"Mourning for Yin Yao," "The Way to the Temple," and "Reply to a Magistrate," by Wang Wei, copyright © 2000 by Sam Hamill. Reprinted from Crossing the Yellow River: Three Hundred Poems from the Chinese, translated and introduced by Sam Hamill.

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Feature on Hamill's translations.
Wang Wei (701-761)


Mourning for Yin Yao

How long can one man live
before returning to emptiness?
I know you welcomed death.
Ten thousand things can trouble a heart.

Your good mother not yet buried,
your daughter is barely ten.
I hear from beyond the frozen wilderness
the desolate sounds of laments.

Clouds float across the empty sky.
A bird on the wing cannot sing.
Loneliness is the way of the wanderer.
The white sun soon grows cold.

Iím sorry that when you lived
and begged to study the dharma with me,
my teaching came too late
to bring you much success.

Old friends always have gifts to bring,
but in your lifetime, mine came a bit too late.
I failed you in many ways.
Tearfully, I close my brushwood gate.


The Way to the Temple

Searching for Gathered Fragrance Temple:
miles of mountains rise into clouds,
ancient trees darken the narrow trail.
Where is that mountain temple bell?

Snowmelt crashes down on boulders,
the sun grows cold in the pines before
it drowns in the lake. Keep your karma
in good working order: many dragons lie in wait.


Reply to a Magistrate

Late in life, I care for ease aloneó
to hell with official concerns.

Look! I make no plans for the future
but to go back to my forest home again.

Let pine winds loosen my robes,
mountain moons play my lute.

You want to taste success or failure?
A lone fisherman sings out on the water.