For my translation class we were given a poem by Wang Wei, Lù Zhài (Deer Park) written in classical Chinese. It’s believed that Lù Zhài is an allusion to the Deer Park in Sarnath, the site of the famous Bodhi Tree, under which, the Gautama Buddha preached his first sermon. Before diving into what seemed a challenging undertaking, I read the character-by-character translation before reading the various English versions from 1919 to 2000, which eased me into this assignment. It was neat to inspect the Chinese characters and see that some of them were pictographic.
The "trot and crib" allowed me to understand the poem through Wang Wei. First, I wrote an objective summary of the poem, so as to observe him as he encountered this empty mountain. This process informed the way I wrote the poem in English and then its translation into Spanish. Out of the English versions already in existence, I drew some inspiration from the versions written by Chang Yin-Nan/Lewis C. Walmsley, Kenneth Rexroth (1970) and Gary Snyder (1978) mostly because of language, tone and structure. My favorite images from this poem was the empty mountain, the echos, the deep forest and the sunlight on the moss to create perhaps a motley of shapes.
Selections from 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (c.700-761) By Eliot Weinberger (2016)
Original text in classical Chinese:
Transliteration from modern Chinese:
Kōng shān bù jiàn rén,
Dàn wén rén yǔ xiǎng.
Fǎn jǐng (yǐng) rù shēn lín,
Dù zhào qīng tái shàng
Character-by-character translation into English (“trot” or “crib”):
- Empty | mountain(s) hill(s) | (negative) | to see people | person
- But | to hear people | person conversation | words to echo | sound
- To return | bright(ness) shadow(s) | to enter | deep | forest
- To return Again | to shine to reflect | green blue black moss lichen | above on (top of)
Notes on the Chinese:
- No verb tenses in Chinese verbs. What is happening has happened and will happen.
- Nouns have no numbers. A Rose is a rose is several roses.
- In classical Chinese, each character (ideogram) represents a word of a single syllable.
- A few of the characters are pictographic (e.g. character 2 in line 4 contains an image of the sun in the upper left and of fire at the bottom, 照=shining, and character 5 in line 3 is two trees, 林=forest), but most have no pictorial content at all.
My own summary / interpretation:
He sees the empty mountain. He thinks he hears something, perhaps people but it’s only echoes. His thoughts return to the shadows, the brightness in the deep forest.
As his reflection goes back to the green/blue moss, some part of him wishes there were people but in going back to the deep forest. He realizes he is fine being alone in an empty mountain, and perhaps he never really wished they were there.
Deer Park in Sarnath, India
Empty of people
is the mountain
And yet, something like echoes,
faint, distant voices
Returning to the shadows
and the slanted sunlight
Slipping on the deep forest—
quiet as the twisted light scatters unevenly
over the green, blue, darkening moss
Parque de los Venados en Sarnath, Indía
Vació de personas
es la montaña
aún así, algo como ecos—ligero,
talvez voces en la distancia
Volviendo a la sombra
y la luz del sol inclinada,
resbalando sobre la profundidad del bosque
silencioso mientras la luz torcida
se reparte, sin uniformidad
encima del verde, azul, oscuro musgo