Lù Zhái (The Deer Fence) by Wáng Wéi (鹿柴, 王维)









Lù Zhái (The Deer Fence) [3]

Wáng Wéi

In (this) empty mountain[4], no one is seen,

But only the sounds of others are heard.

On return, (sun)light enters the deep forest,

And once again, it shines atop the green moss.



This poem was written in the classic five-syllable quatrain form, which is the shortest of forms in Chinese poetry. How fitting that Wáng Wéi in his simple Buddhist, reflective tone would use this minimalistic style, requiring the reader to meditate on the characters, and visualize and conjure up their own ideas as to what the poet meant. Here, every character counts, and has the potential to hold a deeper meaning.

[1] Wang Wei (701-761) a Tang Dynasty poet was a devout Buddhist, having spent many years studying with his master Dao Guang. Wang’s poetry conveys beautiful imagery and his deep love of nature often using only a few characters, which were tinged with Buddhist themes throughout, showing the interconnections and relationships of all phenomenon in nature.

[2] Many commentators have said that ‘’ here is an alternate for ‘’ (reflection, shadow), however, I believe since 景 alludes to daylight and its resulting brightness this character makes more sense in the poem.  

[3] Lu Zhai is a place name, thought to be the location near Wáng Wéi’s cottage. This is in current Lán Tián county in Shǎn Xī province.

[4] Empty mountain (空山): The idea here is not simply of an ‘empty mountain’ or one devoid of any other humans or objects, as we know this is not the case, given that there is mention of a deep forest on this mountain. Although this may be what Wáng Wéi was alluding to, we can assume based on his Buddhist lens on the world, that the ‘empty ’ here was speaking to more of an ‘empty’ quality from the Buddhist perspective, the idea of a false or illusory nature of existence, and that all phenomenon have no reality.  As Lù Zhái was one of Wáng\’s retirement cottages, solitude may have been exactly what he was looking for and therefore the first definition also makes sense. This is the beauty of this style of poetry, as since we\’ll never know exactly what the poet meant, we can conjure up our own ideas and thoughts. 

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