Deer Park

Wang_Shimin-After_Wang_Wei's_Snow_Over_Rivers_and_Mountains_detail

 

Deer Park

A lonely mountain keeps its secrets
Yet, I hear someone speaking softly
Where light shines in the forest deep
And the sun delights in seeking green moss

鹿 柴

空 山 不 見 人
但 聞 人 語 響
返 景 入 深 林
復 照 青 苔 上

Rhyme: abab

Words fail me. Trying to capture the meaning and sound of the poem Deer Park by Wang Wei (王維 699–761) is an impossible task. Better to stand alone in the forest and listen to the silence.

Twenty characters in a rhyming pattern – abab. In the dark forest, the silence is profound. The poet is alone, and yet he hears a voice. Streaming through the pine trees is a ray of sunlight shining on a mossy grove where a deer has slept the night before.

The muse of poetry speaks.

Wang Wei is a Tang poet who is equally well known for his painting and calligraphy. This particular poem is part of the Lantian collection, written after the An-Shi Rebellion (variously spelled, Anshi or An Lushan, 755–759) and Wang Wei’s fall from grace. Wang Wei then retired to his ancestral home in Lantian County in the province of Shangxi.

The title of the poem 鹿 柴 (Lu chai) translates best as Deer Park. The second character literally translates “to fence; to surround and protect with a wooden fence,” so sometimes the poem is called Deer Enclosure.

Wang Wei was a student of Buddhism. Therefore, he may be alluding to Deer Park in Sarnath, in Uttar Pradesh India, the site of the sacred Bodhi Tree where Gautama Buddha received his enlightenment and preached his first sermon.

French translation

Une montagne solitaire garde ses secrets
Seulement et doucement, un parle, j’entends
Et le soleil recherche la mousse verte
Où la lumière brille dans la forêt profond

German translation

Ein einsamer Berg behält seine Geheimnisse
Allein man spricht, etwas höre ich
Wo die Sonne sucht nach grünem Moos
Wo das Licht im tiefen Wald leuchtet

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Deer Park

Mixed Verse – Wang Wei

Mixed Verse

You, who come from the old country
Tell me what is happening
On that cold day you left, did you see my silken paintings, and

Were the first plum flowers blossoming yet

English translation of Wang Wei’s poem 雜 詩

The title, 雜 詩, is variously translated as mixed verse, mixed lines, miscellaneous poetry, and sometimes, simply as lines.

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Wang Wei was famous for both his poetry and his paintings. And three hundred years after Wang Wei wrote these few lines of poetry, fellow Chinese poet and artist Su Shi wrote, “Wang Wei’s poems hold a painting within them.”

Well said, Shu Shi.

In a few short lines, Wang Wei has given us an image of the old country, a cold day, silken paintings, and a vision of plum flowers forever waiting to blossom.

But is Wang Wei worried for the paintings he left behind or the uncertainty of his life?

Wang Wei’s wrote this poem during during the An Lushan Rebellion. The emperor necessarily fled the capital of Chang’an, and Wang Wei, sick and ill was caught by the rebel forces. He managed to escape the following year and make his way south to rejoin the emperor, but was charged with treason for remaining behind.

Wang Wei eventually made his way back into the good graces of the emperor. Family connections helped. So too, did his poetry.

Original Chinese characters

君自故鄉來
應知故鄉事
來日綺窗前
寒梅著花未

The Chinese characters 來日 which begin the third line represent the future. In the third line, Wang Wei also uses the characters 綺 which phonetically is qi, the Chinese word for life force.

The first character of the last line is 寒. Used here it means cold, but the phonetic pronunciation is Han, the major ethnic group of China. Could it be that Wang Wei is giving us yet another image of China as a group of people threatened by the instability of the rebellion.

I must leave this and other questions to better scholars.

The last character of the poem 未 is phonetically the word Wei, also signifies the uncertainty of what is to come, leaving us no doubt that Wang Wei was writing these miscellaneous lines when the emperor was still deciding his fate.

French translation of mixed verse

Versions diverses
Monsieur, qui venant de l’ancien pays
Dites-moi ce qui se passe là-bas
Ce jour-là froid vous avez quitté, sur mes toiles soyeuses
Ont encore été les premières fleurs de pruniers fleurissent

German translation of mixed verse

Verschiedene Verse
Sie, die auch aus dem alten Land kommen
Sag mir, was dort geschieht
An diesem kalten Tag verlassen Sie, auf meine seidenen Gemälde
Waren die ersten Pflaume Blumen blühen noch?

Wang_Shimin-After_Wang_Wei's_Snow_Over_Rivers_and_Mountains

Wang Shimin imitating Wang Wei

Farewell – Wang Wei

Wang Wei, 王維

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Farewell

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

Aufwiedersehen
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

送別

山中相送罷
日暮掩柴扉
春草明年綠
王孫歸不歸

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?

Notes.

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

王孫歸不歸.

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?

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