Farewell – Wang Wei

Wang Wei, 王維



In the hills we said farewell, as
The setting sun fell on my cottage door
Next spring, shall the grass be green again
Should the emperor return or not return?

French Translation

Au Revoir

Dans les collines que nous avons dit au revoir et
Comme le coucher de soleil fermé ma porte chalet
Au printemps prochain, est-ce l’herbe verte encore
Doit l’empereur retour ou non retour?

German Translation

In den Bergen haben wir gesagt, Aufwiedersehen, und
Der Sonnenuntergang geschlossen auf meiner Haustür
Im nächsten Frühjahr wird das Gras wieder grün, und
Du, mein Herr, zurückkehrt oder nicht zurück?

Original Chinese by Wang Wei, 王維



Spanish Translation

En las colinas nos despedimos, como
El sol poniente cayó sobre la puerta de mi casa
La próxima primavera, será la hierba verde de nuevo
¿Debería el emperador regresar o no regresar?


Perhaps I rushed this translation as I was in a hurry, and I did not give it the time it deserved.

I have a tendency to believe that goodbyes are long and farewells, short.

The title is straight forward – farewell. In French and German can one question the translation. “Adieu” works as well in French, but “a bientot” is hopeful. In German, I have used the familiar “aufwiedersehen”, but could have used the colloquial “tschüss” as well, while “bis bald” would be similar to the French “a bientot”.

To whom is the poem written?

The poem is clearly a sad farewell, about whether the two shall meet again. But to whom is it written.

The best translation for 王孫 is noble friend, but as I will explain later, this is not entirely clear. Perhaps understanding the circumstances of the parting sheds some light on the mystery.

On the one hand, it can be imagined that the farewell came at the end of a long memorable day. Two friends shared much and only took their parting at the setting of the sun.

The other possibility is that the farewell was rushed. War intervened, to be exact, the An Lushan Rebellion, and rebel forces threatened the imperial seat at Chang’an. While the emperor and his retinue fled south to Sichuan, Wang Wei, sick with dysentery, stayed behind, and he was captured by the rebels. When Wang Wei recovered, the rebels took him to their capital at Louyang, where he was forced to collaborate.

The emperor’s forces would eventually retake the capital and defeat the rebels, and Wang Wei was for a time treated as a traitor.

Last line


The last line of Wang Wei’s poem is packed with meaning.

The first character is Wang’s surname, and the character for lord or emperor. The second character , is literally sun. Combined the two characters may refer to: 1. the poet Wang as a descendant of his own honorable ancestors, 2. the emperor as “sun king”, or, 3. a noble person, and one on who Wang Wei would have sought patronage.

There are several ways of saying emperor in Chinese, including 天王. Wang’s 王孫 is not one of those ways, so we are left with the question as to whom Wang is saying farewell. The Chinese character 孫, the sun, and its obvious connection to spring and the green grass, returning or not returning.

In English, it is not uncommon to say, “You are the sunshine of my life.”

The last three characters of the last line are 歸不歸, literally “return or not return”, and I have kept the translation as it is.

Wang Wei’s name – 王維

Wang Wei’s Chinese name 王維 is itself an interesting play on words.

The first character 王 appears in the poem’s last line. It has several translations including “sun” or “lord”. The second character is 維, which may translate as “maintain” or “preserve”.

Does Wang Wei ask if he may maintain or preserve his family honor, or keep his place in the sun?