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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Farewell – Wang Wei

At the suggestion of a comment, I have rewritten this poem. The rewrite is considerably different from the original translation, proving that I am a bad translator, was in a hurry, that translations are difficult, or all three. One of the many pitfalls of translations is to translate phonetically similar words on the basis of sound and not meaning. This problem occurs in all languages, including English, my dear (deer). Consider, we must polish the Polish furniture.

Also, in looking further into the matter, I discovered that Wang Wei wrote several farewells or adieus to friends. This poem is one of the shorter farewells. I hope to get around to the others in time.

Wang_Wei_left

Farewell

On the mountain slope, we stop and bid farewell
Until the dusk descends, and I close my wooden gate
In Spring, the grass will again turn green
But will you my friend return?

Notes

First line, one has to appreciate the musical sound of the title, Sòng bié, and the end of the first line, sòng bà.

Second line ends with 柴 扉. I translate this as a wooden door, and to be more specific a door with one leaf, suggesting how poor the hut is that Wang Wei lives in.

Last line, Wang Wei ends the poem with the three characters 歸 不 歸, literally return or not return. Sounds like Shakespeare’s to be or not to be. The second character 孫 is Wang, the poet’s family name, and also “king”. 孫 (sun, phonetically) is Chinese for grandson. Wang Sun is a mystery. Perhaps a proper name or a reference to a nobleman or one of Wang Wei’s relatives.

Original Chinese

送 別

山 中 相 送 罷
日 暮 掩 柴 扉
春 草 明 年 綠
王 孫 歸 不 歸

Pinyin

Sòngbié

Shānzhōng xiāng sòng bà
rìmù yǎn cháifēi
chūncǎo míngnián lǜ
wáng sūn guī bù guī

Wang Wei, 王維

Wang Wei was a Tang dynasty Chinese poet, musician, painter, and statesman. One could say he was a “man for all seasons” having enjoyed the imperial court’s favor, he was equally happy when that favor left him and he departed for the seclusion of his Lantian estate, as a sometimes Buddhist hermit.

winding-river