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Simon Hunt 07-09-2019 04:15 PM

Wang Wei, Deer Park
Deer Park (after Wang Wei)

Empty mountain: no person visible,
yet human conversation echoes audibly.
Returning sunlight pierces shadowy forest,
shining again over blue-green moss.

[Tang Dynasty Chinese Original / Transliteration / Literal Translation]

Kōngshān bjin rn,
[empty] [mountain] [not] [see] [person]

dn wn rn yǔ xiǎng.
[yet] [hear] [person] [voice] [sound]

Fǎn jǐng r shēnln,
[reflect, return] [sunlight] [enter] [deep] [forest]

f zho qīngti shng.
[again] [shine] [blue, green, black] [moss] [on]

N.B. I have no Chinese and only rudimentary knowledge of Wang Wei. However, I am a big fan of Ellot Weinberger and Octavio Paz's small book: 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated. In fact, I have returned often to this volume since first being assigned to read it over 30 years ago in a college class. Sometimes I just use it to stimulate my thinking on poetry, aesthetics, and translation--and I recommend it to anybody interested in these matters--it's a quick but engrossing read. More than a few times, though, I have essayed my own translation in response to the ones collected in the book. This summer, to my great pleasure, my son, aged 15, and I read it together and each tried a translation. I realize that (as per the title of the Weinberger/Paz book) the world does not necessarily need more translations of this particular poem, but I am somewhat pleased with some things in mine in comparison to others, particularly the near rhymes of assonance and consonance (although mine go AABB, in contrast to the ABAB of the original) and the restriction to five English words in each line in correspondence to five characters in each original line... Anyway, I don't have an original poem to post just now so I thought I'd give this a go here. Certainly I like it better than the others I have done over the years...

Aaron Novick 07-09-2019 04:51 PM

I'm glad to see you trying your hand at this, Simon. I've attempted it myselfit's a hard one, and probably best enjoyed (in English) in something like the way Weinberger and Paz present it. No translation is going to get everything, so I'm going to try not to hold you to that standard. Still, I think there are a few issues worth thinking about.

First, I question the choice of "visible" and "audibly" in the first two lines. The Chinese gives you a scene, I think, tells you what is there and how it is experienced. But you've chosen dispositional words, which add possibilities to the scene. Also, while I suppose something could echo inaudibly, there's more than a whiff of the redundant about "echoes audibly", in contrast to the strict economy of the original.

Second, "human conversation" seems like an overinterpretation. The Chinese says that there is the sound of a person's voice (or people's voices), but it's not specified that it's conversation. It's unavoidable that, in English, you're going to limit the possibilities the Chinese leaves open, but this does so a bit too much for my taste. (I also don't love that "ren" changes from "person" to "human" and from a noun to an adjective between the two lines.)

Third, I think "pierces" is far too violent a word for the mood of this poem. It is a peaceful scene; nothing is piercing anything.

I hope these thoughts are helpful for you.

John Isbell 07-09-2019 11:10 PM

Hi Simon,

I enjoyed your gloss and like you speak next to no Chinese. But reading from your crib, I think your translation might be simpler and more natural speech, as Aaron suggests:

Empty mountain, no one visible,
yet a human voice is heard;
reflected sunlight enters the deep forest,
shining again on blue-green moss.

I've removed your liberties with the crib, including returning, which I like, but which suggests a temporality the crib doesn't seem to support. I don't see the need to depart from the crib repeatedly to produce English (or indeed poetry) that is both less natural and more complicated. But I am open to persuasion. Thank you also for elegantly plugging the Wang Wei volume.


Update: just to note the word again in the last line. But I don't think the poem needs the concept stated twice. That seems un-Chinese.

Allen Tice 07-10-2019 01:16 PM

Simon, this is one ger-famous poem, and your translation so far is clear enough. I have some notes from a recent visit to a sumptuous new multimedia treatment of it at the University of Cambridge, where people of all ages are invited to give it a swing electronically. Haven't tried doing it yet for "real" myself, but one never knows, does one. I'm keeping this thread.

The motifs are universal enough that they can occur to writers (chez moi) who just keep their senses open. I imagine the original could have been written by a cautious forest orangutan who could poetize (forgive me, Wang Wei), or Robin Hood strolling, or Han Shan, or Basho, or the goddess Diana.

Keep at it.

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