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Friday, November 23, 2007

A silk painting associated with Wang Wei's style, and possibly by him, 8th century CE.

Twin Falls, Washington, where we hiked today.

Tiger Leaping Gorge, China, where my beloved spouse and I hiked in 2000.

Mont Ventoux, which Petrarch climbed in 1336.

Empty hills, no one in sight,
only the sound of someone talking;
late sunlight enters the deep wood,
shining over the green moss again.
-- "Deer Park" by Wang Wei, ca. 700 - 761; tr. Burton Watson, 1971

A moss-covered branch hanging over the south fork of the Snoqualmie River brought this poem to mind this afternoon as my nuclear family and I hiked to see Twin Falls. Beautiful day; my beloved spouse and I had the day off, as did others -- the trail was crowded with cheerful people. The beauty of the scenery enchanted and quieted the mind, as a work of art or religious experience might -- the brain idling to a more peaceful hum; but not idling -- firing happily across one’s repertoire of thoughts, images, hopes, plans -- still, to extend the car-engine analogy -- the mind is in neutral -- running at rest.

Chinese artists and poets celebrated nature several centuries before westerners ever did.

The first western mountain climber was also the founder of the sonnet tradition -- Francesco Petrarca, known in English as Petrarch, who undertook The Ascent of Mount Ventoux in 1336. Westerners had climbed mountains before Petrarch, but none before him left a record of it.

Thinking of Wang recalled to mind a two-day hike my beloved spouse and I took above Tiger Leaping Gorge in spring 2000. We had been in China for a couple of weeks during Chinese New Year. Everywhere we went had been crowded with Chinese tourists -- except our hike.

Which now strikes me as odd, since the religious nature-hermit tradition in Chinese art/poetry/religion is so august. But perhaps the poet/artist/hermits of China don’t frequent the tourist trails.

The Chinese nature-poem-and-painting tradition replicates nature’s capacity for inspiring awe -- and, then, peacefulness. This particular poem by Wang is his most famous in the west, having been translated upward of 20 times. Eliot Weinberger presents and comments on 19 of them in his brief, lovely book 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, and since the book came out several more translations have appeared.

-- photo of Twin Falls by Alex Wishkoski

-- photo of Tiger Leaping Gorge by someone named Greg

-- photo of Mont Ventoux from provence-hideaway.com

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