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.

I was flattered when Sam Hamill contacted me after this first appeared in 2014. We had a brief exchange about the sun and moss and academics that I’ll cherish forever.


This originally appeared on the blog in April 2014.


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

  1. I’ve always admired your take on this form, Bob. I see that used copies of that book are still available on Amazon. This piques my curiosity. I think I’ll check it out.

    It was your interpretations of Chinese poems that first inspired me to try it myself, three years ago. Since then, I’ve done nearly two dozen, posting most of those. I’ve tried to keep the language spare, while still using fairly complete sentences – some with punctuation, most without. One that I never posted is an interpretation of this poem, which I took in a different direction from yours. Also, I used very spare language – more like haiku phrasing. I’ll have to revisit it and see if I still see it that way.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Like you and rivrvlogr above I’ve tried my hand at translations of classical Chinese poetry. The one here is s-o-o-o-o elusive. I’m at a loss to try with this text, even though with some translations I’d rather be wrong than to not try. Your title adds context, makes it more vivid.

    Liked by 2 people

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