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to the small poem and the quiet voice within

david young | five tang poets

WANG WEI

‘The landscape is everything. It contains everything, including the poet, who is often simply an entranced, silent watcher. Nature brims with magic and mystery, but its overtones are neither anthropomorphic nor supernatural. A poised, confident naturalism has replaced human animism, and that is a cause for rejoicing. Or mostly so; just occasionally is there a hint of being not so much excluded as simply very small, lost in the size and majesty of the landscape with a tangle of slightly irrelevant feelings. More often, the sense of wonder and the trance of acceptance predominate, and the emotional ‘startle,’ the sudden tug of recollection and sadness that ends some of the poems, does not counteract the poised serenity but is rather absorbed into it. A Western poet might want the landscape to reflect his or her feelings and react with sorrow or even despair if it did not; a Chinese poet of landscape, and Wang Wei seems the example par excellence, is willing simply to know that his feelings, however disparate, are allowed to be part of the whole.”—David Young

AUTUMN EVENING IN THE MOUNTAINS by Wang Wei

After the rain
that covered these mountains
the night air
smells of fall

the moon gleams
among long-needled pines

rushing softly across its rocks
the creek
glitters

bringing their laundry home
through the bamboos
women chatter

a fisherman poles his boat
through the heavy lotus leaves
swaying

the spring flowers
and their heavy odors
are gone

stick around anyway
old friend
for the beauty of fall.

MY MOUNT CHUNGNAN COTTAGE by Wang Wei

Since middle .age I’ve been
a most enthusiastic Buddhist

now that I’m old I’ve settled
here in the mountain country

sometimes I get so happy
I have to go off by myself

there are marvelous places
I alone know about

I climb
to the source of a stream

and sit
to watch the rising mists

sometimes I come across
an old man of the woods

we talk and laugh
and forget to go home.

FLOATING ON A MARSH by Wang Wei

Autumn
the sky huge and clear
the marsh miles from farms and house

overjoyed by the cranes
standing around the sandbar

the mountains above the clouds in the distance

this water
utterly still
in the dusk

the white moon overhead

I let my boat drift free tonight
I can’t go home.

[from FIVE TANG POETS, Wang Wei, Li Po, TuFu, Li Ho, Shang-Yin translated by David Young Oberlin College Press, 1990, Field Translation Series 15]

9 Comments

  1. How perfectly autumnesque. Thank you for bringing these wonderful messages to us.

  2. Beautiful reminder of the strength of “the thing itself’ — no need to tell the reader how to feel if you take him with you to the marsh, the river, the mountain. No need for a lot of adjectives if you put the thing into the reader’s hand.

  3. Ah yes, a good one. I’ve had this book for a long time.

  4. Norb, Thank you thank you. And thank you to Ralph Murre for your comment…’no need to tell the reader how to feel….’. That is very helpful to me. ma

  5. Alice D'Alessio

    October 30, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    I must have this book. Such an important lesson in what to put in poetry, what to leave out. Thank you again for enlightenment.

  6. Yes Norbert,
    I’ve had this book a while as well as others. Young is a fine translator and these are exquisite. Thanks for the reminder about the real places I’ve so enjoyed in my rural life, best, Leonard

  7. I, too, must have this book! What beauty! And I think Ralph’s comment is perfect.

  8. These, undoubtedly beautiful poems, reveal the inscrutable oriental who revels in the natural scene around him but share’s little,about himself. Wang Wei, seems like a decent humanist, who needs to tell us more about himself. The poems are beautiful. Phil Hansotia

  9. Unlike others, I was not familiar with this translation and found the renditions refreshing and, for lack of a better word, inspiring. Demonstrates how a master can make it look all so easy (both poet and translator). I am off to add this to my wishlist right now.

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