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王維 鹿柴 translation: The Deer Enclosure, by Wang Wei

This is a translation and annotation of the poem 鹿柴 (Lù Zhài), “The Deer Enclosure”, by the Tang dynasty poet 王維 (Wang Wei). The poem is #224 in the collection 300 Tang Poems, and is also known by its first line: 空山不見人 (Kōng Shān Bù Jiàn Rén).


Lù Zhài
[deer] [enclosure]
The Deer Enclosure


Kōngshān bùjiàn rén,
[empty] [mountain] [not] [see] [person]
In the empty mountain, one does not see people,

dàn wén rén yǔ xiǎng.
[yet] [hear] [person] [voice] [sound]
yet one hears the sound of human voice.

Fǎn jǐng rù shēnlín,
[reflect] [sunlight] [enter] [deep] [forest]
Reflected sunlight enters a deep forest,

fù zhào qīngtái shàng.
[again] [shine] [luscious,green] [moss] [on]
and comes to shine on luscious, green moss.
青 isn’t just ‘green'; it often refers to youth and vitality as well.


If you notice a mistake or disagree with the translation, please comment below to improve this resource.

Useful links:

  • Antimacassar

    Funny that I was looking at this beautiful poem a while back. I have the rather turgidly titled “First Looking Into The Tang and Song Poems” which maybe has some explanations that are not contained in your book ( I guess they must be accurate though)

    It gives and explanation of the poem and the writer all in Chinese and also gives an English translation.

    So just a few points, but there are quite a few more I could add.

    1. Do you mean human voices or a human voice. In the translation I have it says “I hear a voice echo”. Maybe the Chinese is ambiguous here so it’s not really possible to translate it accurately in to English, but since it is in a secluded mountain it’s probably unlikely to be voices and the explanation writes: 人语响, 有人说话的声音.

    2.According to the explanation 返景 means 夕阳反射出的光线。 景,日光. So it is translated as “the sunset glow”.

    3.Also 复 here means 又, which isn’t shown in your translation.

    • http://eastasiastudent.net Hugh Grigg

      Remember that my aim in translation here is to be literal and close to the original without inferring too much. I’m trying to create something that students studying the poem can follow closely and easily to get a first understanding.

      With that in mind, whilst the second line could well mean the echo of human voices, it’s not certain, so I’ve left it as “the sound of human voice”. The Baidu page you linked to just translates this as “the sound of talking”. There’s nothing to stop this translation from referring to an echo, either.

      Again with the third line, I’d rather not stray too far from what can be translated directly. I have edited the translation of 景 to “sunlight” and 复 to “again”, as you suggest, though. Thanks for pointing those out.

      If you have more points then please do share them, it’s always useful to have suggestions.

      • Antimacassar

        At the risk of sounding too critical it seems strange to want to be close to the original and yet to miss these points. For example, by translating 空山 as “empty mountain” you are missing that 空山 here means both 空旷 and 寂静. A real literal translation would acknowledge both these meanings and not give a modern translation to a word that it is not meant for.

        Remember this poem is about 1400 years old and native Chinese speakers wouldn’t understand all of it without some kind of explanation. It’s as if you gave a text of Shakespeare or Chaucer (or even earlier?!) to learners of English with no explanation. Even with a literal translation they would be unlikely to understand it. I think it’s great that you are translating Chinese poetry, something that I also have a love for, but it seems a bit disingenuous to say learners of Chinese will be able to understand it literally. At least if people really want to understand the meaning of the poem and not just as a (pointless) exercise in translation.

        Maybe it would be an idea to try some modern stuff? 海子 for example?

        • http://eastasiastudent.net Hugh Grigg

          I’ll explain further. I write these translations so that I would have found them useful as we went through these poems in class at university. At that point what I would have found most useful was a first-step understanding that let me read through the poem and make the most of class time.

          I understand that you have a deep appreciation of the poems, as do many people. There are numerous different translations and interpretations available online and in books. This is my contribution to that collection with a narrow and specific aim.

          I agree that it seems a shame to miss out on some of the depth of the poem, but that isn’t what I’m trying to achieve here. I’m trying to make the poem as accessible as possible at the expense of every other aspect.

          I also think it’s worth pointing out that depth can be read into an English translation just as it can with the original. The word “empty” could convey quietness or silence just as 空 could. If you have a more appropriate real literal translation, please share it and I’ll update the post.

          There is no right translation; the potential translations are endless. If you’d prefer to see it translated with different priorities then perhaps you’d like to offer your own translation. You can post it here if you like and I’ll make it into a post of its own.

          • Ron Tuohy

            Here’s my version. I’m happy enough with it as a poem in English. And it follows pretty well the interpretations that most convinced me and necessarily diverges from others.

            Deer Fence

            Empty Mountain.
            Seeing no one.
            Hearing someone’s
            echoing voice.
            The late day sun
            enters again
            the deep forest,
            shining once more
            on the green moss.

  • Antimacassar

    Also the title is pronounced 鹿柴 lù zhài. First off it is a place name. So I’m not sure why you translated it as deer hunt, but anyway, as the baidu page explains, 柴 here means 养鹿的地方,“柴”同“寨”, or place for raising deer, not hunting.


    • http://eastasiastudent.net Hugh Grigg

      I translated it as “deer hut”, not “deer hunt”. As in something made of wood where deer are raised, as the Baidu page says.

      Thanks for pointing out the 柴 → 寨 meaning. I’ve updated the pinyin to zhài and changed “hut” to “enclosure”.

      • Antimacassar

        oops…anyway like I say above the translation I have is called “at the LuZhai hermitage”. It also explains: 鹿柴: 地名, 在王维的辋川别墅附近. So I’m not sure that either deer hut, hunt or enclosure is much good I’m afraid.

        • http://eastasiastudent.net Hugh Grigg

          Then it becomes a question of sources. The interpretation your book provides isn’t necessarily the only one. The Baidu article explains 鹿柴 as “养鹿的地方”, for example.

  • http://www.chinesetolearn.com/ Shu

    Hi there,
    You both are right on this :) The interpretation can be different based on the interpreter’s personal training and experience :) Just like when we heard a song, the image that pops up in the listeners’ mind can be varied.
    Have fun with the poems.

    • http://eastasiastudent.net Hugh Grigg

      Thanks Shu, I agree it’s not a question of who is right and who is wrong. I wished there had been an accessible entry point for these poems when we began studying them in class, and that is what I am trying to provide here.

      I also agree with Antimacassar that the translation above misses out on a lot of the poem’s depth. I’m willing to lose that here in order to make the translation easy to follow.

  • http://www.justlearnchinese.com Grace

    I’d say both of you guys have better understanding of the poem than most Chinese do. When I first learned it, I wished my teacher could flip the page faster. It was actually so boring for a elementary student to learn it. Not until I started my busy life as an adult, many of the ancient poems finally hit me head to toe. Lots of the famous poets were taking important positions in the government in their times. Their poems were paths for them to express their feelings of the reality and desires for a better life or world. More than a thousand years later, do we nowadays people feel better? Not really in most cases, even worse. That might be one of the reasons why those classic poems still stur our feelings in this electronic era.

    If one day you step into a mountain, and this poem start to echo in your mind like a music, that is when your soul is dancing in harmony with the old Chinese poet 1400 ago :-) I felt that before, it felt sooo good.

  • caron

    寨 – this is zhai4 and means enclosure – could someon have copied it down wrong? Lol, Like maybe his brother?
    Is that a crazy thought? – Are there any originals? maybe they were smudged er sumthin . . . Ha!

    • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

      That seems very possible to me.

  • 白睿

    You’re doing a great job with these poems Hugh, keep it up! This is a good site for beginner students of Tang poetry – like myself – to get the gist of the poems’ meaning(s). No need to get too pedantic about it.
    Even such a short poem as this one can have many different interpretations. I bet if you gave it to half a dozen native Chinese they’d all offer a different opinion, each insisting that THEIR version is the correct one! The very fact that they are open to a multiplicity of interpretations seems to me to lend richness and depth to them; though, of course, it makes it harder for us now, separated in time and place, to fully grasp their original meaning.

  • http://eastasiastudent.net/about Hugh Grigg

    Hi 白睿, thanks for your comment.

    Helping other beginners to get the gist of these poems is exactly what I’m trying to do here, so I’m glad you said that! I do make a lot of mistakes though, so it’s great when people point them out. The resulting discussions are often useful as well.