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 February 2018.

11 thoughts on “Spring Night (after Wang Wei)

  1. The thought of amplifying previous iterations makes a lot of sense to me. Since the transfer from one language to the other will be imperfect, each translation can make possible a more dimensional representation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The possibilities are endless. Attempting these adaptations has made me a better poet – each word counts, each has multiple permutations. I think it’s possible to say the same thing, or nearly the same thing, with differing nuances.


  2. I like this latest take – devilwood is much easier to file away in my upper reserves than a botanical name. That said, I went looking to see if the tree we planted out back 2 years ago is an osmanthus americanus and now know its botanical name is Cordia boissieri (Texas olive). Native to South Texas, but good odds in Austin area – has survived 2 winters now, and getting taller. Perhaps next year I’ll have a chance to sit beneath falling blooms and reread your lines.

    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 )

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.