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.