Empty mountain. No one in sight
Only the echo of voices in the air
Glimmers and glints return to the forest depths
Once more, the green moss filled with light
Day and night amid cold mountains
Alone, at ease, a guest dwells here
Knowing nothing of pine woods affairs
Seeing only the tracks, and not the deer
Wang Wei, a contemporary of Li Po and Tu Fu, is one of China’s best-loved poets. His clean and sharply-focused style has inspired American poets from Ezra Pound and William Carlos Williams down to the present day. A rare example of a poet with real power, Wang Wei stood next to the Emperor in the Tang dynasty court, charged with correcting (diplomatically, no doubt) any mistakes he might make. And yet, devoted to nature, meditation, and poetry, he refused all the trappings of wealth: his chamber at court contained only a bed, a chair, and a teapot.
Pei Di was a younger friend who had not yet taken his Civil Service exams–which, in China, included writing a passable poem! During the An Lu Shan rebellion, he saved Wang’s life by smuggling one of his poems out of prison—proof he was being held by the rebels against his will. The two were separated at last when Pei Di was made governor of Szechuan, then a wild, remote place, reachable only by treacherous plank paths hung from the sides of cliffs.
Dan Veach is the founder and editor emeritus of Atlanta Review. For over two decades Atlanta Review has featured poetry from around the world, including wartime Iraq, pro-democracy Iran, and mainland Communist China. Dan’s own translations from Chinese, Arabic, Spanish and Anglo-Saxon have won the Willis Barnstone Translation Prize and an the Independent Publisher Book Award. He is the editor and co-translator of Flowers of Flame: Unheard Voices of Iraq (Michigan State University Press, 2008). His poems and Chinese ink paintings are collected in Elephant Water, winner of the Georgia Author of the Year Award. Dan has performed his work worldwide, including Oxford University, People’s University in Beijing, the American University in Cairo, the Atheneum in Madrid, and the Adelaide Festival in Australia.