Sunday, June 11, 2006

Deer Park

The most famous landscape poems of Wang Wei (699-761) are contained in the Wang River Sequence, or as David Hinton’s recent translation calls it, the WheelRim River Sequence. One of these poems, ‘Deer Park’ poem briefly evokes the solitude of the mountains, with no sound but ‘hints of drifting voice, and in the wooded slopes, a beautiful detail – light falling on moss. It is the subject of an engaging book by Eliot Weinberger and Octavio Paz, Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem Is Translated, containing versions by Burton Watson, Gary Snyder and Kenneth Rexroth among others. There are interesting ‘Further Comments’, in which Paz discusses his own version of ‘Deer Park’, and a postscript with a translation by an American professor that Weinberg describes as ‘Gerard Manley Hopkins on LSD’. In the subsequent twenty years there have of course been more translations, including Hinton’s and a version by Vikram Seth. These are discussed in an interesting article at

All this critical interest in ‘Deer Park’ seems to be detaching it from its original sequence and the landscape of Wang Wei’s estate. It is not so much that the poem itself has peculiar resonance, like a song that invites endless cover versions or a painting that is continually referenced. It is more that the process of translations have turned the poem into a challenge, like a mountain peak which must be scaled, while the translators hear the attempts of earlier poets like the ‘hints of drifting voice’ in Deer Park.

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