In the 8th Century Wang Wei, the ‘mountain man’, was a painter, calligrapher and musician as well as being one of the greatest High Tang poets. His works often take a Buddhist perspective, combining an attention to the beauties of nature with an awareness of sensory illusion. What follows is a letter to his friend P’ei Ti who was also his official translator.
This month the weather has been bright and clear, and I could have crossed the mountains. But I was reluctant to trouble you, knowing you were deep in the Classics. So I wandered around the mountain, stayed at Kan-p’ei Temple, ate with the monks, and wandered home again. Then I went north over the Yüan-pa, under a clear moon. At night I climbed Hua-tzu Hill, and watched the moonlight on the Yang River’s ripples. Far-off, lights on the cold mountain glittered then vanished. A dog in the deep lanes barked like a leopard. The pounding of grain in the night sounded between strokes of a distant bell. Now I am sitting alone listening to the silence. I think a lot about the old days, when we made poems together, climbing the steep tracks by clear streams. We must wait till the trees and grass grow green again, and, idling in spring hills, we can see fish leap in the light, the gulls soar, the white dew on green moss. At dawn we will hear the birds call in the fields. It is not long till then, when you could come wandering with me. If I did not know your natural sensibility, I would hold back from making even this indirect invitation. I speak from a deep impulse, but it is not pressing.