2,000 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (and I still can’t resist)

The subject of Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated, these four lines have not suffered from lack of translation. Gary Snyder’s rendition is beautiful – some might say perfect – as is Burton Watson’s. And then there’s Octavio Paz’s version. Yet I persist…

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com (which differs from that offered by Eliot Weinberger):

Empty hill not see person
Yet hear person voice sound
Return scene enter deep forest
Duplicate light green moss on

And my take:

Deer Sanctuary

There’s no one on this empty hill,
but I hear someone talking.
Sunlight trickles into the forest,
reflecting onto the green moss.

Time and again Weinberger objects to an explicit first person observer, but to my ear it flows better. I’ve tried to retain a sense of precision in observation and at least a hint of duality, and believe that I’ve succeeded, at least in part. Having carried this poem with me for more than two decades, only now have I felt up to the task (or at least approaching it). I chose the title “Deer Sanctuary,” because in my neck of the woods spaces enclosed by “game fences” are generally meant for hunting. We Texans do love our venison. But the poem, to me, is ultimately peaceful. Hence my title.


37 thoughts on “2,000 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (and I still can’t resist)

  1. Your translation absolutely flows better. I’m always leery of the nuances lost in translating anything, Thank you for teaching me about Wang, something new for me to explore. Peace. ~ Michael


  2. Interesting to have your reasoning along with the translation. The first person observer gives a viewpoint shared by the reader and doesn’t intrude into what is viewed.


  3. Thanks for this post. – always fascinating to hear poets (and translators) on their craft. My first thought on reading the translation was that it’d work better without the ‘i’, since it seems to me that the sound is meant to exist independently of the hearer. But in the context of knowing that these other translations exist, it’s fascinating to have your rendering too which definitely flows better.to Western ears and, to my view, adds to the translation-discussion in a meaningful way.


    • That was the dilemma – whether to insert a “hearer” or to let the voices exist independently. According to Weinberger, the first-person singular is not prevalent in Chinese poetry. In the end, wrong or right, I chose to insert the “I.”


  4. Thank you for liking my posts on Old English poetry, and thanks for teaching me about Chinese poetry – I think your translation is beautiful here, and I like others you have done too – I am drawn to poetry with stories, with a grounding in nature, and a sense of mystery and that all comes through here, like in the Old English poetry.


    • Ah, the Twang Way (spoken with a slow drawl)! I’m not certain about Wang, but Li Po was definitely a good ole boy, as we say here. These adaptations have been illuminating (even without the ubiquitous moon), and have at the very least served as portals into the particular pieces.


  5. This is exquisitely crafted. Perfect. It’s one of those works that will live in my mind always, and to which I will have recourse from time to time. I really, really love this. This is what great craftsmanship looks like, certainly, but that recognition comes after, and because of, the lived experience of the poem, which is so vivid and profound. Reading it was completely transporting. Well, well done!


  6. It’s fitting that a poet would feature the thyrsus at the top of the home page. The geometry and lack of perfection, the wabi-sabi, of the pinecone, of course, are also significant.


  7. I love Gary Snyder’s poetry. There’s an article on him in the New Yorker which you’ve inspired me to look up [I subscribe to it]. and thanx 4 visiting my blog. I like your poetry


  8. Pingback: The Emptiness of Wang Wei | Atomic Geography

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.