The Wang River Sequence Analysis

Wang Wei

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

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...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

All the poems in “The Wang River Sequence” are “recent-style” quatrains known as chüeh-chü, with five characters to each line. Because the poet is given a mere twenty characters to maneuver for each poem, it is interesting to find out what kinds of devices he employs to maximize his expressive capabilities. In terms of prosody, other than following the tonal pattern (which also includes one rhyme) required for each poem, the poet deliberately seems to be using as few devices as possible. Couplets, constructed according to grammatical and semantic parallelism or antithesis, occur sparingly (in “Apricot Wood House,” “Magnolia Park,” “Rapids by the Luans’,” “Gold Dust Spring,” and “Pepper Garden”). The motivation could be to avoid artificiality. Even though historical allusions are used in some of the poems, one has the general impression that Wang Wei’s major concern in the sequence is to make language, rhetoric, and prosody function at a minimal level, so that a sense of immediacy and transparency can be achieved. In spite of the apparent simplicity, however, the sequence as a whole is endowed with a rich diversity thanks to the variety of poems assembled.

Two basic approaches are adopted in the composition of the poems. The first is a cinematic perspective, akin to the nonfocal or multiple-perspective vista commonly found in Chinese landscape painting. In “Deer Park,” for example, the scene shifts from the empty mountain to...

(The entire section is 605 words.)