In quiet bamboo, I sit alone
Plucking the zither, repeating its song.
In the forest deep, quite unknown
The bright moon shines and comes
Original Chinese characters
竹 里 館
獨 坐 幽 篁 裡
彈 琴 復 長 嘯
深 林 人 不 知
明 月 來 相 照
Zhú lǐ guǎn
dú zuò yōu huáng lǐ
tán qín fù cháng xiào
shēn lín rén bù zhī
míng yuè lái xiāng zhào
Wang Wei was and is highly regarded as poet, painter and musician.
The 琴 referred to in line two is a Chinese zither, a stringed instrument that is plucked. The English/Chinese translation is more correctly “guzheng”.
Late in life, Wang became a devout Buddhist. His poems and this one in particular refer to emptiness and the lessons of silence. The poem was composed during the An Lushan Rebellion, when Wang’s fortunes with the Imperial Court fell and rose again. The poem was likely composed at his family estate near the Wang River in Shaanxi province.
The challenge with translation is to try and keep both the cadence and meaning of the poem intact. Wang composed his poem in four lines of five characters.
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
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