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Poems of Wang Wei.

In G.W. Robinson's translation, Poems of Wang Wei (Penguin, 1973), this poem becomes:

BIRDS CALLING IN THE VALLEY

Men at rest, cassia flowers falling

Night still, spring hills empty

The moon rises, rouses birds in the hills

And sometimes they cry in the spring valley.

While the movement of the whole is a bit less fragmented, the on-again, off-again punctuation with the weight of heaped-up phrases at the beginning of the poem make it move with more awkwardness than it should. The "hills" in the third line is redundant. This translation is adequate but slack, exhibiting none of the clean, direct, imagistic style of T'ao Ch'ien and his literary descendents.

Pauline Lu, in The Poetry of Wang Wei (Indiana University Press, 1980) sounds a lot like Wai-lim Yip:

BIRD CALL VALLEY

Man at leisure, cassia flowers fall.

The night still, spring mountain empty.

The moon emerges, startling mountain birds:

At times they call within the spring valley.

Her translation carries a better sense of movement than either of the former, each fine turning on a kind of axis as it does in the original, creating a lucid, literal equivalent. But the poem still leaves me dissatisfied in its English garb. The language lacks a poet's touch, it doesn't carry what a good ear could contribute. "Man at leisure"? Too indefinite in English. "At times they call" also is too slack to convey the tension of the original.
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Author:Hamill, Sam
Publication:The American Poetry Review
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 1, 1993
Words:238
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