Eight Poems by Wang An-shih

Translated by David Hinton

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The Late Poems of Wang An-shih, translated by David HintonThese poems are excerpted from The Late Poems of Wang An-Shih translated by David Hinton (New Directions, 2015). They are reprinted by permission.
 
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.
 
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Written on a Wall at Samadhi-Forest Monastery

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

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!

 

 

Wang An-shih poetry (2)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!

 

 

Spring Rain

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.

 

 

Wang An-shih poetry (1)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.

 

 

Chant

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.

Header image of traditional Chinese painting of high-mountain landscape with mist courtesy Shutterstock.

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