Translations from Hanshan, a Legendary Figure from the Chinese Tang Period
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Hanshan, a legendary figure from the Chinese Tang period, is attributed with a collection of poems which are among the fines expression of Zen Buddhism, often remarking on life's short and transient nature, and the necessity of meditation as means to enlightenment. Today, there are many variations of translations of the collection of poems, some of which may be similar or different to Hanshan’s view of enlightenment. Not only does the variety of translations give different meaning to the poetry, but it also shapes different images of Hanshan, which in turn affects the reader’s experience of the poetry. The translation of the poem “High, high on from the summit of the peak” by Burton Watson is a more impelling and better translation than the Wandering Poet’s because of the use of varying diction, imagery, and structure that more effectively reflects Hanshan’s ideas of achieving Zen and enlightenment.
The first two lines of each poem start off with an obvious difference in translation styles. “High, high from the summit of the peak, / Whatever way I look, no limit in sight!” and “High on the mountain top / I can see to every horizon” begin the poem by Watson and the Wandering Poet respectively (1-2). Watson’s use of repetition of the word “high” can be interpreted by a reader as having the feeling of a larger mountain or peak. Conversely, the Wandering Poet’s translation may make this mountain seem smaller and less important. The Wandering Poet’s translation also gives the reader less room for interpretation through his structure and imagery. One such example is present in line 2, “I can see to every horizon” which can give a reader a concrete image, whereas Watson’s translation of this line says “no limit in sight!” Using this phr...
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...ed translation of the poem. Wandering Poet’s translation, while similar, has less description, no punctuation, and a more simple structure. These elements are necessary for the reader to fully comprehend the understanding of Hanshan’s thoughts on Zen. This poem can be applied to today’s society. With modern technology, most everyone is always on the move, and it is rare to be alone for more than a few hours. To be like Hanshan, even for a week, and leave society behind, to go and find a solitary place can be hard. Everyone needs a break, and to leave behind all of modern society’s worries can help one connect with their spiritual self.
Hanshan. “High on the mountain top.” The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Ed. Martin Puncher, et al. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2012. 986. Print.
Hanshan. “High on the mountain top.” Trans. Wandering Poet.