You, who come from the old country
Tell me what is happening
On that cold day you left, did you see my silken paintings, and
Were the first plum flowers blossoming yet
English translation of Wang Wei’s poem 雜 詩
The title, 雜 詩, is variously translated as mixed verse, mixed lines, miscellaneous poetry, and sometimes, simply as lines.
Wang Wei was famous for both his poetry and his paintings. And three hundred years after Wang Wei wrote these few lines of poetry, fellow Chinese poet and artist Su Shi wrote, “Wang Wei’s poems hold a painting within them.”
Well said, Shu Shi.
In a few short lines, Wang Wei has given us an image of the old country, a cold day, silken paintings, and a vision of plum flowers forever waiting to blossom.
But is Wang Wei worried for the paintings he left behind or the uncertainty of his life?
Wang Wei’s wrote this poem during during the An Lushan Rebellion. The emperor necessarily fled the capital of Chang’an, and Wang Wei, sick and ill was caught by the rebel forces. He managed to escape the following year and make his way south to rejoin the emperor, but was charged with treason for remaining behind.
Wang Wei eventually made his way back into the good graces of the emperor. Family connections helped. So too, did his poetry.
Original Chinese characters
The Chinese characters 來日 which begin the third line represent the future. In the third line, Wang Wei also uses the characters 綺 which phonetically is qi, the Chinese word for life force.
The first character of the last line is 寒. Used here it means cold, but the phonetic pronunciation is Han, the major ethnic group of China. Could it be that Wang Wei is giving us yet another image of China as a group of people threatened by the instability of the rebellion.
I must leave this and other questions to better scholars.
The last character of the poem 未 is phonetically the word Wei, also signifies the uncertainty of what is to come, leaving us no doubt that Wang Wei was writing these miscellaneous lines when the emperor was still deciding his fate.
French translation of mixed verse
Monsieur, qui venant de l’ancien pays
Dites-moi ce qui se passe là-bas
Ce jour-là froid vous avez quitté, sur mes toiles soyeuses
Ont encore été les premières fleurs de pruniers fleurissent
German translation of mixed verse
Sie, die auch aus dem alten Land kommen
Sag mir, was dort geschieht
An diesem kalten Tag verlassen Sie, auf meine seidenen Gemälde
Waren die ersten Pflaume Blumen blühen noch?