My Retreat at Chung-nan Mountain
(translated by William P. Coleman)
In the middle of my life, I was very fond of tao;
now my home is in the south, by this mountain.
When inspiration comes, I go out alone —
it’s fine to be free, to know yourself.
I walk along the river, to where it ends,
and sit watching clouds as they rise.
I happen upon an old man in the forest;
we converse, laugh, and have no fixed time to return.
Readers of this poem may also be interested in my translation of the philosophical work: “Tao Te Ching” by Lao Tzu.
I found the Chinese text and an English translation of this poem — along with the word-by-word literal translation I used to create this one at the website Tang Shi — 300 Tang Poems, from Wengu — Chinese Classics and Poems.
Similar resources are available on p. 187 of Wai-Lim Yip’s book Chinese Poetry: an Anthology of Major Modes and Genres, Duke University Press, 1997; ISBN 0-8223-1946-2.
I also consulted the English translations in the following books:
Seaton, JP. The Shambhala Anthology of Chinese Poetry. Boulder: Shambhala, 2006. ISBN 1-57062-862-9.
Watson, Burton. The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-231-05683-4.
Young, David. Five Tʻang Poets. Oberlin: Oberlin College Press, 1990. ISBN 0-932440-55-X.
Yu, Pauline. The Poetry of Wang Wei. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1980. 0-253-17772-3.
The grammar of Chinese allows poets to leave interpretive choices open, and it’s an unattainable ideal of translating to bring out possibilities without closing others. I try to use my sense of English to at least intrigue you. If I’ve succeeded, it’s best — even if you don’t know Chinese, which I don’t either — to follow up at the source I cite above and see the original word-by-word translation from which I worked. It’ll be richer than what I’ve given you. To understand the poem best, try to construct your own translation.
More Chinese poetry translations in this blog.
Home page for my Wang Wei translations.