Dare you tell me I am not a lark bird asleep

From Jack London’s The Water Baby – in the Library of America anthology of his novels and stories. Compare the thought to the famous butterfly dream of Zhuangzi posted afterwards. I remember London had cited one or two Chinese poets in his John Barleycorn autobiography and am now curious what level of acquaintance with Chinese literature and thought he had.

“When I was younger I muddled my poor head over queerer religions,” old Kohokumu retorted.  “But listen, O Young Wise One, to my elderly wisdom.  This I know: as I grow old I seek less for the truth from without me, and find more of the truth from within me.  Why have I thought this thought of my return to my mother [the ocean] and of my rebirth from my mother into the sun?  You do not know.  I do not know, save that, without whisper of man’s voice or printed word, without prompting from otherwhere, this thought has arisen from within me, from the deeps of me that are as deep as the sea.  I am not a god.  I do not make things.  Therefore I have not made this thought.  I do not know its father or its mother.  It is of old time before me, and therefore it is true.  Man does not make truth.  Man, if he be not blind, only recognizes truth when he sees it.  Is this thought that I have thought a dream?”

“Perhaps it is you that are a dream,” I laughed.  “And that I, and sky, and sea, and the iron-hard land, are dreams, all dreams.”

“I have often thought that,” he assured me soberly.  “It may well be so.  Last night I dreamed I was a lark bird, a beautiful singing lark of the sky like the larks on the upland pastures of Haleakala.  And I flew up, up, toward the sun, singing, singing, as old Kohokumu never sang.  I tell you now that I dreamed I was a lark bird singing in the sky.  But may not I, the real I, be the lark bird?  And may not the telling of it be the dream that I, the lark bird, am dreaming now?  Who are you to tell me ay or no?  Dare you tell me I am not a lark bird asleep and dreaming that I am old Kohokumu?”

And Zhuangzi’s dream, in Burton Watson’s translation (The Complete Works of Zhuangzi):

“Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up, and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he were Zhuang Zhou who had dreamed he was a butterfly or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou. Between Zhuang Zhou and a butterfly, there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things.”

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