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Monday, July 25, 2016

Ascending to the Blue Dragon Temple (by Wang Wei)

Late this morning we had a power outage in the neighborhood.  I noticed a truck from our local utility parked just in front of my neighbor Lucille’s giant beech tree.  Forced to power down I took the opportunity to look for a poem to translate.  I settled on this one by Wang Wei about his ascent to the Blue Dragon Temple to visit a certain Chan Master Cao – appropriately enough about his own powering down in a slightly different way.

It’s not an easy poem to translate – the phrasing is dense and opaque, and full of dharma references.  After struggling with my translation I looked to David Hinton’s version in his fine book (The selected poems of Wang Wei) and found considerable difference between his rendering and my own.  Live and learn.

I am going to email David now and ask him for permission to post his translation immediately below my own.

On a Summer's Day 
Ascending to the Blue Dragon Temple
 To Visit Chan Master Cao

A tired old man
I slowly ascend
To the temple
To meditate there
Yearning to learn more
About life’s deepest meanings
To contemplate emptiness
However imperfectly
To understand Nothing

Mountains and rivers
And Heaven’s pure vistas
May be seen either by means
Of inner or outer vision
Living in the world
Following Buddha’s teaching
Pursuing the Middle Way
None shall be condemned
To suffer torments in Hell
But instead shall be reborn
Of earth and wind


龙钟一老翁    徐步谒禅宫
欲问义心义     遥知空病空
山河天眼里     世界法身中
莫怪销炎热     能生大地风

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