translated, and for Hart Crane and Wallace Stevens) he seems to have become disenchanted with it some time in the early1940s. Together with his friends James McAuley and A.D.Hope he distanced himself from prevailing modernist trends in Australian poetry to write in traditional metres and rhyme. What distinguished Stewart from these two was that he ignored contemporary themes and Australian subject matter in favour of oriental subjects (except for his Orpheus poems) and continued to do so for the rest of his life.He gained some notoriety in 1944 for his role with McAuley in the creation of the poems of Ern Malley which was an attempt by the two poets to expose what they saw as the excesses of surrealist and modernist verse published in Angry Penguins journal.In a hoax they invented the poet, Ern Malley, and passed off a sequence of fourteen poems to the editor of the journal, Max Harris as the work of a recently deceased writer.Harris fell for the bait and the hoax was subsequently exposed by the newspapers. Stewart and McAuley claimed that the poems had been written in a kind of collaborative brainstorming, one Saturday afternoon. Inevitably, what the two young poets produced was a convincing parody and the Ern Malley poems have passed into the canon of Australian modernist poetry, much to the amusement of Harold Stewart. However, at the time, he and McAuley were regarded as literary hyenas by the modernist establishment and Stewart's work was virtually ignored by critics and reviewers. He, for his part, chose not to defend his anti-modernist stance in the public domain and his work slowly disappeared from the map of Australian verse. In later life he published with overseas companies rather than seek publication in Australia.The neglect of his work in Australia may be attributed as much to the fact that he chose not to write a single poem with an Australian theme-- unlike McAuley and Hope. His espousal of oriental themes was part of a long established feeling of alienation with Australian life and values. He even hated the Australian landscape!

From the appearance of Phoenix Wings in 1946 one can see a preoccupation with Chinese themes. 'A Flight of Wild Geese' which tells the story of the painter, Wu Tao-tzu, who painted a landscape roll for the Emperor Ming Huang of the T'ang dynasty, would later be taken up again by Stewart forty years later as a kind of framing device for Autumn Landscape Roll. Stewart early developed a love of Chinese painting and an interest in Taoism which persisted even after his focus shifted to Buddhism and Japanese material. The figure of Wu is in some measure the alter ego of Harold Stewart, the lonely wanderer in a poetic landscape, ill at ease with the modern world.

Autumn Landscape Roll, despite its Taoist framing device is essentially a Buddhist poem, and a poem describing the Pure Lands of Shin Buddhism. By the time Stewart came to write the poem he had been a Buddhist for at least twenty years and the general aims of the work seem to be to give a descriptive overview of the afterlife according to Pure Land teachings and to highlight the Shin point of view.Although Stewart had received a course of instruction in the Jodo-Shin tradition in 1963 he was not ordained and he decided to be a lay follower. After he went to live in Japan in 1966 he continued to study the doctrines and to try and make sense of them. His 'pilgrim's progress' is well described in his By the Walls of Old Kyoto. Like most Westerners he had his ups and downs with coming to terms with the dharma and living a Buddhist life. This he sincerely tried to do; he was a scholar and a poet but he was also a practitioner and this, I think, is revealed both in his personal life and in his art.

His move to Japan in 1966 was the most significant event in his life. He must have made the decision to move there after his trip around Japan in 1963 with his friend, Masaaki Ueshima, when he saw much of the temples, gardens and scenic delights.His letters also reveal that he saw much of the ugliness of Japanese cities and was appalled by what he saw as the determination of the Japanese to clear all the forests and 'concrete over Japan'. Nevertheless, there was enough of the traditional past, particularly in Kyoto, to lure him back.He lived for many years in a quaint rather ramshackle old inn, the 'Shirakuso' and wrote By the Walls of Old Kyoto and his collections of haiku in a room which he described as his 'golden garret'. He became very attached to the 'Shirakuso' and was very upset when his landlady decided to sell the inn in 1983. He moved to a small flat with views of the mountains in the neighbouring suburb of Shugakuin and it was here that he did most of the work on Autumn Landscape Roll. His financial situation was always precarious until he obtained a Commonwealth Literary Grant from the Australia Council about the time of the move and so could afford the rent. His Swiss patron, Kurt Harrer, and several kind friends ensured that he didn't starve and he made a little money from royalties and from commission from the sale of antiques from his Japanese dealer friends. He had many visitors over the years who kept coming back to go on exhausting tours of the temples, gardens, antique shops and other attractions of Kyoto. He probably knew more about the history, legends, art and architecture of Kyoto than most Japanese and certainly most foreigners and he could talk at length on any of these topics to a captive audience. He often used to complain in letters about the interruptions of visitors as 'Porlockers' - a reference to Coleridge's interrupters as 'people from Porlock'. But nothing could stem the tide of his creativity; he produced an astonishing amount of poetry and kept up a voluminous correspondence. He spent twenty-nine years living in Japan and never returned to Australia despite many invitations and assurances from friends that Australia had changed for the better since his departure in 1966.His heart was in Kyoto and that is where his mortal remains rest.

The narrative scheme of the poem

The poem is divided into thirty-two cantos which roughly correspond to episodes or topics. The epic is framed by four introductory cantos which deal with the T'ang painter Wu Tao Tze and his relations with the Emperor and concludes with a very short epilogue when the Emperor sees that the landscape on the roll by Wu has disappeared.

The narrative proper begins when Wu starts his wanderings in the landscape traversing lakes and mountains until he reaches the monastery. At this stage, two of the main Buddhist figures, Tao-hsuan, Hui Neng are introduced and various dialogues take place.Dialogues are an important device used in the poem to explain doctrinal views.The scenes in the temple are dramatically interrupted by an earthquake after which Ti-Tsang (Ksittagarbha) emerges from a chasm in the floor. The Hell cantos (17-23) which follow describe the torments meted out to the various types of the damned and the witness of this is Ti-Tsang (Jizu Bosatsu in Japanese) rather than Wu. The narrative structure differs from European epics and pilgrimage narratives like Dante's Inferno or Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress in that the protagonist Wu does not appear continuously throughout the action. With canto 24 the Pure Land paradises are described through the eyes of Shan Tao, a patriarch of the Pure Land School. The sections which follow are narrated by the patriarchs of other Buddhist schools: the T'ien-tai, the Mantrayana, the Hua-yen, the Yogacarya, the San-lun who in turn describe the presiding Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of their sects and expound their doctrinal viewspoints. The last scene ends back in the temple where Wu and the monks are assembled. The drowsy monks are awakened by the laughter of the Buddha which miraculously destroys the roof and displays the heavens and the poem ends with silence. The epilogue reverts back to the Emperor in the palace who is astonished to see that Wu's masterpiece has vanished and that only a blank scroll remains.

The poem is a kind of mixed genre. It does not follow the 'voyage to the underworld and the heavenly realms' pattern used in The Epic of Gigamesh, Virgil's Aeneid Book VI and in Dante's Commedia in which a guide (Virgil) explains to the protagonist what is going on. Autumn Landscape Roll follows partly the pilgrimage pattern so far as Wu's wanderings are concerned but this journey is short and stops with the arrival at the temple. The journey by Tsi-tsang into the hells follows a similar schemata to that of Dante's poem but the protagonist is alone and without a guide. He is a supernatural figure rather than a man The last sections are not so much narratives as descriptions, invocations, and expositions of doctrine in verse.

Stewart's descriptions of the Hell realms invite comparisons with Dante's Inferno. In this poem we meet a great variety of sinners, some known to Dante, and often their story is told by themselves. They provide a lot of information about the world of mediaeval Italy and the characters diplay individual characteristics which make them memorable. One thinks of the stories of Paolo and Francesca, of Ugolino and the various popes and rulers. Stewart's Hell is full of similar gruesome torments but the characters remain anonymous and this was a quite intentional strategy on his part. He once told me that he thought that the descriptions of historical persons in the Inferno somehow limited its universality! He was also at pains to point out differences between the Christian Hell, which was everlasting torment, and the Buddhist view of it as temporary and ultimately illusory. The descriptions of the Pure Lands owe nothing to the descriptions of the various heavenly realms by Dante. In the Paradiso he is wafted up from heaven to heaven and given a conducted tour by Beatrice and listens to discourses by saints, fathers of the Church, theologians and philosophers before beholding the the vision of God in the great Rose. In Autumn Landscape Roll we have discourses by the Buddhist patriarchs but no central character who listens to them. One presumes the audience is the assembly of monks in the temple but this is by no means clear.

Stewart's great gifts were for description rather than for narration and characterisation and these were inspired by both Nature and Art. He was a lover of the forests and gardens of Japan but also a devotee of Chinese and Japanese landscape scrolls. A principal source of inspiration for the descriptions of the infernal and heavenly realms lie in the fresco paintings of Dun Huan, the various mandala icons, and popular woodblock prints. He in fact owned several Japanese mandala paintings and three are reproduced in Professor Hisao Inegaki's The Three Pure Land Sutras. One of these, a Taima Mandala dating from the Genroku epoch in the Edo Period (about 1691) depicts the Buddha Amida flanked by Kannon and Taishi and surrounded by Bodhisattvas enthroned on a platform before a lake. On either side jewelled palaces in the Chinese style are depicted while at the top winged angelic figures float trailing ribbons and playing on instruments. At the base of the scroll the recently deceased are welcomed to the Pure Land by Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. These pictorial representations and the descriptions of the Pure Lands found in the sutras are the obvious sources from which the poet drew his inspiration and on which he no doubt meditated and visualised before composing.

In the poem Stewart also attempts to convey the grandeur and magnificence of Mahayana philosophical thought and doctrine in some detail. His exposition of the Hua-yen doctrine of interconnectedness in which the Empress Wu is shown a model of inter-reflecting mirrors is one of the most felicitous of these. So the poem is also a philosophical discourse made palatable in the form of poetry.

In Paradise Lost John Milton invokes the Heavenly Muse to aid him:

                                 I thence
Invoke thy aid to my adventrous Song,
That with no middle flight intends to soar
Above th' Aonian Mount, while it pursues
Things unattempted yet in Prose or Rhime

Harold Stewart must have hoped his Muse would continue to inspire him on his difficult task. Certainly nothing quite like this poem in English (or any other European language to my knowledge) has been attempted. Whether he succeeded or not must be left to history to judge but there is much in the poem to admire and to inspire awe in the ordinary reader, particularly if he or she happens to be a Buddhist.

I hope that the appearance of this work will lead to a recognition of this extraordinary man who laboured for many years to produce it. Even those who might wish that it had been written in a more contemporary verse form must admit to the power of the imagery and the skills in expounding the Buddhist doctrines. For those who enjoy traditional verse there will be many delights to be found in the intricate rhyming patterns and the subtle interplay between iambic pentameter rhythms and speech rhythms. Stewart was a master craftsman who sought elegance and polish and his aestheticism never left him. But in this last work he aimed at a less ornate style than the one he used in his earlier works so that he arrived at a simple grandeur that he so much admired in Wordsworth, except perhaps for the descriptions of the Pure Land where he lovingly lingers on sensuous detail. It is a poem of much variety: there are dialogues interspersed at various points and even touches of whimsical humour so characteristic of the author as well as passages of ecstatic devotion and sweeping grandeur.

This work has not been published in book form as yet. I hope that its appearance in this form may attract a wider readership and perhaps inspire a publisher to consider its publication. I would like to thank John Paraskevopoulos for his unstinting efforts in overseeing the transfer the MS into electronic form.

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