Wang Wei — My Retreat at Chung-nan Mountain

My Retreat at Chung-nan Mountain

Wang Wei

701-761 CE
(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.

Tang Shi -- 300 Tang Poems, from Wengu -- Chinese Classics and Poems 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. Seaton, JP. The Shambhala Anthology of Chinese Poetry. Boulder: Shambhala, 2006. ISBN 1-57062-862-9.

Watson, Burton. The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry. Watson, Burton. The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry. New York: Columbia University Press, 1984. ISBN 0-231-05683-4.

Young, David. Five Tʻang Poets. Young, David. Five Tʻang Poets. Oberlin: Oberlin College Press, 1990. ISBN 0-932440-55-X.

Yu, Pauline. The Poetry of Wang Wei 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.

 

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2 Responses to Wang Wei — My Retreat at Chung-nan Mountain

  1. hirsh says:

    I like your translations of Chinese poetry so much! I also appreciate very much how you post where you found the Chinese text and word for word translation.
    Thank you, it is an inspiration!
    Hirsh

  2. williampcoleman says:

    Hirsch,

    Thanks for your kind words! It’s especially good to know you like the links to the originals. My own translation isn’t meant to be the final word. I’m very sincere in each post when I say people should look at the original and try, at least mentally, to construct their own.

    — Bill

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