Discovering Wang Wei

02021-06-29 | Uncategorized | 3 comments

I know no good way
to live and I can’t
stop getting lost in my
thoughts, my ancient forests…

You ask: how does a man rise or fall in this life?
The fisherman’s song flows deep under the river.

That is a poem by Wang Wei I found in The Overstory.

Wang Wei (Chinese: 王維; 699–759[1]) was a Chinese poet, musician, painter, and politician during the Tang dynasty. He was one of the most famous men of arts and letters of his time. Many of his poems are preserved, and twenty-nine were included in the highly influential 18th-century anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems.

(Wikipedia link)

Later I found another poem by Wang Wei, a reply to Subprefect Zhang, that is of a similar nature:

Now in old age, I know the value of silence,
The world’s affairs no longer stir my heart.
Turning to myself, I have no greater plan,
All I can do is return to the forest of old.
Wind from the pine trees blows my sash undone,
The moon shines through the hills; I pluck the qin.
You ask me why the world must rise and fall,
Fishermen sing on the steep banks of the river.

The tone is familiar and reminds me of Lao Tzu and Hanshan.

The biography of Wang Wei speaks of many ups and downs. Promoted, promoted, demoted, promoted, demoted, demoted, imprisoned as a suspected traitor, promoted and then Deputy Prime Minister.

I discovered Ryokan when I was 22 and then Hanshan, also many decades ago. It informed how I tried to live my life and, perhaps, saved my musical life. You are the greatest, you are the worst. Okay. You can say what you like and I will just continue making music.

I’ll add Wang Wei to the list of people I will read whenever I am wondering about the affairs of humans:

Chuang Tzu
Lao Tzu,

And, believe me, human affairs baffle me much of the time. :-)


  1. LM

    The line “the world’s affairs no longer stir my heart “ makes me wonder if that had come to mean the same thing as (some) older people unapologetically buying plastic and generally not caring about climate change.

    Does it mean that the older we get the more apathetic we become ?

    • ottmar

      I sure hope that’s not what it means. I see some people caring less but I also see some people caring more as they get older.

  2. JaneParhamKatz

    Ryokan – You are the greatest, you are the worst. Okay. You can say what you like and I will just continue making music.

    Oh, Ottmar, I want this feeling, this attitude. I felt it as it flew by my mind a moment ago, and I was filled with hope, warmth, energy. This will save me from myself!


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