One Hundred Poems from the Chinese

One Hundred Poems from the Chinese

Across the centuriesTu Fu lived in the T'ang Dynasty (731-770)his poems come through to us with an immediacy that is breathtaking in Kenneth Rexroth's English versions.

The translator then moves on to the Sung Dynasty (10th-12th centuries) to give us a number of poets of that period, much of whose work was not previously available in English.

There is a general introduction, biographical and explanatory notes on the poets and poems, and a bibliography of other translations of Chinese poetry.

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The beauty of water and mountain is impossible to describe. When I can lay aside my cap and robe of office, I can take a little boat And come back to this place.... While reading this wonderful poetry book, I posted some of the poems in this book.... I have to add, I'm not an experienced poetry reader, but I do want to read more and more poems because I'm growing to love this genre. Every day I read a few poems, or one only.

Although I like this book a great deal, I like it somewhat less than Rexroths earlier anthology One Hundred Poems from the Japanese, but this may reflect my greater sympathy with the classical Japanese tradition than the classical Chinese tradition. (I concede I speak presumptuously, out of great ignorance; I know these works only in translation.) Japanese poems are often short (haiku of course, but other forms as well) and yield much of their meaning either immediately or after brief contemplation. The lament of the neglected mistress genre comes first to mind, for there are many such poems here, but perhaps even more poignant are the poems about the loss of missing friends, of familiar deaths, and the great loss of old age. The best part of this anthology is the first third: thirty-five poems by Tu Fu, Rexroths favorite poet, one of the two greatest of all the poets of China. (The otherten years his seniorwas his friend and mentor Li Po.) Rexroth chose these thirty-five poems from the thousand and a half works of Tu Fus which are extant, and, and he tells us that the translation of these particular pieces took place over a period of many years. Rexroth communicates his personal concerns through the mask of Tu Fu extremely effectivelyperhaps more effectivelythan in his own poetry. Both poems mention war, and I couldnt help thinking that they both spoke with particular eloquence to the heart of the pacifist Rexroth, who published this poem in 1970, during the Vietnam War. The last poem is by the lady Li Ching Chao, who adapts the old genre of the courtesans lament in order to mourn her dead husband. She Would lift her face to the sky And say, O locusts, if you Are seeking a place to winter You can find shelter in my heart. Alone, deep In bitter loneliness, without Even a good dream, I lie Trimming the lamp in the passing night.

Kenneth Rexroth (1905-1982), American poet, literary critic and essayist, was also an interesting translator of classical Chinese and Japanese poetry. In addition to the women appearing in the collections like the one under review, he also published two books, each dedicated solely to the work of poetesses, one of translations from the Chinese and the other from Japanese. One Hundred Poems from the Chinese is the third volume of translations from Rexroth I have read. The first two were quite successful translations of classical Japanese poetry: In this book Rexroth offers 35 poems from Tu Fu (or Du Fu : 712-770) and a larger selection of various poets from the Sung (or Song) dynasty (960-1278). Translations are problematic in general, and translations of classical Chinese poetry are particularly difficult (I discuss some of the reasons for this in my review of a book of translations of some of Wang Wei's poems: Rexroth opens with Du Fu, one of the most highly regarded poets in the Chinese canon, presenting 35 of the extant 1,400 poems. I really like this poem, as such, but for my tastes Rexroth has brought it way too far out of its context with the quote from a well known holiday song and the cars starting outside. I personally think that there are enough unavoidable distortions involved in translating classical Chinese poetry into contemporary English without tacking on avoidable ones. In the remainder of the book Rexroth brings between 1 and 25 poems from each of 9 Song dynasty poets. Flowers, after their Nature, whirl away in the wind.

The perfume of the flowers is so pure. SU TUNG P'O The Turning Year Nightfall. SU TUNG P'O To the Tune, "Plum Blossoms Fall and Scatter" The perfume of the red water lilies Dies away. Flowers, after their Nature, whirl away in the wind.

As our initiation into Chinese verse, our class was asked to read a Penguin Classics translation of Li Po and Tu Fu. From this assignment, I took away the impression that classic Chinese poetry does not suit my taste well: I found it orderly to a fault, weighed down with end-stopped ideas, rather static nature imagery, Confucian doctrinairism, irritating sentimentality about the hearth of home, etc.

The points being: (i) isolation, and (ii) elegant compression, but which latter this reader must qualify as 'effortless'--'compression' seeming to suggest the labored stuffing of things into a space the dimensions of which hadn't been drawn to accommodate much stuff.

The idea of reading ancient-ish Chinese poetry in translation didn't appeal to me, but this book has been an unqualified delight.

It was the only poem from that author they had in this collection, as opposed to other authors who they have a lot of poems by.

  • English

  • Poetry

  • Rating: 4.34
  • Pages: 145
  • Publish Date: January 17th 1971 by New Directions
  • Isbn10: 0811201805
  • Isbn13: 9780811201803