Fun with Tang Dynasty Poetry: “My Villa at Mount Zhongnan” by Wang Wei

My Villa at Mount Zhongnan

In my mid life I began to love the Buddha Law.
I decided to live the rest of my life at the foot of Mount Zhongnan.
When I am in the mood for an outing, I wander alone in the woods.
I savour the pleasant feelings with no one.
I stroll along the brook to its origin.
Then I sit down and watch the rising clouds.
Occasionally I meet an elderly woodsman.
I chat and laugh, forgetting to return home.

About Wang Wei

The Chinese poet, painter and musician Wang Wei (699-759 A.D.) was one of the greatest poets of the golden age of Chinese poetry, the Tang dynasty (618-907 A.D.). He also served in court as a high-ranking official until the death of his wife when he retired to a Buddhist monastery. In Wang Wei’s poetry the landscape is clearly seen through the eyes of the painter and, written mainly in quatrains, his descriptions of mountains, valleys and the rare contact with other people is displayed in very concrete images. This leads him to be described as the first master of atmosphere and the foremost poet of the great Tang dynasty. Wang Wei was an admirer of the poet Tao Yuanmin (or Tao Qian), and a similar although slightly more refined style, can clearly be seen.

Much of his work gives an insight into the weekend countryside retreats that many courtiers used to escape the pressure of high society court protocol and teach us the value of nature through the Buddhist perception. Wang Wei is believed to have remained at the monastery until his death in 759

The Author’s Interpretation

At the age of 40, Wang Wei became a devout Buddhist. He once lived with a contemporary poet, Chu Guangyi, in seclusion at Mount Zhongnan. At about age 50, Wang Wei acquired a villa at the foot of Mount Zhongnan in Wangchuan, Lantian. Since then, he had lived as a recluse and concentrated on his Buddhist cultivation practice.

Wang Wei did not describe his perception of the society or his friends. Instead, he delicately and yet profoundly portrayed his feelings as a Buddhist cultivator during his cultivation practise.

Wang Wei loved mountains and forests. He often took lengthy strolls in the woods alone to experience the feeling of being an integral part of the nature. It must have been a very beautiful and profound feeling, but Wang Wei found it hard to share it with others who were not in the same realm. This must be why Wang Wei wrote, “I savour the pleasant feelings with no one.” What he was truly saying is: “If only I could share this wonderful feeling with someone!”

Wang Wei strolled along a mountain brook at leisure and before he knew it he had traced it to its origin. It showed how much Wang Wei enjoyed spending time in the nature. Since he has reached the end of the brook, he decided that he might as well sit down and enjoy the beautiful view of the rising clouds. As readers, we feel the feelings of the poet, which are reflected by the carefree, unplanned, and ethereal clouds. Wang Wei has an excellent way of expressing his inner thoughts and feelings via his delicate portraits of the natural landscapes. Poets and critics have highly acclaimed these two lines, “I stroll along the brook to its origin. Then I sit down and watch the rising clouds.” because Wang Wei not only delivered very concrete images with only a few words but also captured an ethereal and inspired state of mind at that moment of his life. It was a very specific, concrete feeling that only those who have experienced the same state of mind can relate to.

While living in such an inspirational environment, Wang Wei would take time and smell the roses. When he met a woodsman on the road, he would stop to have hearty chats and laughs. He would even forget when it was time to return home. It showed that Wang Wei was truly enjoying a peaceful, leisurely life in the woods as a Buddhist hermit. It also showed Wang Wei’s happy-go-lucky nature. This is the typical mentality of a solitary hermit in a Buddha school.

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