Mastering Chinese Poetry: Get into the autumn evening with Wang Wei

In Chinese beliefs, the full moon is a symbol of peace, harmony, luck and family reunion, that's one of the reasons why appreciating the full moon has become the highlight of the Mid-Autumn Festival, a well-known traditional Chinese festival that can be traced back to Tang Dynasty (618–907). People usually gather with their loved ones and share tasty meals and moon cakes for celebration.

For Chinese writers and poets, the moon is not just about the festival, but also brings endless inspiration to them. In this episode of Mastering Chinese Poetry let's take the time machine and back into that peaceful autumn night in mountains with Chinese poet Wang Wei.

Autumn Evening in the Mountains

After fresh rain in mountains bare;

Autumn permeates evening air.

Among pine-trees bright moonbeams peer;

Over crystal stones flows water clear.

Bamboos whisper of washer-maids;

Lotus stirs when fishing boat wades.

Though fragrant spring may pass away,

Still here's the place for you to stay.

(Translated by Xu Yuanchong)

Wang Wei is a renowned landscape poet and a talented landscape painter of Tang Dynasty. One of China's greatest poets Su Shi once commented on his work: "Pictures in poems, poems in pictures." I personally can't agree more, as Wang's poems always present a portray of imagery, like the poem above.

kōng shān xīn yǔ hòu,


tiān qì wǎn lái qiū。


"After fresh rain in mountains bare; Autumn permeates evening air."

The first line draws such a calming picture: It has just rained in the mountains without crowds around, the fresh and cool autumn vibe comes stronger as the night falls. If you read the line one more time, you may even smell the moist air with the fragrance of wet grass and earth of autumntime.

míng yuè sōng jiān zhào,


qīng quán shí shàng liú。


This line is considered one of the most classic descriptions of the moon:the magnificent moonlight surrounding the wet mountain, first it gently through the pine trees and then reflect to the clear forest spring which gurgled on the rocks. At this moment, you may hear the breeze from forests, the sound of water running… or you may hear nothing but your breath. The magic here is that there was no 3D or VR tech back then, but the poet Wang Wei can always take the readers into his scenery with a few simple words.

zhú xuān guī huàn nǚ,


lián dòng xià yú zhōu。


There is a slight laugh from the bamboo forest. It's the laundry girl coming back from the waterside underneath the moonlight; the lotus leaves are wandering, that must be the fisher is working on his canoe.

What an ingenious description! As if someone is not far away but could not be directly seen and only heard the sound of people laughing and talking, which highlights the quiet atmosphere and natural surroundings again.

This poem is written during Wang Wei's seclusion in Zhongnan Mountains, Northwest China. It expresses his pursuit of the simple and quiet mountain life. The poet's natural and fresh brushwork vividly depicts the natural beauty of the mountain and the harmonious beauty of villagers' life, which arouse readers' yearning for a simple and peaceful life.

suí yì chūn fāng xiē,


wáng sūn zì kě liú。


"Though fragrant spring may pass away,

Still here's the place for you to stay."

At the end of the poem, Wang shared his open-minded philosophy of life. Although the spring is gone, autumn is equally beautiful, why not stay away from the chaos of the world and stay in the mountains to feel the true meaning of life?

Reporter: Liang Si

Videographer: Qi Jianqiang

Video editor: Zhang Dian

Script writer: Liang Si

Cover designer: Li Wenyi 

Copy editor: April Espejo

Chief editors: Qin Xiaohu

Producer: Li Tianfu

Executive producer: Wen Yaru

Supervisor: Zhang Shilei

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