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 of adapting 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.


This originally appeared on the blog in April 2014.

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

  1. I don’t know what I’m talking about at all when it comes to any Asian languages, but I do agree with your use of a first person observer in this translation. In English, passive voice generally serves to mute the overall impact of a rendering (unless it’s used in a repair manual, but then nobody really cares about the implied subject in that circumstance). So, I think your choice of specifying the subject and emphasizing the I’s first-hand experience of the scene unfolding is not only viable, but especially compelling.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I really like your version. Someone “present” is implied in any scene description, even imagined ones. So why not include “I”? More personal than “One”. [Not versed in Asian poetics, just noting what appeals to my 2018 mind/ears/eyes.]

    Liked by 2 people

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