Wang An-shih (1021–1086 C.E.) was a remarkable figure — not only one of the great Sung Dynasty poets, but also the most influential and controversial statesman of his time. In his retirement, practicing Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism and wandering the mountains around his home, Wang An-shih wrote the poems that made his reputation. Short and plainspoken, these late poems contain profound multitudes — the passing of time, the rivers and mountains, silence and Buddhist emptiness. They won him wide acclaim in China and beyond across the centuries. And in David Hinton’s breathtaking translations, Wang feels like a major contemporary poet with deep ecological insight and a questioning spirit.
Samadhi-Forest has a host, the abbot, and I’m the guest. Host and guest, we
each have our own mind, but they’re both quiet as the same mountain peak.
Wandering Out with a Full Moon to Eightfold-Integrity River
Thoughts turned far away from you, confusion rife, I can’t sleep. Finally
I rise, gaze up into bright stars, then saddle a horse and wander the road
east, thinking rivers and mountains might ease my worries. I know you
ate no dinner. Come: we’ll ladle out clouds together here at their source.
Five willows and a mulberry-brush house, thatch refuge beneath three-aspen whites:
wandering between them, pure boredom, I suddenly see green-azure in green-azure!
On a Farewell Journey to Send off Mend-Source, a Sudden Windstorm Rages, So I Write Four Lines on the Boat’s Wall
At the Huai River mouth, west wind turns brutal. My friend’s stuck here who knows
how long. But look: the rising moon turns all these thoughts we share incandescent!
Bitter mist hides spring colors. Grief- drizzle sickens the splendor of things.
That dark isolate wonder impossible now, I swill down a cup of dusk haze.
Leaving the City
I’ve lived in the country long enough to know its wild joys: it feels like I’m a child back home in my old village again.
Leaving the city today, I leave all that gritty dust behind, and facing mountains and valleys, feel them enter my eyes.
Farewell to Candor-Achieve
Traveling north we delight in family, and drifting south savor friends. How
could we forget each other? We gaze anywhere into all our kindred depths.
Dawn lights up the room. I close my book and sleep, dreaming of Bell Mountain and full of tenderness.
How do you grow old living with failure and disgrace? Stay close to the cascading creek: cold, shimmering.
After serving as prime minister, Wang An-shih (1021-1086) retired to the mountains of south China where he devoted himself to the spiritual practices of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism and landscape poetry, becoming a major figure in the rivers-and-mountains tradition of Chinese poetry.
In addition to his many translations of classical Chinese poetry and philosophy, David Hinton is the author of Hunger Mountain, a book of essays exploring consciousness and landscape, and the map-poem Fossil Sky. He can be visited at davidhinton.net.