Wang Wei (701-761 C.E.) is often spoken of, with his contemporaries Li Po and Tu Fu, as one of the three greatest poets in China’s 3,000-year poetic tradition. Of the three, Wang was the consummate master of the short imagistic landscape poem that came to typify classical Chinese poetry. He developed a landscape poetry of resounding tranquility wherein deep understanding goes far beyond the words on the page—a poetics that can be traced to his assiduous practice of Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism.
The cold river spreads boundless away. Autumn rains darken azure-deep skies.
You ask about Whole-South Mountain: mind knows far beyond white clouds.
Mourning Yin Yao
Giving you back to Stone-Tower Mountain, we bid farewell among ash-green pine and cyprus, then return home.
Of your bones now buried white cloud, this much remains forever: streams cascading empty toward human realms.
In the Mountains
Bramble stream, white rocks jutting out. Heaven cold, red leaves scarce. No rain
up here where the mountain road ends, sky stains robes empty kingfisher-blue.
Wheel-Rim River Sequence
Roofbeams cut from deep-grained apricot, fragrant reeds braided into thatched eaves:
no one knows clouds beneath these rafters drifting off to bring that human realm rain.
Tall bamboo blaze in meandering emptiness: kingfisher-green rippling streamwater blue.
On Autumn-Pitch Mountain roads, they flaunt such darkness, woodcutters too beyond knowing.
No one seen. In empty mountains, a hint of drifting voice, no more.
Entering these deep woods, late sun- light ablaze on green moss, rising.
Autumn mountains gathering last light, one bird follows another in flight away.
Shifting kingfisher-greens flash radiant scatters. Evening mists: nowhere they are.
I leave South Lodge, boat light, water so vast you never reach North Lodge.
Far shores: I see villagers there beyond knowing in all this distance, distance.
Wind buffets and blows autumn rain. Water cascading thin across rocks,
waves lash at each other. An egret startles up, white, then settles back.
White-Rock Shallows open and clear, green reeds past prime for harvest:
families come down east and west, rinse thin silk radiant in moonlight.
Waterlily blossoms out on tree branches flaunt crimson calyces among mountains.
At home beside this stream, quiet, no one here. Scattered. Scattered open and falling.
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.