Translation of  Lù Zhài (Deer Park)

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Background 

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.  

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Selections from 1​9 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei ​(c.700-761) By Eliot Weinberger (2016)

Original text in classical Chinese:
鹿柴
空山不見人,
但聞人語響。
返景入深林,
復照青苔上

Transliteration from modern Chinese:

Lù Zhài

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:

  1. No verb tenses in Chinese verbs. What is happening has happened and will happen.
  2. Nouns have no numbers. A Rose is a rose is several roses.
  3. In classical Chinese, each character (ideogram) represents a word of a single syllable.
  4. 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.

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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