终南山 Zhongnan Mountain
王维 (Author: Wang Wei, 8th century)
太乙近天都， Taiyi close heaven capital
连山到海隅。 connect mountain arrive sea edge
白云回望合， white cloud return look converge
青霭入看无。 green haze enter look no
分野中峰变， divide field central peak change
阴晴众壑殊。 shade sunny many valley different
欲投人处宿， about to go to people place stay overnight
隔水问樵夫。 separate water ask woodcutter
Taiyi Peak so close to heaven, so close to Chang An.
The mountains run all the way to the edge of the sea
When I look back, the white clouds converge
When I walk in, the green haze disappears.
And when I look from the center peak, the whole divided earth changes.
Sunlit or shaded, the countless valleys look so different.
Needing a place to sleep tonight,
I call to a woodcutter on the other side of the river.
The first line reads “Taiyi Peak, so close to heaven’s capital” and is usually translated as “Taiyi Peak, so close to Chang An.” We agree that the “heaven’s capital” is meant to refer to Chang An, but feel that this more literal translation loses some of the poem’s nuance. “Heaven’s capital” was a way of referring to the nation’s capital, and scholars in the later dynasties, such as during the Ming dynasty, used the same word to refer to Beijing. We thought that Wang Wei chose to use this less common way of referring to Chang An both to exalt the city and to suggest the immensity of the mountain which nearly pierced the heavens. By translating it as we did, we kept the dual implications of the original, but we disturbed the rhythm of the poem by inserting a repetition that is not repeated elsewhere. As is very common in Chinese poetry, the subject is omitted. We chose to use first person throughout, both because it is almost certainly required in the particular, individual action of the last stanza and because it gives a more immediate sense of entering the mountain landscape. We added the word “whole” to the fifth line because we believe that the poem implies that the mountain encompasses the entire earth, which is “divided” in accordance with Chinese astrology in which different sections of the earth correspond to different sections of the sky. This cosmic connection between earth and sky is another reason to emphasize the use of the word “heaven” in the first line.