Yudi Xie on translating Wang Wei (王維)

Yudi Xie

on translating Wang Wei (王維)

I always begin my translation process by trying to sense in my mind what the poet sensed in the moment when the poem was written. I use my imagination to reconstruct and to repaint for myself the picture that the poet sees in nature and paints; I imagine the light and heat in the moment, the brightness and transparency of the air before me, the coolness of the evening wind surrounding me. Due to my passion for remembering and enlivening the experiences of the five senses, the mood, and the sentiments at the moment, I try my best to restore and translate into English what I feel in the Chinese poem. The title, “impromptu verses,” is translated from 即事, which adds a little “musicality” into the simple action of “jotting down things.” Since my goal is to evoke the reader’s sensations and sentiments and put them in the precise moment that the poet was experiencing while he wrote the poem, I selected words that emphasize colors and smell, such as “smoke and flames,” “green,” and “red.” One phrase that I struggled a bit to translate was 蒼茫, which I translated into “vast and boundless” — a spatial dimension that accentuates the hollowness and nothingness of the space called 天地, namely the infinite space between the firmament and earth. By doing so, the English reader may experience a moment when the light from the sunset permeates and gilds everything in the universe, even though the night is looming ahead.

about the author

Wang Wei (王維, 701 – 761) was a poet, painter, and government official. He was born during the glorious Tang Dynasty or Prosperous Kaiyuan Era (開元盛世), under the rule of Tang Xuanzong (Emperor Xuanzong of Tang; 唐玄宗). The poet also witnessed the An Lushan Rebellion (安史之亂) during his lifetime. The color imagery in Wang Wei’s poetry is vivid, almost like a painting. The vivid colors in Wang Wei’s poems may suggest that he was inspired by the life-affirming philosophy of Chan () (the Japanese adaptation of Chan, more widely known to the Western audiences as Zen Buddhism). This would explain much of Wang Wei’s ardent wishful thinking.

about the translator

Yudi Xie is a poet, a fervent talker, one who dreams in Chinese and writes her philosophy, literature, and history essays in English. She earned a bachelor’s in Philosophy with a minor in Art History from Boston University and is studying in the East Asian Languages and Civilizations graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania. She has translated bits of Henry Miller and Eileen Chang and aspires to be a writer.

photo by Chardonnay Needler