The Song of No Coming and No Going

Thich Nhat Hanh

When I left home, I was a child.
Now I return an old man.
Villagers still speak with the same accent,
but my hair and beard are completely white.
The village children see me but don't recognize me.
They look at each other and giggle,
"Where have you come from, old sir?"

Where have you come from, old sir?
"I have come from the same place you have,
yet you don't know there is a link between us."
I stroke my snow-white beard this morning.
The young leaves on the trees are new and green.
They see no link between themselves and the seed
that took root so many years ago on this very land.
Villagers still speak with the same accent,
but after so many years, the village has become your village.
To your puzzled eyes, I am only a strange, old visitor
arriving from some unknown world.
To come or to go, to depart or return--
who among us is not a wanderer?

Where have you come from, old sir?
You don't see. How could you?
Even if I sing to you the old songs I learned in the village,
I would still be a stranger in your eyes.
When I tell you, "This is my village,"
your eyes dance and you laugh.
And I laugh too, when you say I am just telling a story.

The bamboo trees, the riverbank, the village hall--
everything is still here.
They have changed, yet they haven't.
A new bamboo shoot, a new red-tiled roof,
a new small lane,
a new child--
What is the purpose of my return?
I don't know.

There is a haunting image of the past.
The traveler has no real point of departure
and no point of arrival.
Who is he, this explorer of the triple worlds?

As if to a former life--
the sweet potatoes and turnips, the hay, the cottage--
I come back to my village.
But those with whom I worked and sang
are strangers to those I find today.
Everywhere are the children,
the red-tiled roofs,
the narrow lanes--
The past and the future look at each other,
and the two shores suddenly become one.
The path of return continues the journey.

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