CMO/OAA Cahier #04



hen I stayed in Taipei, Taiwan, for ten months to observe Mars in 1986, a Taiwanese master of the laundry to which I usually went marked any laundry of mine by the name “”= “Southern Mountain” in Chinese characters. I did not know his age, but I supposed he understood some Japanese pronunciations as the old Taiwanese did, and at least he knew my name “MINAMI” implies “South” and he further knew that I was usually called in Japan as “MINAMI-san.” This “san” is quite Japanese and does not exist in China or Taiwan, and so we write it in Hiragana without using any Chinese letters, while the Chinese character =mountain is “san” in Chinese pronunciation in Japan, and so here the laundry master intended to imply and pronounce as “MINAMI-san.”  is originally pronounced in China as “Nan-shan  (there is also used a Chinese pronunciation in Japan, but pronounced as “Nan-zan.”)  I suppose “shan” is more akin to “san” at the southern part of the Chinese continent (eg at Fu zhou) and Taiwan. The Chinese pronunciation in Japan is believed to have been propagated via the area of Fu zhou.


I like this kind of wit, and furthermore I liked it as a pronoun of my own name because  frequently appears in gems of the Chinese poetry. One of famous cases is in an old poem sung by TAO Yuan-Ming (365 - 427) which partly composes “I pick chrysanthemums at the eastern hedge, and then I gaze far off toward the Southern Mountain.” Usually “western mountain” or “eastern mountain” implies just a mountain in the west or east, but here in the TAO Yuan-Ming case, the Southern Mountain was rather a proper noun and implied the famous mountain called Lu-shan.


TAO Yuan Ming lived in the time of declining Eastern Jin Dynasty, but in the later era of the Tang Dynasty (618 - 907), the  usually implied  Zhong-Nan-shan which was the long range of mountains located to the south of the metropolis Zhang-an (now Xi-an) of Tang.


As one of the poets in the time of the Tang Dynasty who liked “Zhong-Nan-shan”, WANG Wei (699 - 759) has been famous. For example he sang such a song as “looking over Zhong-Nan-shan” or a poem whose title is just “Zhong-Nan-shan.” The latter has such a phrase as “White clouds are, if I look back, close behind me, and Blue mists, if I come near them, cannot be seen.” He also used the word Nan-shan inside several poems; these are thus showing Nan-shan implied calm mountains of deep misty forests and valleys devoid of any bustling sign.


WANG Wei was a brilliant person proficient in calligraphy and painting as well as composing music, in addition to making poems. He was successful also as an officer of the Tang Government, but he frequently had a sense of setback and often wanted to live in seclusion at a cottage located at the foot of Nan-shan.


The following five-letter/six-line poem entitled “Farewell” is one of the most well-known poems of WANG Wei (read from left to right):

Note that the fourth line contains the word . This poem roughly implies as follows:


Dismounting from my horse,

I offer you, my friend a cup of wine.

I ask you then where you intend to go.

You answer: “I have never been content,

And would retire to lie down at the foot of Nan-shan.”

Now leave to go and no more speak to me.

White clouds will drift there without end.


Here “you” looks to imply the second person (once so believed, see below), but nowadays it is interpreted that “you” implies WANG Wei himself. In fact it was associated with WANG Wei himself who met an obscurity in earthly affair world despite his brilliancy, and really secluded at the foot of Nan-shan. At Nan-shan, the white clouds rise eternally. In China, the “white cloud” is a kind of metaphor of a transcendental state aloof from the world, while quite contrarily “blue cloud” implies an ambitious state of high rank.

Several poems show that WANG Wei was very fond of using the word of white cloud in poem lines. Note he was quite religious (Buddhist). We also note as another declination, he often wanted to force his intimate friends to drink a cup of wine.


The Chinese poetry has a long history, but nobody would deny it was most flourish during the Tang dynasty era. In addition to WANG Wei, such poets as LI Bai (or LI Tai Bai or LI Po, 701 - 762), DU Fu (maybe TU Fu in Wade-Giles spelling), BAI Juyi (or BO Juyi, 772 - 846) and others have since been very well known even in Japan as great poets.

It was however not until the 19th century that the Tang poems were widely known and attracted a great deal of attention in Europe. Two French persons were meritorious in this area: One was Le Marquis d'Hervey SAINT-DENYS (1823 - 1892) and the other was Judith GAUTIER (1845 - 1917). SAINT-DENYS published a collection of translated Tang poems as “Poésies de lépoque des Thang” in 1862: The cover proudly announced “Traduites du Chinois pour la première fois.” Judith GAUTIER was a daughter of the established éctivain Théophile GAUTIER (1811 - 1872) and learnt Chinese from an exile Chinese called TIN Tun-Ling. She read and used the Chinese books in the BN, and published her collection of translated poems as “Le Livre de Jade” under the pen-name Judith WALTER in 1867 at the age of 22, and had a good reputation. Her translations were rather unrestrained and gorgeous, and were said to have been praised by such écrivains as Victor HUGO (1802-1885), Charles-Augustin SAINT BEUVE (1804-1869), Charles LECONTE DE LISLE (1818-1894), Anatole FRANCE (1844-1924) and others as well as by Paul VERLAINE (1844 - 1896). So it was mainly due to the work of Judith GAUTIER that the Chinese poems widely gained popularity in the mid-19th century in France (and later in Europe). It should be noted she chose not only the Tang poems, but also several made by more modern poets like SU Shi (or SU Dong-Po, 1036 - 1101) in the time of the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279). In a revised version, she chose further some old poems (about 1000 BC) filed in the first major collection of Chinese poems called Shi Jing. 


The above poem Farewell” of WANG Wei was translated by SAINT-DENYS: The title became “En se séparant d'un voyageur” and WANG Wei was spelled “OUANG-OEY.” The poem was translated as


Je descendis de cheval; je lui offris le vin de l'adieu,

 Et je lui demadai quel était le but de son voyage.

 Il répondit; Je n'ai pas réussi dans les affaires du monde;

 Je m'en retourne aux monts Nan-chan pour y chercher le repos.

 Vous n'aurez plus désormais à m'interroger sur de nouveaux voyages,

 Car la nature est immuable, et les nuages blancs sont éternels.


The French pronunciation of Nan-chan is basically not far from Nan-shan, and so preserved quite exactly. The words of wine of farewell and failure in the earthly affairs are too realistic but faithful. The plural mountains are pertinent since Nan-shan is a range of mountains (in Chinese, it is rather not easy at a first glance to judge the plurality as well as the tense). However WANG Wei’s concealment (to retire and lie) looks somewhat different from a search of the rest. We don’t know furthermore if it is right to say the nature is immutable or immovable or eternal, while the white clouds at least here remain well translated.

The French translation has a note (note (1)) on the following page in which the second person of “Farewell” is described as MENG Hao-Ran (MONG-kao-jén by SAINT-DENYS). Really MENG Hao Ran (679 - 740) was a friend of WANG Wei, and also one of the great Tang poets (more popular in Japan than WANG Wei: I suppose MENG Hao-Ran’s phrase “Spring dawn brings a peaceful over-sleep” is known to every Japanese as a proverb), but later investigation denied the relation of MENG Hao-Ran with the “Farewell” poem.


The Tang poems were introduced to Germany at the beginning of the 20th century: Hans HEILMANN (1859 - 1930) in 1905 was a pioneer, and the work by Richard DEHMEL (1868 - 1920), Otto HAUSER (1874 - 1932), Hans BETHGE (1876 - 1946), KLABUND (1890 - 1928) and others followed. They all however were not dependent on the Chinese originals but depended on the French translations. Among them, Hans BETHGE’s translations in Die Chinesische Flöte” (1907) were regarded as most impressive (BETHGE also wrote “Japanischer Frühling”, 1911). The above WANG Wei “Farewell” was translated by BETHGE while he translated it from le marquis de SAINT-DENYS’s French translation (maybe as well as from Hans HEILMANN’s). The title was thus “Der Abschied des Freundes and the lines went as follows:


Ich stieg vom Pferd und reichte ihm den Trunk

Des Abschied dar. Ich fragte ihn, wohin

Und auch warum er reisen wolle. Er

Sprach mit umflorter Stimme: Du mein Freund,

Mir war das Glück in dieser Welt nicht hold.


Wohin ich geh? Ich wandre in die Berge,

Ich suche Ruhe für mein einsam Herz.

Ich werde nie mehr in die Ferne schweifen, -

Müd ist mein Fuß, und müd ist meine Seele, -

Die Erde ist die gleiche überall,

Und ewig, ewig sind die weißen Wolken....


Unfortunately here Nan-shan disappeared! To BETHGE who was not so acquainted with Chinese affairs, Nan-shan must have not meant anything, and it was degraded to mere Shan (Berg) with a definite article. However, though not word for word he added some atmosphere à la WANG Wei: SAINT-DENYS’ voyage sounds prosaic, but here BETHGE inserts more poetic words wohin und warum, and it is good for him to suppose the hoarse voice spoken (though I suppose WANG Wei had a beautiful voice pertinent to reading loudly the Buddhist secret scriptures), though it may be usually difficult to suppose his tired feet. Anyway, Die weissen Wolken was preserved with the nice word “ewig”, zweimal ewig!


Nan-shan and White Clouds were indispensable and rather indivisible in WANG Wei, but unfortunately Nan-shan as a peaceful accommodation disappeared in Hans BETHGE, and subsequently the White Cloud also disappeared in Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911).


As is well known, Gustav MAHLER was impressed with the translated Chinese poems of BETHGE, and composed the heterodox symphony “Das Lied von der Erde” made of six movements based on BETHGE’s poems. In particular, the latter part of the sixth movement, which occupies a half of the symphony, depends basically on WANG Wei’s Farewell. However MAHLER was elder than BETHGE by sixteen years, and it looked he did not pay so much respect to the original lines of BETHGE, and changed some words and phrases as he liked.


One plausible change is however made as follows: As aforementioned, SAINT-DENYS put a note on MENG Hao-Ran nominated as the second person, and hence BETHGE chose a poem of MENG Hao-Ran (he expressed as Mong-Kao-Jen) as “In Erwartung des Freundes” on the left hand side page (p18), and put WANG Wei’s “Der Abschied des Freundes” on the right-hand side page (p19). In view of this balance, MAHLER invented a long lyric by combining two

poems: MENG’s poem just begins like this, “Since the sun has set down beyond the western range, every valley is shadowy and dull….”, and MAHLER begins from


Die Sonne scheidet hinter dem Gebirge.

In alle Täler steigt der Abend nieder


And in the middle, MAHLER turns to WANG Wei’s lines (fromEr stieg vom Pferd und reichte ihm den Trunk/ Des Abschieds dar. Er fragte ihn, wohin…”, however note that G M alters Ich in H B to Er) and ends with several repeats of “ewig.” Thus MAHLER employed the dismounting from the horse and a cup of wine, but did not pay attention to the white clouds. The last several lines are the ones utterly created by MAHLER himself:


Ich wandle nach der Heimat, meiner Stätte.

Ich werde niemals in die Ferne schweißen.

Still ist mein Herz und harret seiner Stunde!


Die liebe Erde allüberall

Bluht auf im Lenz und grünt aufs neu!

Allüberall und ewig blauen licht die Fernen!

Ewig, ewig........ewig, ewig........


We can admit Nan-shan cannot be restored in MAHLER because of BETHGE, while it is unfortunate to see that MARLER discarded the religious white clouds: WANG Wei’s white clouds split into nature and white clouds in SAINT-DENYS, and they were varied to die Erde und die weissen Wolken in BETHGE, and finally in MARLER just die Erde was preserved and it suggested a flourish world of green forests and blue bright light. This colourful landscape looks thus far from that of Nan-shan. However we may say the lines around Heimat and Stunde convey more of feeling of a calm resignation than WANG Wei’s. In fact WANG Wei also wanted to greet his last moment at the corner of Nan-shan.

Gustav MAHLER suffered from angina pectoris before the composition of this symphony, and after finishing, according to Bruno WALTER (1876 - 1962), MAHLER was afraid if the symphony might bring some of audience to commit suicide. MAHLER died in 1911 at the age of 51 without observing the first performance of Das Lied von der Erde.


When WANG Wei was 52 years old, he lost his beloved mother who deeply believed in Buddhism. He then converted his cottage at the foot of Nan-shan to a temple, and when he was 63 of age, he laid down his pen and died there. He was buried to the west of the temple.

Masatsugu MINAMI

            The above was published originally in Japanese in CMO #225 (25 November 1999 issue).

Japanese version

NB: Judith GAUTIER must have encountered with the word Nan shan since it is said her “Criminel amour” in the revised version of Le Livre de Jade.” in 1902 was a translation of an old song “Nan-shan” filed in the odes of Qi (Tsi) in the oldest collection Shi Jing. The original song roughly sings “Nan shan is high and steep, and a suspicious male fox is on the way. The way to Lu (Lou) is plain and easy, and the daughter of Qi (Tsi) went through it to her husband. Why do you still attached to her?” GAUTIER translated it to “Quen-Kiang, la belle princesses de Tsi, elle est maintenant la reine de Lou ….” and discarded Nan shan. Quen-Kiang is not contained in the original line, but this is historically the daughter who went to marry a king of Lu. In a following poem Zai Qu (“Retour dans le royaume de Tsi” à la GAUTIER), the daughter returns to her brother in Qi (Tsi) since “the way from Lu is plain and easy.




















Left:Judith GAUTIER

Right: Hans BETHGE



MAHLER employed “Der Pavillon aus Porzellan” of BETHGE in the third movement of Das Lied von der Erde. This poem is a direct translation of Judith GAUTIER’sLe pavillon de porcelaine” in “Le Livre de Jade.” Judith records it’s a translation of Li-Tai- (LI Tai-Bai)’s poem. However it is known to be difficult to identify it with any of LI Bai’s poems while discussion was a lot raised to tell the original poem: It is now known there is no exactly corresponding poem, but there are counted two candidates that may inspired Judith. Both contain in addition to some other hints the Chinese character (Kanji in Japanese) called TAO which implies a name of a particular person here, but at the same time it has a meaning of porcelain. So it is quite probable she gave, from a misreading, a free play to her imagination.

 (Mn on 5 May 2005)

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