Friday poetry 1: Wang Wei and the Three Gorges

landscape.jpg[Editor’s note: There appears to be a growing trend among bloggers featuring some theme on Fridays, which I find an attractive idea. Therefore, on Fridays, the Natural Patriot will be featuring . . . poetry.  Why? Because poetry gets closer to the heart and soul of what we really value in Nature than the science and wonkish policy that we spend so much time discussing, important as that is. This will have to be experimental because, alas, the computer interface has a certain unfortunate dissonance with the spirit of poetry, which is best kindled in a state of slow, quiet reflection foreign to the web.  Nevertheless, it’s the medium of our day.  I can’t guarantee a contribution every week because, well, I have a day job. So here it is, the first installment.  If you like this piece, I highly recommend the book — one of my favorites (which, unfortunately, appears to be out of print).]

Wang Wei lived in the high Tang dynasty period (8th century AD) and is considered one of the greatest of the many great poets from that distinguished period of Chinese history.  This haunting poem (excerpt) seems prophetically to foresee the tragic loss of the once edenic landscape, which will soon be submerged forever behind China’s Three Gorges Dam. The dam has been intensely controversial from the beginning from a variety of environmental, social, and safety perspectives, and has been much in the news lately.

Song of Peach Tree Spring (excerpt)
Wang Wei (699?-761)
[translated by Barnstone, Barnstone, and Xu]
   . . .
   They came here to escape the chaotic world.
   Deathless now, they have no hunger to return.
   Amid these gorges, what do they know of the world?
   In our illusion we see only empty clouds and mountain.
   I don’t know that paradise is hard to find,
   and my heart of dust still longs for home.

   Leaving it all, I can’t guess how many mountains
   and waters lie behind me,
   and am haunted by an obsession to return.
   I was sure I could find my way back, the secret paths again.
   How could I know the mountains and ravines would change?
   I remember only going deep into the hills.
   At times the green river touched cloud forests.
   With spring, peach blossom water is everywhere,
   but I never find that holy source again.




About Emmett Duffy

I am a Natural Patriot and an ecologist with expertise in biodiversity and its importance to human society. My day job is Professor of Marine Science at the College of William and Mary in Virginia.
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2 Responses to Friday poetry 1: Wang Wei and the Three Gorges

  1. Julie says:

    Thanks for this beautiful post, both words and illustrations. How true that poetry encapsulates what environmentalists are fighting for better than facts & figures. I’ll look forward to more poetic Friday interludes.

  2. Emmett Duffy says:

    Good to hear from you, Julie, and to know that others appreciate the beauty of the ancient texts. Nice work also at Pines Above Snow. Now you’ve got me thinking of the next Friday episode . . .