A White Turtle Under a Waterfall
By Wang Wei
Translated by Tony Barnstone, Wilis Barnstone and Xu Haixin
The waterfall on South Mountain hits the rocks,
tosses back its foam with terrifying thunder,
blotting out even face-to-face talk.
Collapsing water and bouncing foam soak blue moss,
old moss so thick
it drowns the spring grass.
Animals are hushed.
Birds fly but don’t sing
yet a white turtle plays on the pool’s sand floor
under riotous spray,
sliding about with the torrents.
The people of the land are benevolent.
No angling or net fishing.
The white turtle lives out its life, naturally.
Wang Wei (701-761 C.E.) is often spoken of, with his contemporaries Li Po and Tu Fu, as one of the three greatest poets in China's 3,000-year poetic tradition. Of the three, Wang was the consummate master of the short imagistic landscape poem that came to typify classical Chinese poetry. He developed a nature poetry of resounding tranquility wherein deep understanding goes far beyond the words on the page―a poetics that can be traced to his assiduous practice of Zen Buddhism. But despite this philosophical depth, Wang is not a difficult poet. Indeed, he may be the most immediately appealing of China's great poets.
How beautifully the poet delineates the movements of flora and fauna in a landscape near a waterfall! Finally, the white turtle, like the eye of a storm, steals the show and remains unperturbed. It even enjoys the turbulence around it. Sometimes you have to be that white turtle in life.
Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei . University Press of New England Paperback – January 15, 1992.
by Wang Wei (Author), Tony Barnstone (Translator), Willis Barnstone (Translator), Xu Haixin (Translator)