Chinese Puzzle Box

Explorations in and about China

Peach Blossom Journey – Wang Wei

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This poem by Wang Wei tells a legend of a lost paradise which has echoes in many cultures, from the Judeo-Christian lost Eden, through to “The Belle Dame Sans Merci,”  “Rip van Winkle”, “Shangri-la”, and even the muscal “Brigadoon.”
 故事象幾個傳統的英文﹐美國文的故事﹐ 比如”Brigadoon”, “Rip van Winkle”, 等等。
Here is my translation in Western-style iambic octameter with rhyming couplets,  followed by the original text with a word-by-word and then line-by-line prose translation.
Peach Blossom Journey
Wang Wei
In spring a fisher lad exploring mountain streams  came wandering.
The riverbanks were lined beyond the ford with peach trees blossoming.
Enraptured by the reddened trees he gave no thought to distance passed,
And, meeting no man on the way, he reached the river’s source at last.
There was a cavern in the rock;  though deep and dark, he passed inside
Beyond the cavern suddenly a spacious vista opened wide.
On distant hills were groves of trees, with clouds above them hovering
Nearby, a thousand  homes, with  bamboo groves and gardens flowering.
A woodsman greeted him and gave a family name from ancient  Han
His dress was in the style of Qin, a memory of an age long-gone.
The valley folk together lived near  Wu Ling River’s fountaining;
And from the outside world they lived remote and unregarding.
Under the moonlight and the pines the street lay calmly sleeping
As sunrise came from ‘neath the clouds both dogs and chicks were welcoming.
Surprised to hear a stranger’s voice, the village folk encircling,
Each and all invited him into their homes for questioning.
The shining lanes were swept and clear of peachtree blossoms falling.
Dusk brought the village workmen on the river road  returning.
To be apart from this sad world they first left man’s society
and felt no wish to e’er return; instead, faced immortality.
Sheltered beyond the hidden gorge they heard no news of things outside
Nor could the outside world see more than hills and clouds that on them ride.
The fisher never thought to see or hear of such a paradise.
And yet within his heart he yearned  to be beneath familiar skies.
He left that vale, and found his home, but soon wished to return again,
Took leave of family, and set out to find the path as he had then.
He traveled far to find the gorge, the clear blue stream, the cloud-topped range
But who could think to find the peaks and gorges now  completely changed?
And now he marks the mountain cleft where memory says he’d been before.
He follows up the stream through woods and clouds, but finds no hidden door.
Spring comes, the peach trees line the banks and strew their petals on the stream.
He searches for the fountainhead but comes no closer to his dream.

========= How I got to the above translation:

Peach Blossom Journey
Wang Wei
漁舟 逐水愛山春
fishing boat pursue love water springtime
A fishing boat followed the water into loved mountains in the spring
both riverbanks peach blossom ancient ferry crossing
At the ford both river banks were covered in peach blossom
because look red trees not know far
Entranced by the red trees, he knew not how far he had traveled
travel to furthest extent blue brook not meet person
all the way along the blue stream he met no other person
mountain pass hidden go start mountain recess ?
at a hidden pass he  entered a deep cave ?
mountain open spacious gaze into distance circle flat land
Beyond the mountain opened a vista of flat land as far as he could see in all directions
distant see one point collect cloud tree
At one point in the distance he saw clouds hovering over trees
near enter thousand home scatter flower bamboo
near he came to a thousand homes scattered among flowers and bamboo groves
gather firewood visitor first convey Han name
A wood-gatherer who gave a Han name first greeted him.
resident did not change Qin apparel
The residents wore clothes in the style of the Qin dynasty
resident together live valiant imperial tomb source
The residents lived together at the source of the Wu Ling river還從物外起田園
Also from the outside world remove countryside
their countryside still removed from the outside world.
moon light pine beneath house approach calm
Under the bright moon and the pines the approach to the houses was quiet
sun come out cloud among chicken dog noisy
At sunrise among the clouds the chickens and dogs were noisy.
surprise hear secular visitor strive come gather
Surprised to hear of an outsider the people gathered as fast as they could around him
border/situation draw/cause home question all city
situation drew al lthe  city to invite him into their homes to ask questions
peacefull bright lane sweep bloom open
lanes had been smoothly swept of blossoms
The peaceful lanes in the sun were swept clear of opening blossoms
dusk sunset fishing gather firewood chariot enter
At dusk the fishermen and wood-gatherers rode back along the river初因避地去人間
first in accord with avoid earth be apart from this man’s world
at the beginning to avoid society they set themselves apart
change ask immortal being satisfy not return
they became like immortal beings, satisfied not to return
gorge in who know have person business/matter/trouble
in the valley who could know of the troubles of others [outside]
world among see in the distance empty cloud mountain
From the distant world one could see only empty clouds and mountains
not suspect  clever[ magic?] area difficult hear see
Not suspecting this magic territory so difficult to see or hear
this world heart have not to the greatest extent think of country county
[the traveler] from our world in his heart did not exhaust thinking of his homeland
go out cavity no matter what stand between mountains and rivers
he went out through the cave without remarking the landscape
take leave family eventually intend long wander aimless
eventually he left his family intending [to return] and wandered fruitlessly
self call pass through former section riddle
He hoped to puzzle out how to return to the hidden land as he had passed formerly
How know peak ? come change
How could he have known that the mountains and ravines had changed?
at that time only remember enter mountain  depth
At that time he only committed to memory how to enter the cave
blue stream several time toward cloud forest
Several of the blue streams seemed to lead to the cloud forest
spring come everywhere is peach blossom water
With the coming of spring every stream is lines with peach blossoms
Not distinguish immortal fountainhead where seek
He could not determine how to find the immortal land near the river’s source

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One thought on “Peach Blossom Journey – Wang Wei

  1. To my mind this is one of the greatest poems ever written and your translation is also a masterpiece in its own right.

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