The Wangchuan (literally “twirling stream”), or Wang River, is a river at the foothills of the Chung-nan-shan mountain range in Lan-t’ien, about thirty miles south of the capital Ch’ang-an (now Xi’an, Shaanxi Province). The range has long been a celebrated sanctuary for recluses. Wang Wei lived there on and off for more than two decades in an estate that he called the “Twirling Stream Country House.”
The estate became the favorite subject of Wang Wei’s painting and poetry. Not long after the acquisition, he and his good friend P’ei Ti collaborated on a series of poems. Each was to write a quatrain for each of the twenty attractions around the Twirling Stream area. The poems were then put together into the collection “The Wang River Sequence,” which attracted many imitations. Some scholars speculate that the sequence corresponds to a long scroll by Wang Wei, depicting the same scenes. The scroll no longer exists, though a seventeenth century reproduction thought to be based on a tenth century copy survives.
The twenty attractions described in the poems are named for a variety of geographical, architectural, or vegetational features. The sequence is replete with pictorial sights, but in addition it possesses qualities that are more than visual. It is a testimony to “poetry in painting and painting in poetry,” a phrase critics often use to praise Wang Wei’s achievement.
The sequence essentially deals with...
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