Yesterday, I got a “like” from the poet Robert Okaji for my post Cyborg Sky Burial. Taking the link back to him, I found a blog including both his poems and his discussion of his sources and process. In his post Spring Night (After Wang Wei) he describes some of what he considered going from a transliteration of Wang Wei’s poem to his own version.
First, the transliteration from chinese-poems.com:
Person idle osmanthus flower fall
Night quiet spring hill empty
Moon out startle hill birds
Constant call spring ravine in
Mr Okaji lives in Texas, and a species of osmanthus, the devilwood, grows there. So in his version he specifies that. Here’s his version:
Spring Night (after Wang Wei)
Among falling devilwood blossoms, I lie
on an empty hill this calm spring night.
The moon lunges above the hill, scaring the birds,
but they’re never quiet in this spring canyon.
I found this all very interesting and offered a tweak to his version. This prompted me to try my own hand at the exercise. Not knowing anything about Wang Wei, I first looked him up on Wikipedia.
Wang Wei is especially known as a poet and painter of nature. Of his poems some four hundred survive: these were first collected and originally edited into a corpus by his next-youngest brother, Wang Jin, by imperial command. Of his paintings, no authenticated specimens survive, although there is evidence of his work through influences on later paintings and descriptive accounts of his paintings.
So the painting featured in this post is not one by Wang Wei, but by Wang Shimin titled After Wang Wei’s Snow Over Rivers and Mountains.
I also read in the article that Wang chose his courtesy name as a reference to Vimalakirti of the eponymous Vimalakirti Sutra, who discusses Emptiness with the bodhisattva Manjushri in the presence of numerous arhats and bodhisattvas. The article states this discussion “then culminates with the wordless teaching of silence”.
This seemed apt in terms of my posts about Emptiness (Sunyata). So in my version I try to reflect this.
Here in upstate NY no osmanthi grow but the lilac does. It’s in the same family (Oleaceae ie olive family) and like osmanthus, is known for its strong fragrance. So in my version osmanthus/devilwood becomes lilac.
Another issue Mr Okaji identifies is whether to use the collective “birds” or specify a kind of bird. As I noted to him, I generally prefer the specific, but the poem is so tight that the sound of the bird’s name becomes important, and possibly distracting.
All of this reminded me of a poem I previously posted.
Mind Only Poem #1
raucous pilgrim birds
naked dawning sky
So this is my version:
Spring Night (after Wang Wei, After Robert Okaji)
Who sits among the falling lilacs?
Night. No one on this springtime hill.
The moon all-at-once agitates the crows.
In springtime they never stop cawing in the ravine.