Wang Wei

Wang Wei’s readers almost invariably find themselves inside his poems. Something is happening here, and I dont know what it is, except that Im in the presence of surpassing poetic genius.  
Wang Wei - J.P. Seaton
Wang Wei was an aristocrat, born with a silver writing brush in his mouth. Of all the privileged among the Chinese poets of all periods of her history, Wang Wei made best use of his privilege. He was a musician of surpassing skill and a landscape painter so innovative that he can be said to have changed landscape painting from his time forward. He was also a patron of poets (he probably saved Li Po from execution), and, not least, patron of the Southern School of Zen Buddhism, the school from which arose both the Rinzai and the Soto schools known to modern scholars and practitioners alike. Most importantly, he was a poet of consummate skill. There is no doubt that Wang Weis chueh chu, his quatrains, are somehow something other than anyone else’s. Su Shih, the great Sung poet, said that Wang Wei’s poems are paintings, and his paintings, poems. More than a thousand years of readers have agreed. But there is more. Wang Wei’s readers almost invariably find themselves inside his poems. Something is happening here, and I dont know what it is, except that Im in the presence of surpassing poetic genius.
Wang Wei
The best introduction to Wang Wei’s poetry is a poem of Ars Poetica by Ssu-k’ung T’u (837-908):

Bend down and there it is:
No need to wrest it from others.
With the Way, in complete agreement
The mere touch of a hand is spring:
The way we come upon blooming flowers,
The way we see the year renew itself.
What comes this way will stay;
What is gotten by force will drain away.
A secluded man in an empty mountain,
As rain drops, picks some blades of duckweed.
Freely to feel the flash of dawn:
Leisurely, with the celestial balance. [tooltip content= “Hiding the Universe: Poems of Wang Wei, Wai-lim Yip (Wushinsha-Grossman Press,1970)”] [source][/tooltip]

Wai-lim Yip – Wang Wei and mise-en-scene >>>

Once More, on the Empty Mountain >>> 

Willis and Tony Barnstone >>>

Bird Song Torrent

The man at his ease: the cassia flowers falling.
Night quiet: Spring mountain empty.
Moon-rise: shocks the mountain birds.
Sometimes you’ll hear their cries, among spring’s torrents.

J.P. Seaton

Return to Wang River

Bells stir in the mouth of the gorge.
Few fishermen and woodcutters are left.
Far off in the mountains is twilight.
Alone I come back to white clouds.
Weak water chestnut stems cant hold still.
Willow catkins are light and blow about.
To the east is a rice paddy, color of spring grass.
I close the thorn gate, seized by grief.

Tony Barnstone

Drifting on the Lake

Autumn is crisp and the firmament far,
especially far from where people live.
I look at cranes on the sand
and am immersed in joy when I see mountains beyond the clouds.
Dusk inks the crystal ripples.
Leisurely the white moon comes out.
Tonight I am with my oar, alone, and can do
yet waver, not willing to return.

Willis Barnstone


Bird and Waterfall Music

Men sleep. The cassia blossoms fall.
The Spring night is still in the empty mountains.
When the hill moon rises,
It troubles the wild birds.
From time to time you can hear them
Above the sound of the flooding waterfalls.

Kenneth Rexroth

Passing Hidden Fragrance Temple

Who knows the Hidden Fragrance Temple,

How many li away, on cloudy peak?
Ancient trees, no trace of path.
Deep mountain, whence the bell?
Sound of the spring, the standing stones, sobbing.
Color of the sun, the green pines, freezing.
Toward dusk, on the curve of the lake,
Quiet Chan, to tame the poison dragon.

Francois Cheng

Autumn Mountain Evening

Empty mountain, after rain,
the air of nightfall come to Autumn.
Bright moon: among the pines, it’s shining.
Pure spring: over the rocks, it runs
Bamboo rustles as the washing maids wend homeward.
and lotus stir as the fishermen’s craft do too.
If you will, you may still find spring’s fragrances.
You too, my gentle friend, may stay.

J.P. Seato

Missing Each Other

Red berries
grow in the South.
When spring arrives,
the tree branches off.
Gather as many as
you can,
for this thing can best
convey our yearning thoughts.

Edward Chang


Wang River poems

Deer Park

Empty mountain, none to be seen.
Listen close and all you’ll hear’s
the bird song sound of human language.
Sun’s come to this deep grove,
Beginning again, it writes on grey-green lichen, on stone.

J.P. Seaton


A Cove of the Walls of Meng

New home at the Walls of Meng.
Ancient trees. A few withering Willows.
Comers afterwards: who?
In vain to grieve over former possessions.

Wai-lim Yip


Meng-ch’eng Hollow

A new home at the mouth of Meng-ch’eng;
old trees – last of a stand of dying willows:
years to come, who will be its owner,
vainly pitying thc one who had it bcforc?

Burton Watson

Luan Family Rapids

In the Windy hiss of autumn rain
shallow Water fumbles over stones.
Waves dance and fall on each other:
a white egret startles up, then drops.

Willis Barnstone, Tony Barnstone & Xu Haixin


Master-Flourish Ridge

Birds in flight go on leaving and leaving.
And autumn colors mountain distances again
crossing Master-Flourish Ridge and beyond,
is there no limit to all this grief and sorrow?

David Hinton

White Pebble Shoal

White Pebble Shoal is clear and shallow.
You can almost grab the green cattail.
Houses east and west ofthe stream.
Someone washes silk in bright moonlight.

Willis Barnstone, Tony Barnstone & Xu Hai


Grainy Apricot Heights

Grainy apricot cut into beams.
Fragrant reeds Woven into a roofl
Unaware that clouds among pillars
Went to make rain among men.

Wai-lim Yip


Bamboo Mile Lodge

Alone I sit in dark bamboo,
strumming the lute, whistling away;
deep woods that no one knows,
where a bright moon comes to shine on me.


Burton Watson

Ashtree Path

Sidepath shaded with ashtrees.
Upon secluded shadows, much moss.
Answer the door: sweep to welcome:
It must be the mountain monk calling

Wai-lim Yip

Bamboo Retreat

Sitting alone amid dense bamboo

strumming my lute and whistling
deep in the forest no one else knows
until the bright moon looks down

   Red Pine

Scholartree Path

On the side path shaded by scholartrees,
green moss fills recluse shadow. We still
keep it swept, our welcome at the gate,
knowing a mountain monk may stop by.

David Hinton

Calling-Bird Brook

Man quiet: sweet osmanthus falls
Night tranquil: the spring mountain empties
The rising moon startles mountain birds
Which call awhile in the spring stream

Zai-Cai Qi

Huazi Hlll

Migrating birds are leaving endlessly,
fall colors come to mountain after mountain
All the way up Huazi hill a sadness,
staining every far boundary, drifts on.

Willis Barnstone, Tony Barnstone & Xu Haixin



Birds Sing in the Ravine

At rest, he senses acacia blossoms fall.
Quiet night, the spring mountain empty.
The sudden moon alarms mountain birds.
Pulses of song in the spring ravine.

Willis Barnstone, Tony Barnstone & Xu Haixin

In Retirement at Chung-nan Mountain

To middle age I loved the Tao:
Late now, I lodge on South Mountain.19
and when I’m up to it, I always go alone.
All this beauty, mine, in vain, alone.
All my triumphs, self knowledge: empty.
Walking gets me where the waters narrow.
Sitting, I can see to when the clouds arise.
But if I should meet up with any old woodsman,
we’ll chatter and giggle with no thought of home.


J.P. Seaton

Reply to a Magistrate

Late in life, I care for ease alone
to hell with official concerns.

Look! I make no plans for the future
but to go back to my forest home again.

Let pine winds loosen my robes,
mountain moons play my lute.

You want to taste success or failure?
A lone fisherman sings out on the water.

Sam Hamill



Sitting in mystic bamboo grove, back unseen
Press stops of long whistle
Deep forest unpierced by man
Moon and I face each other.

Ezra Pound

Bamboo Lane House

Sitting alone, hid in bamboo
Plucking the lute and gravely whistling
People wouldnt know that deep woods
Can be this bright in the moon.

Gary Snyder

Bamboo Pavilion

I sit alone among the tallest of the tall bamboo,
pluck the lute, and whistle melodies, again.
This deep grove’s unknown to other men.
Bright moon, when it comes: we shine too

J.P. Seaton

Deep South Mountain

Tayai Mountain is close to the capital
and its peaks tumble down to the sea.
White clouds come together as I look back
>but when I enter blue mist it vanishes.
From the middle peak I see other wild fields
Needing to lodge some place among people,
I shout across a brook to a woodcutter.
a valley of shadows, another of sun.

>Willis Barnstone, Tony Barnstone & Xu Haixin

The Chungnan Mountains

Taiyi isnt far from the Heart of Heaven
its ridges extend to the edge of the sea
white clouds form before your eyes
blue vapors vanish in plain sight
around its peaks the whole realm turns
in every valley the light looks different
in need of a place to spend the night
I yell to a Woodcutter across the stream.

Red Pine

On the Mountain

Ching gorge: white rocks jut.
Cold sky: a few red leaves.
No rain upon this mountain path,
Just azure emptiness, to wet the cloak.

Francois Cheng


Visiting the Temple of Gathered Fragrance

I dont know the Temple of Gathered Fragrance
lost many miles among cloudy peaks.
In the ancient forest there is no human path.
A bell in the deep mountain. Where is it from?
A brook hiccups through the steep rocks
and sunlight chills the green pines.
In faint twilight Where an empty pond curves,
meditation drives out the poisonous dragon.

Willis Barnstone, Tony Barnstone & Xu Haixin


Thinking of Each other

Red Sandalwood grows in that southern land;
when fall comes, the branches fill with seeds.
I hope you will gather as many as you can;
these, above all, will help you think of me.

Geoffrey Waters

Reply to Vice-Prefect Zhang

These last few years, I search for quietude;
worldly concerns no longer trouble me.
Ive made myself no long-term strategy,
but instinct guides me back to these old woods.
I ease my belt in fresh pine breezes,
play my lute to the mountain moon.
You question me on failure or success?
A song of a fisherman drifts across the bay.

Michael Farman

Visiting Fragrance Accumulated Temple

I didnt know about Fragrance Accumulated Temple,
miles up among cloud-wrapped peaks.
Walking a deserted path through ancient trees,
where was the bell I heard deep in the mountains?
A spring gurgled, choked by huge rocks,
In dim twilight beside a quiet pool,
meditation conquers the minds poison dragons.

David Lunde

South Mountain Retreat

In my middle years, I embraced the Way
and lately made my home near South Mountain,
to wander at will through the countryside, alone,
empty of purpose, but making new discoveries.
I walk out to where the stream begins,
Sit and watch the clouds drift overhead.
If by chance I meet an old woodswman,
We’ll talk and laugh, no thought of going home.

Michael Farman


Wang Wei Video Clip

The Shih Ching , usually translated as either The Book of Songs or the Classic of Poetry, is the first great collection of Chinese poetry. Tradition says that it was edited into its present form by the Sage of Sages, Confucius himself. In fact the book was assembled before, during, and after the life of Confucius. Its more than three hundred poems include fragments of works as old as the Shang Dynasty (traditional; dates 1766-1154 BCE) as well as “contemporary” poems from the Chou feudal states written or spoken by both aristocratic court figures and just plain “folks”. A great deal has been said about the origin of many, if not the majority of the poems as oral “folk” art, but it is clear from the artistry of the written language in which they have been handed down that, like the scribes who improved upon the originally oral poetry attributed to “Homer” in the West to create the Iliad and the Odyssey, the people who converted Chou folk songs and court verses into poetry in written Chinese characters clearly thought of themselves as (and were) artists. So the characters used to render simple and direct lyrical utterances of the illiterate peasant folk often honor them with carefully chosen written vocabulary: the heart and soul of folk art remains clearly present, but literary subtleties are introduced. The scribes who created the Shih Ching were poets, not tape recorders. They chose the best of what existed, and they honored it with their own art.

In its present form, the Shih Ching consists of three major sections, the Kuo Feng, or Odes of the States, comprising 160 of the 300 are generally but not always folk songs. The Ya (Elegant Verses) subdivided with no obvious criteria into greater and lesser, include poems 161-265, and the Sung or Temple Odes high ritual songs and bits of dynastic myth, include poems 266-305. The present selection is comes, all but a single longer poem on drinking and its positive and negative consequences from the “Lesser Elegants”, all come from the Kuo Feng Sections.

Knowledge of the Shih Ching poems was a necessity of diplomatic practice around the time of Confucius, when it was a common practice to deliver or at least support the delivery of diplomatic messages among the feudal domains (the “States or Guo of the Guo Feng) by oral presentation of relevant lines from the Classic. From the Han on many of the poems where imbued with very specific allegorical interpretations, but it is clear that later poets, who memorized the book word for word, used it as allusive material in their own poems at least as often for its plain “folk” messages as for its orthodoxly approved allegorical ones.