(translated by William P. Coleman)
The second highest is near the celestial capital;
a succession of mountains extends to the edge of the sea.
The pure clouds, as I look back towards them, close up,
filling in the blue sky until there’s none in sight.
Dividing open space, the peak in the middle transforms it —
overcast or clear, differing in each of the valleys,
Wanting to find a place among people for the night,
I call across the river to ask a man gathering wood.
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. 185 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.
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.