Saturday, June 29, 2013

WANG WEI - Great Chinese Poet

Wang Wei (699-759)  was a  Chinese poet, musician, painter and statesman during the Tang Dynasty. Many of his poems are preserved, and twenty-nine were included in the 18th century anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems.

Wang Wei came From a high family. In 721 he passed the civil service entrance examination and had a successful civil service career, rising to become Chancellor in 758. During the An Lushan Rebellion he avoided actively serving the insurgents during the capital’s occupation by pretending to be deaf.

He spent ten years studying with the Chan master Daoguang. After his wife’s death in 730, he did not remarry and established a monastery on part of his estate.

He is best known for his quatrains depicting quiet scenes of water and mist, with few details and little human presence. The Indiana Companion comments that he affirms the world’s beauty, while questioning its ultimate reality. It also draws a comparison between the deceptive simplicity of his works and the Chan path to enlightenment, which is built on careful preparation but is achieved without conscious effort.

None of his original paintings survive, but copies of works attributed to him are also landscapes with similar qualities. He influenced what became known as the Southern school of Chinese landscape art, which was characterised by strong brushstrokes contrasted with light ink washes.

Wang Wei’s most famous poetry, such as the poem “Deer Park,” form a group titled Wang River Collection. They record a poet’s journey, ostensibly that of Wang Wei and his close friend, Pei Di. They are far more universal than a simple journey and have inspired generations of poets.


After the rain,
the empty mountain
at dusk
is full of autumn air.
A bright moon
shines between the pines;
The clear spring water
glides over the rocks.
Bamboo leaves rustling –
the washer-girls bound home.
Water lilies swaying –
a fisher-boat goes down.
Never mind that
spring plants are no longer green.
I am here to stay
my noble friends !

Translated by Edward C. Chang


I’m idle, as osmanthus flowers fall,
This quiet night in spring, the hill is empty.
The moon comes out and startles the birds on the hill,
They don’t stop calling in the spring ravine.

translation by Mark Alexander


The Tai Yi peak
is near the capital of Heaven.
Its range stretches
all the way to the coast.
As I look back,
the white clouds are close in.
As I look close up,
the blue mists suddenly disappear.
The middle ridge divides into
two ever-changing sceneries.
On dark or clear days
each valley has a different view.
Wanting to put up
at some one’s place for the night,
I ask a woodcutter
on the other side of the stream.

Translated by Edward C. Chang


The limpid river runs between the bushes,
The horse and cart are moving idly on.
The water flows as if with a mind of its own,
At dusk, the birds return to perch together.
The desolate town is faced by an ancient ferry,
The setting sun now fills the autumn hills.
And far below high Songshan’s tumbling ridges,
Returning home, I close the door for now..

translation by Mark Alexander


A morning rain has moistened
the light dust in Wei City.
Outside the tavern, the willows
look fresh and green.
I urge you to empty
one more cup of wine:
West of Yang Pass,
no old friends will be in sight.

Translated by Edward C. Chang


I prefer to live a quiet life
in my later years.
Indifferent I am to
all mundane affairs.
A long-range plan
is not in my thought.
Returning to my old woods
was the only thing I sought.

The pine wind
blows loose my sash;
The mountain moon
shines on my lute.
You ask about
the ultimate truth of life.
The fishermen’s song
drifts deep above the shore.

Translated by Edward C. Chang


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