At Wang Changling’s Retreat – Chang Jian

Here, beside a lake clear and deep
You live amidst clouds
Where softly through pine trees, the moon arrives
To become your pure-hearted friend.
Shaded by flowery blossoms underneath a thatch roof hut you rest
Calmed by herbs that flourish in their bed of moss
Let me thank you for the time
On Xishan mountain with phoenixes and cranes.

What the poem is about

Forgive me for feeling a bit of personal joy at the pure escapism of Chang Jian’s poem.

Chang takes us to Wang Changlin’s retreat beside a lake on Xishan Mountain (山西) . Unfortunately for the cartographer, Xishan Mountain may refer to several locations in China, and, as the lake is unidentified, we are left to wonder where exactly we are.

Wang Changling

Wang Changling, whose retreat Chang Jian is visiting, was a well-known poet who held several important imperial postings. It is said that Wang was originally from Shanxi Province (山西), and, therefore, one wonders if this is the Western Mountain Chang Jian refers to.

Forgive me, it is not the place but the feeling that matters. A lake clear and deep, a thatched hut high in the mountains, shaded by flowering trees and clouds during the day, and a moon that comes in the night, indeed a pure-hearted friend.

The phoenix and crane (鸞鶴)

Wife and husband, a happy marriage. Those from a Western culture may not be familiar with the poem’s last line reference to phoenixes and cranes.

In China, the phoenix does not refer to the bird reincarnating from the ashes. Rather, the phoenix represents a female figure and the god of the winds, joy and peace. The crane represents the male figure, along with longevity and wisdom, flying high on the wind.

Afterword

Wang Changling’s peaceful sojourn to his retreat in Xishan Mountain comes to an end with the An Lushan Rebellion that began in 755. He died within a year of the outbreak of the troubles and Chang Jian’s fate is unknown.

Chinese

清溪深不測
隱處唯孤雲
松際露微月
清光猶為君

茅亭宿花影
藥院滋苔紋
余亦謝時去
西山鸞鶴群

Pinyin

Qīng xī shēn bùcè
yǐn chù wéi gūyún
sōng jì lù wēi yuè
qīngguāng yóu wèi jūn

máo tíng sù huāyǐng
yào yuàn zī tái wén
yú yì xiè shí qù
xīshān luán hè qún

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