Seeking the Cave
Born and raised with the kind of expectations that often accompany privilege, Jim Lenfestey approached his thirtieth birthday in a state of acute anxiety. A young family and a demanding work life on one hand, and a burgeoning love for poetry on the other.
When an independent bookseller discerns Lenfestey’s difficulties, and prescribes for a remedy the poems of a Chinese hermit named Han Shan, Lenfestey’s life is changed forever. After “swallowing the poems like aspirin” for the next thirty years, a spirited embrace of this ancient poet called Cold Mountain—the poet he has come to see as a guiding light in his life—prompts Lenfestey to travel to China on a pilgrim’s search for his cave. Along the way, this quest takes our author first to Tokyo, where he visits with the foremost translator and scholar of eastern poetry, Burton Watson, and from there across China, from the enormous chanting hall of ten thousand Buddhas in Bailin Temple to the birthplace of Confucius.
A singular combination of travel writing, memoir, translation, and poetry, Seeking the Cave is both deeply personal and universally illuminating. “Uniting our brief literary life with the ancient richness of Chinese culture” (Robert Bly), this extraordinary book evokes the transformative power of poetry, and the way it breathes meaning into our lives.
Like this book? Sign up for occasional updates
Praise and Prizes
“A lively, profound, and profoundly personal book. It’s very captivating, warm and friendly, personal, unguarded, idiosyncratic, pointed but also finally apolitical, and eminently charming.”
“A beautifully crafted volume of personal discovery, travel, and poetry.”
“Full of vivid characters and poetry and coincidence, delivered against the landscapes of a foreign culture, James P. Lenfestey’s delightful story of pilgrimage to the source of Cold Mountain’s poetry possesses great bravado, attentiveness, and honesty.”
“James P. Lenfestey’s ranging, big-hearted book of pilgrimage and quest recounts the meeting of two poets, one a twentieth-century American, the other a surprisingly gregarious Tang Dynasty hermit known for both his poems of deep solitude and the warmth of his friendships. Seeking the Cave intertwines landscape and language, poetry and prose, foodstuffs and culture, and above all, the explorations of inner life made outward, step by step, on the steep paths of China’s cities and mountains.”
“Seeking the Cave is part travelogue, part literary history, and part spiritual journey. James P. Lenfestey is a lively and entertaining tour guide. Modest, funny, curious, and wide open to the world, he gives us perceptive glimpses of Chinese culture, ancient to contemporary, and into what it means to be a poet, both now and twelve centuries ago. The account of his quest to find Han-shan’s cave is a delight from beginning to end.”