Saturday, September 10, 2011

Green mists and Wang Wei

I was in a sinophile mood today and picked up a book owned by my other half,Chinese Poetry, 2nd ed., Revised: An Anthology of Major Modes and Genres by Wai-Lim Yip. He argues many translations of Chinese poetry distort the sparseness and flexibility of the original, imposing verbal structures that are not there.

Instead, the great ancient poetry of the T'ang Dynasty and before is better seen as intense interconnected visual scenes.

He translates Mount Chung-Nan by Wang Wei, who died in the year 761 :

Chung-Nan ranges near the imperial capital
Mountain upon mountain to the sea's brim.
White clouds - looking back - close up.
Green mists - entering - nothing.
Terrestrial divisions change at the middle peak.
Shade and light differ with every valley.
To stay over in some stranger's house -
Across the water, ask a woodcutter.

The white clouds and green mists are like separate cinematic/ visual scenes.

He provides a character by-character translation, and demonstrates that what is left unsaid, with time and tense unspecified, gives the poetry its cinematic, evocative character.

It is all about juxtaposition and montage, putting intense scenes and feelings together in sequence.
This is montage: the juxtaposition of two visual events to create a third which is different from both.

Indeed, much of the idea of montage, and the sparse poetry of Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams and others can be traced back directly to these T'ang gems.

It feels like something which has a natural application to photography as well.

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