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.

These poems are excerpted from The Selected Poems of Wang Wei and Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China. They are reprinted by permission.

Read poems by Wang An-shih, translated by David Hinton, also appearing in this series.

 

In Reply to P’ei Ti

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

 

Chinese poetry by Wang Wei

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

Apricot-Grain Cottage

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.

 

Bamboo-Clarity Mountains

Tall bamboo blaze in meandering emptiness:
kingfisher-green rippling streamwater blue.

On Autumn-Pitch Mountain roads, they flaunt
such darkness, woodcutters too beyond knowing.

 

Deer Park

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.

 

Magnolia Park

Autumn mountains gathering last light,
one bird follows another in flight away.

Shifting kingfisher-greens flash radiant
scatters. Evening mists: nowhere they are.

 

Chines poetry by Wang WeiSouth Lodge

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.

 

Golden-Rain Rapids

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

White-Rock Shallows open and clear,
green reeds past prime for harvest:

families come down east and west,
rinse thin silk radiant in moonlight.

 

Magnolia Slope

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.

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

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