Apricot House (after Wang Wei)


Apricot House (after Wang Wei)

We cut the finest apricot for roof beams
and braided fragrant grasses over them.

I wonder if clouds might form there
and rain upon this world?

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Fine apricot cut for roofbeam
Fragrant cogongrass tie for eaves
Not know ridgepole in cloud
Go make people among rain

Each adaptation poses its challenges, and this one was certainly no exception.
First I identified key words and determined how or whether to use them.
Apricot, roofbeam, cogongrass, eaves, ridgepole, cloud, people, rain.
Apricot was a given. It offered specificity, and feels lovely in the mouth. Roof beams, as well. Cogongrass didn’t make the cut. It is indeed used for thatched roofs in southeast Asia, but it felt clumsy; in this case, the specificity it lent detracted from my reading. And rather than use “thatched” I chose “braided” to imply the layered effect of thatching, and to imply movement, to mesh with and support the idea of clouds forming and drifting under the roof. “Not know” posed a question: did it mean ignorance or simply being unaware, or perhaps a state of wonderment? I first employed “unaware” but thought it took the poem in a different direction than Wang Wei intended (but who knows?). “Ridgepole” seemed unnecessary. So I chose to let the reader follow the unsaid – using “form there” to reinforce the impression already shaped by the roof beams and the grasses “over them.” I admit to some trepidation over the second couplet. It may still need work.

44 thoughts on “Apricot House (after Wang Wei)

  1. I look at your translation organically. The clouds, representing nature, are also entranced by the beauty of this apricot roof and thinks the roof is alive, ie. part of nature. Hence the cycle of rain, nourishing apricots and grasses continues, even with this man made house.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Bob, your adaptations continue to be a wonderment but not more so than your opening the mysteries of your process. It still seems like magic or witchcraft to me, but it’s nice witchcraft!


    Liked by 1 person

    • I pondered the same question and in the end felt that “world” fit better into my concept of Wang’s Buddhism. I didn’t like the word “people” in the transliteration, and “humanity” or some variant seemed out of place, and I wanted something encompassing. But again, I’m not convinced that I’m done with this one.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Maybe I’m predisposed to reading things a certain way….but….this has to be one of the most sensual interpretations of Woman. You couldn’t have picked a better photograph! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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