Setting Out from Great-Scatter Pass and Wandering Fifteen or Twenty Miles of Meandering Trail…*

I rest three times every mile on this trail’s
ten thousand precarious twists and turns,

and when it loops back, I see friends vanish
into distant forests and hills, then reappear

beneath windblown rain high atop pines.
Water clamoring through stones becomes

silent conversation in the stream’s depths,
and across high peaks, winds wail and sigh.

Gazing out toward South Mountain’s sunlit
south face, sun white through far-off haze,

I see azure marshland all tranquil beauty
and dense forests that seem to drift at ease.

Forever hemmed in, I trust myself to wide-
open distance: it melts tangles clean away.

by Wang Wei, translated by David Hinton

Translation © David Hinton, 2009

* The full title of this poem by Wang Wei is ‘Setting Out from Great-Scatter Pass and Wandering Fifteen or Twenty Miles of Meandering Trail Through Deep Forests and Thick Bamboo, We Reach Brown-Ox Ridge and Gaze Out at Yellow-Bloom River’. It is taken from The Selected Poems of Wang Wei, translated by David Hinton (Anvil Press, 2009). You can find out more about the book here, and more about Wang Wei here.

Zen Buddhism became a sort of cult religion in the sixties and seventies, thanks to its espousal by such luminaries of the Beat movement as Gary Snyder, who himself translated some Wang Wei poems. Wang Wei was a master of the short, imagistic landscape poem that came to typify classical Chinese poetry. His practice of Zen Buddhism led him to develop a landscape poetry of resounding tranquillity, beautifully conveyed and introduced in Anvil’s book by David Hinton. Learn more about Hinton’s work and read more of his translations of Wang Wei here.

After translating the T’ang Dynasty contemporaries of Wang Wei (Po Chü-i, Li Po and Tu Fu) over the last fifteen or so years, David Hinton is thoroughly at ease in the intimate, almost conversational idiom of the great Chinese poetry of the 8th century AD. It is strange to think that around this time in England the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf was written: what a contrast between the sophisticated Chinese elegance and the rough-hewn Old English verse.

Anvil Press Poetry was founded in 1968 and publishes English-language poetry and poetry in translation, both classic and modern. You can read more about Anvil here.

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