I'm translating a collection of Chinese poems, and one of them opens with these three lines:

"山水之间,是说不完的话 / 那山总是高于这山 / 那水又总是低于这水 ."

My current translation goes like this:

"When it comes to landscapes, there’s a lot to talk about / How there's always a bigger mountain / and always a deeper body of water."

I tried to keep this translation from being too literal, but have I taken too many liberties?


1 Answer 1


Mountains and Waters, as between them,

And speaking of which, there is no end;

High is a mountain, another one higher, always,

Deep waters there is, one deeper still, always.

Something like:-


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    You interpret 山水 as "landscapes". As a compound, 山水 could mean "landscapes" However, it says 山水之间. That is, "之间", "as between" 山水, meaning between 山 (&) 水, and not "about" them as a compound for landscapes. If "landscapes" was intended, 风景 would be a better choice of compound. The rest of the poem did not talk about the "beauty" or "majesty" of 山水 which would be the case if "landscapes" was intended. The poem only talks about the physical height and depth of the mountains and waters and why you will always find a higher mountain and deeper waters. Thus it talks about 山水 as separate entities. Feb 23, 2021 at 15:46
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    As for an interpretive comment, rather than a mere straight, literal translation, one could say the poem is an allegory, i.e., a visible symbol representing an abstract idea. What that abstract idea is is up to anyone. The obvious one of course is that in Nature, as in all human endeavors, there isn't an absolute standpoint or an unfalsifiable point of view. Feb 23, 2021 at 16:02

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