Spring Night (after Wang Wei)


Spring Night (after Wang Wei)

Among falling devilwood blossoms, I lie
on an empty hill this calm spring night.
The moon lunges above the hill, scaring the birds,
but they’re never quiet in this spring canyon.

Another try at an old favorite…

I consider this adaptation rather than translation, but perhaps appropriation or even remaking might be more accurate.

Here’s the transliteration from chinese-poems.com:

Person idle osmanthus flower fall
Night quiet spring hill empty
Moon out startle hill birds
Constant call spring ravine in

So many choices, none of them exactly right, none of them entirely wrong. How does one imply idleness, what words to use for “flower” (blossom? petal?), or for that matter, “fall” (descend, flutter, spiral)? And how to describe a moonrise that scares the constantly calling birds? My first attempt began:

“I lie among the falling petals”

but it seemed vague. The word “osmanthus” fattened my tongue, or so it felt, but the osmanthus americanus, otherwise known as devilwood or wild olive, grows in parts of Texas. So I brought the poem closer to home.

I considered naming the birds (quail came to mind) but decided against. In this case the specificity felt somehow intrusive.

My hope is that I’ve managed to amplify, in some small way, previous iterations, and that while the edges are still a bit blurred in morning’s first light, perhaps they’ll become slightly crisper by the evening.


“Spring Night” last appeared here in May 2016.

18 thoughts on “Spring Night (after Wang Wei)

  1. The choices seem to multiply with each choice you make. Sometimes the poet’s voice (or my apprehension of the poet’s voice) comes from reading lots of poems by that poet, translated by more than one person, so I can begin to feel that voice rising above the translated words, or resting beneath, whichever makes more sense at the moment. Then the choices for translating a particular line seem more clear.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. It feels like a rather good translation, sounding like an original piece in your style. Translations have a way of taking on the transcriber’s personality. Without it, how could we ever enjoy any of the classics? The transliteration from chinese-poems is proof of that.
    At the same time, it’s one of the reasons I avoid ancient literature, too much of it is at the mercy of the interpreter. Translating the osmanthus as the Tea flower would have placed it in a more Chinese landscape. But this is where the translator brings it home. A necessary evil, I suppose.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. As always, I prefer your take to the literal!
    And thank you for “devilwood” – intriguing name for the Texas Olive we brought back from a Native Plant nursery in the Rio Grande Valley last year. We can’t tell yet if it’s surviving this winter’s wrath … we’ll get another if it doesn’t … the blooms are spectacular, truly alluring – “bedeviling” perhaps.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. The care you take makes all the difference, Bob. I especially like the choice of “lunges,” which implies a motion that more naturally than the static original (moon out) anticipates “startle.” Now I’m going to quit before we murder this loveliness with too much analysis. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is beautiful and poignant, as well as instructive (in the best sense of the word).

    It’s no less challenging or crucial, I think, to try to get to the heart of what it is we actually intend, ourselves, when generating new poetry, than it is to tease out another poet’s “intention” in order to do a translation justice. Thanks for sharing your process, here. It’s good to be reminded of *how* we do what we do (i.e., attending meticulously to the questions of precision in the interest of avoiding such messy pitfalls as “too much” and “not enough,” among others), and, more importantly, why we do it (because if we aren’t certain in the first place of the picture we see — never mind the implications it may evoke, to which we’re often the only ones who are blind — then the reader will be equally left in the dark, which is at best counterproductive). Anyway, the extent to which I’ve just needed out should attest to my overall enjoyment of this piece. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    • To be honest, the process of adapting these is not much different than my usual writing process, as I question everything I write. Is this the best verb, does this resonate with that, does the imagery work as I intend, and so forth. There is more self-doubt with the adaptations. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  6. An excellent translation I’d say. You generally seemed to make choices for vividness, which is a good principle too I think. Translation is a wonderful exercise for the poet, because as you pay attention to the original poet’s process, you can (sometimes for the first time) observe your own.

    Alas, when translating, I sometimes cannot resist making what feel like intuitive leaps based on the experience of the poem that I cannot justify later in terms of accuracy. Informally, I use my musician’s mind and sometimes call them “cover versions” — because when someone does someone else’s familiar song, I care not for it to sounding “just like the record,” but rather want to know how the record resonated with the new musician.

    Liked by 1 person

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 )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google 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.