Farewell Poem 送別 詩

Wang Wei died in 759, and thus did not outlast the devastating events of the An Lushan Rebellion (755–759).

In 756, the capital of Chang’an, causing great loss of life. Wang was captured by rebel forces and held as a prisoner but managed to escape. For this, he suffered a fall from the emperor’s grace. Grieving over the earlier deaths of his wife and mother, Wang retired to his home on the Wang River to study Buddhism, play musical instruments, paint and write poems.

The question – to whom is Wang Wei saying farewell?

Farewell Poem
Here in the hills, we bid farewell
The twilight fades as I close my twig door
Should the grass be green again next spring
Grandson, shall I see you once more

王維
Wang Wei
送別 詩
Farewell Poem

山中相送罷
日暮掩柴扉
春草明年綠
王孫歸不歸

Sòngbié
Shānzhōng xiāng sòng bà
rìmù yǎn cháifēi
chūncǎo míngnián lǜ
wángsūn guī bù guī

Notes on Wang Wei’s Farewell

Andrew W.F. Wong has given us a fine translation of two of Wang Wei’s Farewell Poems including this one. As it is short and straightforward, I thought I would give it a try. But then nothing good is ever straightforward.

Sòngbié, sòng bà

Sadly, rhyme and alliteration is often lost in translations.

The twist, if there is one, comes in line four. 王孫歸不歸, wángsūn guī bù guī, ends with a form Shakespeare would later adopt, to be or not to be, to come back or not. The question I ask is whether 王孫  wángsūn (王 wang, 孫grandson ) refers to a noble of the emperor’s house, as it is often translated, or to Wang’s grandson?

One other possibility exists. Wang Wei is obliquely addressing his younger brother 王縉, Wang Jin, one of the emperor’s chancellors.

In looking back, I notice that this translation is quite different from my earlier effort.

fuchun Chinese landscape pen and ink

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Orchid and Orange, 2

wall-tangerine-2

Zhang Jiuling’s title for this poem 感 遇 (gǎn​ yù) means a sigh, a lament in gratitude for good fortune, and not, as it is given, Orchid and Orange. There is an orange tree in the poem and a peach and a plum, but no orchid, so go figure.

I cannot argue with a thousand years of tradition, but I think the title should be, Gratitude for Good Fortune. A few other notes can await a reading of Zhang’s poem.

Gratitude for Good Fortune, 2

Here, in Jiangnan, grows a red orange tree.
Through the winter its leaves are green,
Could it be the soil is warm?
Or perhaps because it has a heart that’s cold
Can you suggest my honorable guest
Why this is so profound?
One’s fate is only chance
And an endless circle is not what we should seek
It is to no avail, I say, to plant your peach tree or your plum
And forget these trees are hidden by the shade

Chinese and Pinyin

感遇(其二)

江南有丹橘,
经冬犹绿林

岂伊地气暖
自有岁寒心

可以荐嘉客,
奈何阻重深?

运命惟所遇,
循环不可寻

徒言树桃李,
此木岂无阴

Jiāngnán yǒu dān jú,
jīng dōng yóu lùlín

qǐ yī dì qì nuǎn?
Zì yǒu suì hánxīn

kěyǐ jiàn jiā kè,
nàihé zǔ zhòng shēn?

Yùn mìng wéi suǒ yù,
xúnhuán bùkě xún

tú yán shù táolǐ,
cǐ mù qǐ wú yīn

Notes

One wonders whether the orange, the peach and the plum are diminished or nourished by the taller trees.

Line one is beautifully phonetic, Jiāngnán yǒu dān jú, a slight play on words for, in Jiangnan, one is lucky and wealthy as the color red is a symbol of wealth. One cannot miss the phonetic similarity between the poet’s name Zhang Jiuling and Jiāngnán yǒu dān jú.

Zhang is lucky. Unfortunately, his luck would change and he would fall out of favor with the emperor. Alas, fate is only chance.

A couple of other points.

Line one states that the author is in Jiangnan. Literally, this is South of the River. In China it is a specific place name. The river is the mighty Yangtze and the place is Jiangnan, which includes several provinces and the city of Shanghai and Zhenjiang. Here the people are wealthy, the weather warm.

For the New Year, one plants an orange before your door. Recall, in Chinese, the word for orange, 橘 jú, sound like the word for luck 吉 jí. The plum and peach are also symbolic. The plum is winter’s friend, the peach a symbol of immortality, together they represent youth.

To Minister Zhang While Gazing at Lake Dongting

Note. Minister Zhang Jiuling held several important posts under Emperor Xuanzong, including head of the imperial library, minister of public works, and commandant of various prefectures. The ancient reader of this poem, acquainted with the history of the imperial court, would know that Minister Zhang fell from favor with the emperor and was dismissed.

Thus, a brilliant master like Zhang could not always count on a life of ease.

Zhang was himself a noted poet. Five of his poems are included in the anthology of Three Hundred Tang Poems. See for instance Orchid and Orange I.

To Minister Zhang while gazing at Lake Dongting 

The lake is full in the eighth moon,
The water blends with the sky
The march mist rises in a cloud-like dream,
While waves pound against Yueyang’s walls
Alas, I have no boat with which to cross.
A brilliant master is shamed with a life of ease
Still I sit and watch an angler release his hook,
And envy those the fish they catch.

fog and mist and rolling waves

Notes on the Meng Haoran’s translation; or what is wisdom to a hungry sage?

August is a rainy month in most of China. Meng does not mention this, but it is also the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Yueyang (岳陽) is both a city and a prefecture located in Hunan province on the eastern shore of the Yangtze River bordering Dongting Lake in the south. Dongting Lake is a shallow flood basin whose size depends on the time of year. Yueyang Tower is a well known site, standing at the west gate of the Yueyang city wall, looking down at Dongting Lake, and linking the Yangtze River to the north with the Xiangjiang River to the south.

Line six, 聖明, may be translated as enlightened sage, august wisdom, and brilliant master, this last choice probably applies to Minister Zhang, the person Meng is addressing. Meng wrote at least three other poems in which the name Zhang appears. From the poem, To Zhang, Climbing Orchid Mountain on an Autumn Day, and other poems, we may conclude they shared fish and a drink or two.

Original Chinese and Pinyin

望洞庭湖贈張丞相

孟浩然

八月湖水平
涵虛混太清
氣蒸雲夢澤
波撼岳陽
欲濟無舟楫
端居恥聖明
坐觀垂釣者
徒有羨魚情

Wàng dòngtíng hú zèng zhāng chéngxiàng

Mèng Hàorán

bā yuè hú shuǐpíng
hán xū hùn tài qīng
qì zhēng yún mèng zé
bō hàn yuèyáng chéng
yù jì wú zhōují
duān jū chǐ shèngmíng
zuò guān chuídiào zhě
tú yǒu xiàn yú qíng

Other translations

I am intrigued by the wide variation in translations of Tang poetry. Here is a translation for comparison. There are others.

An English translation by E. C. Chang

lake china

Song of the Spring Palace – Wang Changling

Princess Pingyang of Tang Dynasty

Princess Pingyang, Lady Warrior of the Tang Dynasty

Song of the Spring Palace
Last night,
The first peach blossoms were revealed by a warm wind
And the moon shone high above old Weiyang palace
Where Princess Pingyang danced and sang
Then asked for a silk gown for a cold spring

春 宮 曲

昨 夜 風 開 露 井 桃
未 央 前 殿 月 輪 高
平 陽 歌 舞 新 承 寵
簾 外 春 寒 賜 錦 袍

Chūngōng qū

zuóyè fēng kāi lù jǐng táo
wèiyāng qián diàn yuè lún gāo
píngyáng gēwǔ xīn chéng chǒng
lián wài chūnhán cì jǐn páo

Princess Pingyang, Lady Warrior

Princess Pingying (598-623), daughter of Li Yuan, the founder of the Tang Dynasty, raised an army of women, to help overthrow the Sui Dynasty and capture its capital Chang’an. She died in childbirth at the age of 23, celebrated as warrior, dutiful daughter, and devoted wife.

Line two, 未央, Weiyang Palace, literally, endless or never ending, the palace at Chang’an, called the “Endless Place” because of its size.

Wang Changling

During the catastrophic An Lushan Rebellion (755-763), Wang Changling (698–756),  was  minister of Jiangning County, which included the important city of Nanjing on the Yangtze River. His death in 756 is not explained.

The Title 春 宮 曲

The title is straight forward, 春 spring, 宮 palace, 曲 song.

Poetical Paradox

Arthur Koestler, in his book The Act of Creation, observed that new ideas are the juxtaposition of paradoxical concepts.

Peach blossoms and warm winds signify the spring season, the renewal of life. In China, the peach is a symbol of immortality. Yet, the beautiful and young Princess Pingyang will soon die. In line three of the poem, the princess sings and dances, 歌 舞, then receives as a favor, 承 寵, chéng chǒng, a silk gown, which we know know, could not fend off the cold touch of death.

The rhyming association of the princess Pingyang and the palace Weiyang is more than coincidental. The transitory beauty of the immortal peach tree and its beautiful blossoms, the forever Weiyang Palace, and our heroine Princess Pingying, all symbolize the fragility of beauty and life itself.

In real time, rebel forces were destroying the Tang capital at Chang’an along with its many palaces including Weiyang.

Wang Changling did not know it, but spring would return to the Tang dynasty. The rebel forces would eventually be defeated, the rule of the Tang Dynasty would continue, but not forever.

Wang Changling by Kanō Tsunenobu (1636-1713)