c. 750 | China

Even Shepherd Boys Know the Dao

Wang Wei savors a moment in time.

Creeks and summits are brilliant at sunset.
I laze in a boat, my way in the wind’s hands.

Watching wild landscapes I forget distance
and come to the water’s edge.

Gazing at lovely far woods and clouds
I guess I’ve lost my way.

How could I know this lucid stream
would turn, leading me into mountains?

I abandon my boat, pick up a light staff
and come upon something wonderful,

four or five old monks in contemplation,
enjoying the shade of pines and cypresses.

Before the forest dawns they read Sanskrit.
Their nightly meditation quiets the peaks.

Here even shepherd boys know the Dao.
Woodcutters bring in worldly news.

They sleep at night in the woods
with incense, on mats clean as jade.

Their robes are steeped in valley fragrances;
the stone cliffs shine under a mountain moon.

I fear I will lose this refuge forever
so at daybreak I fix it in my mind.

People of Peach Tree Spring, goodbye.
I’ll be back when flowers turn red.


Wang Wei

An untitled poem. A critic writing more than three hundred years after Wang Wei’s death remarked, “Taste Wang Wei’s poetry—there are paintings in it; look at his paintings—they are full of poetry.” Wang Wei began his long government career working for the Imperial Directorate of Music. Later in life, he spent increasing stretches of time in the hills around his country estate, studying Buddhism and conversing with monks.