Living in the Mountains, Autumn Darkness
(translated by William P. Coleman)
The mountain air is clean after new rain;
the evening sky breathes of coming autumn.
The moon light clarifies the spaces between the pines;
pure water wells up through the rocks.
The bamboos sound with washer women going home,
and lotuses part under the fishermen’s boats.
Following the pattern, the blossoms of spring come to rest:
even a man of duty can be allowed to remain here.
If I understand this poem, it has a system of images similar to what I discussed in Emily Dickinson — I could not stop for death. The journey of life to death is compared to several others: day is described as a journey to the rest and cleanness of night, and, in parallel, the year is described as a journey to the fruition if autumn. All three of these journeys are further elaborated in a rich system of figures of speech that emphasize the natural progression of patterns.
A Chinese poem with similar imagery is Su Tung-P’o — lyrics for the tune of “Immortal by the River”.
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.
Also on pp. 27-8 of Johnson, Stephen. Fifty Tang Poems. San Francisco: Pocketscholar Press, 2000. ISBN 0-9679453-0-5.
And on p. 188 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.
Weinberger, Eliot. The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry. New York: New Directions Publishing Corporation, 2004. ISBN 0-8112-1605-5.
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.