汉江临眺 (王维)

Title: Looking Out on the Han River  ▪ 汉江临眺
Wang Wei
Poetic Form: lǜshī 律诗

Apologies, individual character links no longer available for this poem...

1. (楚 + 塞) + (三 + 湘) + 接
    (the state of Chu + stronghold) + (three + Xiang
       river) +  to connect
    gloss: The Chu fortress [lies where] the three
    Xiang rivers flow together

2. (荆 + 门) + ((九 + 派) + 通)
    (Jing + gate) + ((nine + tributary) + to pass
    gloss: Nine tributaries pass through JingMen

3. 江 + 流 + (天 + 地) + 处
    river + to flow + (sky + earth) + outside
    gloss: The rivers flow beyond the world

4. (山 + 色) + (有 + 无 + 中)
    (mountain + face) + (to have + no + center)
    gloss: The mountains appear and disappear

5. (郡 + 邑) + 浮 + 前 + 浦
    (village + town) + to float + ahead + banks
    gloss: Villages and towns float by on the river

6. (波 + 澜) + 动 + (远 + 空)
    (wave + billow) + to move + (distant + sky)
    gloss: The waves make the far-off sky move

7. (襄 + 阳) + 好 + (风 + 日)
    (Xiang + Yang) + good + (wind + sun)
    gloss: The scenery in XiangYang is beautiful

8. (留 + 醉) + 与 + (山 + 翁)
    (to remain + drunk) + with + (mountain + old
    gloss: [I] shall remain [merrily] drunk with the
    mountain's old man (Shan Jian, a historical


Looking Out on the Han River
translation by Jessica Alexander ©

At the Chu border, three waters merge,
and through the Jing gate nine tributaries flow free,
the river rushes off the edge of the world,
mountains rise verdant then melt away,
towns and villages bob along the shores,
while waves rattle the far-off skies.
Xiangyang is so beautiful
we shall drink on with the mountain's merry lord.


One of Wang Wei’s best respected poems, 汉江临眺 is often described as a meticulous ink painting, carefully balancing the poet’s immediate surroundings in a boat on the Han River with a vast background of nature.
Lines 1 and 2, equally balanced with the number character in the center of the line, deftly and rapidly describe the Han River’s grandness and energetic motion, thereby providing the backdrop for the poem and allowing the reader to visualize and dramatize the turbulent waters flowing together: the Han, the Jin, and the nine tributaries of the Yangtze.
In lines 3 and 4, the color of the water melts into that of the sky at the horizon, making it seem as though the river flows to the ends of the earth and beyond.  Mountains, naturally a lush green, appear and disappear in the mist on both sides of the river.  This positioning of the mountains clarifies for the reader that the poet must be in a boat floating down the Han.  Line 3 provides the horizontal long-view (the river stretching out to infinity) while line 4 forces the reader to “look” up at the vertical vastness – it as if the poet is smearing daubs of paint on all sides around the reader.
In lines 5 and 6, it is obviously the boat that the poet is in which is rocking, but Wang Wei skillfully forces this movement to the exterior and makes it not the boat but the city walls that float by on the river banks.  Likewise, the sky undergoes these same undulations.
The 山翁in line 8 is a reference to 山简, a historical personage from the state of Jin, known for riding his horse very drunk.  He was once sent south to guard XiangYang, long known for its magnificent scenery.  The poet is using the sentiments 山简 experiences when he tipsily enjoys the southern landscape to express his own love for the region.
Wang Wei builds up an illusion for his reader, preventing our eye from focusing: waters stretch on forever, mountains are impressively high, and the whole world around us is rocking back and forth.  It would seem then, that we are falling over drunk!


Other Translations

Bynner 1
Bynner 2 (page 237)