Bamboo House – Wang Wei

Updated version February 2021

Sitting alone in a bamboo grove
Plucking a zither, whistling along
Deep in the forest, in a spot unknown
Waiting for a bright moon to come

Or,

Sitting alone in a bamboo grove
Plucking a zither, repeating this song:
Deep in the forest, in a spot hard to find
A full moon is coming to shine

seven sages
Seven Sages of Bamboo Grove (Japanese painting, Edo period), Image Wikipedia

Inside a Bamboo Grove

Be like the bamboo. Because the bamboo can survive severe winters, hot summers, and fierce storms, it is a symbol of enlightenment. Then too, like the bamboo stalk, we are empty and sway with the slightest breeze.

Wang Wei (王維, 699–759) was a highly regarded as politician, poet, painter and musician of the Tang dynasty. He was also, as this poem suggests, a devout Buddhist.

Wang Wei retreats to a bamboo grove, alone with a zither, waiting for the moon. This scenario, unlike The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (竹林七賢), reveals Wang Wei to be a Buddhist. The Seven Sages were pleasure seekers and avid Daoists who wished to escape the stifling atmosphere and political intrigue of court life during the warring period of the Three Kingdoms (220–280 AD).

Original Chinese

竹 里 館

獨 坐 幽 篁 裡
彈 琴 復 長 嘯
深 林 人 不 知
明 月 來 相 照

Pinyin

Zhúlǐ guǎn

dú zuò yōu huánglǐ
tán qín fù cháng xiào
shēn lín rén bù zhī
míngyuè lái xiāng zhào

Notes on Translation

Line two. Qín, a Chinese zither, a stringed instrument that is plucked.

Line four. , míng means bright, but also clear; to understand. Emperor Xuanzong of Tang was referred to as the Brilliant Emperor (明皇). 明 月, míngyuè, a full moon shining brightly in the sky paints a scene of peace and beauty. This suggests to me that the poem was written before the chaos of the An Lushan Rebellion that began in 755.

wang wei Scenery of Snow and Creek
Wang Wei, Scenery of Snow and Creek, wikiart

 

French translation

Seul dans le bambou tranquille, je suis assis
Tapoter de la cithare, répéter sa chanson
Dans la forêt profonde, tout à fait inconnu
Brille la lune brillante, va et vient

Alternate translation

Sitting alone, in the hush of the bamboo
I strum my zither, and whistle a tune
Deep in the woods, no one can hear
Still, the bright moon comes to shine on me

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One Comment Add yours

  1. walter lo says:

    What a coincidence! I have also translated this poem three months ago. May I share it here with you. It is quite “old school” translation, I am afraid.

    1 Alone I sit in the bamboo grove serene,
    2 Over and over I sing and play the qin;
    3 Deep in the grove deserted I feel,
    4 Only the moon my companion still.

    Like

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