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Friday, June 29, 2018

Thoughts from a High Tower (by Wang Wei)

Wang Wei is most often heralded as a great nature poet, one of the most important early contributors to the tradition of Mountain and Stream poetry (山水詩) in Chinese literature.  But Wang had great range in his life and poetry, and covered a lot of ground in the subjects he addressed, writing not only about the countryside but also about the metropolitan centers of Chang'An and Luoyang, which were the twin capital cities of the Tang empire.

This is a landscape poem Wang wrote that addresses a distinctly human theme.  Written from high atop a tower that overlooked a river valley, dotted with villages and well-tended farmland, this poem resonates with a kind of anomie and almost sounds as if could have been written standing atop the observation deck of a modern skyscraper gazing out over the urban sprawl below.


With Minister Wu Lang in the West Tower Pondering the Distant Vista


Gazing from this high tower
Thoughts come and go
Eyes reach for the extremity
Yet still it eludes their grasp

A thousand mile vista
A snug pillow for rest 
A window from which to survey
Ten thousand rooms in a glance

Down through the ages
All these strangers passing by
Hurrying deep into the obscurity
Of some distant time and place   

Deep sorrow resides there
Along the riverbank
In a remote farmstead where
A solitary column of smoke rises

You can see the order of it
Everything neatly arranged
Thoughts proceed below
Following a well-trod path

But of my native place
It is nowhere to be seen
Just clouds and rain and emptiness
As if it were all one thing 


高楼望所思     目极情未
枕上千里     窗中万室
悠悠路人     暧暧远郊日
极浦外     孤烟出
属上才     同下秩
不可     云水空如一

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