When reading traditional Chinese poetry, I am always aware of the fact that, because I do not know Chinese, I am dependent upon translations. Translations into English of T'ang Dynasty poetry often, I think, create a deceptive impression of simplicity and casualness. For instance, in most translations the poetry tends to look and sound like free verse. However, much of the poetry of the T'ang period (and of other periods) is in fact highly structured, being subject to rules relating to metre, rhyme, voice tone, and, in some cases, grammatical parallelism.
With those considerations in mind, here are three different versions of an 8-line poem by Wang Wei (c. 701-761).
Living in the Hills: Impromptu Verses
I close my brushwood door in solitude
And face the vast sky as late sunlight falls.
The pine trees: cranes are nesting all around.
My wicker gate: a visitor seldom calls.
The tender bamboo's dusted with fresh powder.
Red lotuses strip off their former bloom.
Lamps shine out at the ford, and everywhere
The water-chestnut pickers wander home.
Vikram Seth (translator), Three Chinese Poets (1992).
A Picture of Mountain Life
In quietness I close my firewood gate.
A whitish immensity faces the dropping sun.
In every pine are nesting cranes
yet no one comes by my cottage.
Tender bamboos have new bloom on them.
Red lotuses have shed old clothes.
On the bay, lamps and bonfires shine.
Water chestnut pickers are coming home.
Tony Barnstone, Willis Barnstone, and Xu Haixin (translators), Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei (1991).
"Two Houses in the Woods" (1945)
Dwelling in the Mountains: Impromptu Lines
In solitude I close my brushwood gate,
In the vast expanse, facing lowering light.
Cranes nest in pine trees all around;
Men visiting my wicker gate are few.
Tender bamboos hold new powder,
And red lotuses shed old clothes.
At the ford lantern fires are lit:
Everywhere water chestnut pickers come home.
Pauline Yu (translator), The Poetry of Wang Wei (1980).
For more in this vein, I recommend Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem Is Translated (1987) by Eliot Weinberger and Octavio Paz. In the book, the authors look at 19 translations of "Deer Park," one of Wang Wei's best-known poems. It is ostensibly a "simple" 4-line poem. This is Vikram Seth's translation:
Empty hills, no man in sight --
Just echoes of the voice of men.
In the deep wood reflected light
Shines on the blue-green moss again.