NYTimes on the Elling Eide Center

The New York Times has published “Amid the Spanish Moss of Florida, a Treasure Chest of Chinese Literature,” by Ian Johnson, on translator and scholar Elling Eide and his eponymous Center in Sarasota. Johnson writes how Eide

decided to bring the world of Sinology to Sarasota. Already a voracious collector, he doubled down on his passion, buying entire collections of academic journals and books. His research specialty had been China’s most famous poet, Li Po, who lived during the Tang dynasty of the seventh to 10th centuries, often called China’s greatest. That dynasty became his focus. He amassed 75,000 volumes, including 50,000 in Chinese: one of the largest private Chinese-language libraries in the world, and larger than many well-known universities’ Chinese collections.

The project reflected what friends and relatives call Mr. Eide’s sometimes-manic personality. A onetime fitness buff with a dark brown beard, he became a paunchy recluse. He wore old clothes, chain-smoked Winstons and drove a beat-up Volkswagen bus. He poured his efforts into acquisitions but often neglected the details of cataloging and housing the books.

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Burton Watson NYTimes Obituary

The New York Times has finally published an obituary of Burton Watson. It reads:

Burton Dewitt Watson, scholar and translator of Chinese and Japanese literature, died on April 1, 2017, in Japan at the age of 92. As winner of the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal in 2015, Dr. Watson was regarded as “the inventor of classical East Asian poetry for our time” …

his published work is extensive–Columbia University Press alone has 41 of his books still in print …

His surviving relatives knew him as a quiet, unassuming, and generous uncle with a dry sense of humor. He is survived by his partner of many years, Norio Hayashi of Tokyo, Japan; his niece Ann LeHentz Dundon of Santa Barbara, CA; his nephews John Peter Dundon of Onancock, VA, William Dwyer Dundon of Henderson, NV, and Thomas Andrew Dundon of San Marcos, TX; and his grandnieces Caroline Regan LeHentz Dundon and Ravelle Dundon and grandnephew Logan Dundon.

 
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John Timothy Wixted on Burton Watson (1925 – 2017)

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. The following comment is from John Timothy Wixted, translator and professor emeritus at Arizona State University:

“Remembering Burton Watson”

Tim Wixted

Harbert, Michigan

I first knew Burton Watson in 1965-66, as an M.A. student at Stanford when he was a visiting professor. He taught a Chinese poetry course which started with the “Nineteen Old Poems” of the Han. Another graduate student and I, unbidden, would bring available translations to class and read them aloud at the end of the discussion of each poem. We students would pounce on errors in translation. Watson’s approach was different. He listened intently to the rhythms and turns of phrase that a Kenneth Rexroth or Witter Bynner might use rather than gloat on their mistakes. For him, infelicity of expression was a far greater sin than inaccuracy in translation. Gradually it dawned on me, having a good understanding of a poem is quite a different kettle of fish from re-creating it in another language. Watson took for granted that specialists, including graduate students, understood the texts being studied. That wasn’t the problem, he said: “Lots know Chinese or Japanese well; few know English.”

Once we suggested that the class meet at an inn in the countryside a few miles from Palo Alto. It had a patio, a large tree, and a surprisingly green (for California) rolling lawn that dipped into a hollow. The class (what? maybe six of us) sat on chairs under the tree and discussed the day’s readings. A cat jumped on Watson’s lap, making itself at home. Now, I have seen dozens of people interact with cats, but never someone with such naturalness, such utter quiet; he was at one with the animal.

Watson was the kind of person students felt comfortable inviting to student gatherings. A group came to my place once, where the conversation was relaxed. A few days later, something from the evening came up and he made a comment that struck me by its perceptiveness. I couldn’t help asking myself: “How had I missed that? I’d been there, too, and heard the exact same words. He had no special entrée.” Then it occurred to me. He was a better listener. He was attuned not only to the words, but also especially to tone and gesture; he was more interested in absorbing—while participating and enjoying—than in impressing.As a New Yorker in Palo Alto, Watson got around on a bicycle or walked. Going home from a gathering one night, he was stopped by the police. Clearly, no one should be on the streets of Palo Alto at such an hour. His colleagues at Stanford—the McCulloughs, Ed Seidensticker, Bob Brower, and the department chair Pat Hanan—all wanted him to stay. But he was a New Yorker, one who lived much in Kyoto and Tokyo. While in California, the temporary transplant found respite in San Francisco, where he spent weekends. The mecca was post-Beat, but still thriving, and a wonderful place to walk—also, it was more congenial to his elusive personal lifestyle.

Already when I first knew him, Watson had published much. I commented on the royalties he must be taking in. He patiently explained that the volumes for the “Translations of the Asian Classics” series by Columbia University Press were royalty-free; any profits were plowed back into the series. Of course, he did freelance work for pay. And he was to be reimbursed by Kodansha and the Soka Gakkai for translations. (But his name does not appear on Hisamatsu Sen’ichi, Biographical Dictionary of Japanese Literature, which, he later confirmed for me, he had translated.) He received a subvention for his Yoshikawa Kōjirō book-translation. But as a deshi of the great scholar, whenever English was needed at Kyōdai or the Jinbun in Kyoto, they send him the material, often with a tight deadline: for example, for English-language summaries of Chūgoku bungaku hō articles.

That Watson was so prolific aroused the suspicion, and envy, of colleagues. To translate huge chunks of the Shiji with little or no annotation was unheard of at the time. It was supposed to take decades. Immediately, errors were found. (Surprise! In more than one thousand pages of text there actually were errors.) They would be pointed out, with glee or contempt. And if any alternative rendering was offered (most criticized, but did not expose themselves by offering an alternative rendering), more often than not it galomphed along as prose. I personally heard Achilles Fang exclaim, “There should be an Act of Congress to stop Burton Watson.” Fang was a great scholar; but unfortunately, he published little.

The rap on Watson was that he used Japanese renditions of difficult Chinese texts as a crib, translating from them. This overlooked several things. For one, the Japanese (as I was to learn myself over the years) is often harder to understand than the Chinese. Second, Japanese scholars usually do their homework well, citing and drawing upon vast amounts of earlier schol­arship in Chinese and Japanese that other scholars (not infrequently, the very Chinese or West­erners who criticize them) have not taken into account. Third, Watson engaged with Chinese scholarship, but his use of Japanese provided a convenient stick to beat him with; worse, it pointed up the weakness (and incompetence) of those unable and unwilling to learn from it themselves. Fourth and most revealing, most of Watson’s critics were deaf and blind to the aptness of the English of his renderings. In my experience, the patronizing attitude and backhanded compliments towards him (that one still occasionally encounters, but less frequently than thirty years ago) invariably tell more about those making them than the supposed subject of attention.

One disadvantage of Watson’s skill at writing so well is that his own essays read so smoothly, so naturally, that it is easy to miss how much is being communicated. I came to realize this when assigning students his introductions to texts and his Chinese Lyricism book. Students would sail right through; but they had to be quizzed (and encouraged to reread the material) to realize just how much was embedded there.

Watson avoided conferences. The annual meeting of the American Oriental Society, Western Branch—a small group—was held in Palo Alto the year we were there, but he did not attend. I can only guess why: scholars’ masks, the tone of some exchanges, the careerism of many, the phoney bonhomie of a few.

I visited and stayed briefly at the house Burt rented in Kyoto and the apartment he had in Wakayama for a year. His routine was to work a few hours every day, take walks, and go to a bar at night. Going with him two or three times, I noted he was treated as a regular. His natural disposition to meld into his surroundings worked to his advantage; he was the opposite of the gaijin showing off his/her Japanese. My memorable first ride on a Kyoto trolley was heading back from a bar with him.

Watson helped those who sent him material by reading it and sending along comments. He was surprised to find that, after writing and sending along several pages, some never wrote back even to say thank you. With a translation of mine, he cautioned not to stay too wedded to the original; and one locution I used, he said, made him “cringe.” His comments were invariably helpful, but too pointed for the faint-hearted.

When I last saw Burt in 2009, we met for coffee near the Akamon (Red Gate) in front of Tōdai. First thing he said, he wanted “to hear all the gossip.” I told him I’m poorly connected for that; but we knew enough people in common to make it interesting. As always, he was busy with a book project. By that time, with considerable reluctance he had gotten a computer; there was no place to get his typewriter fixed. He suggested meeting again, so we did, and that too was pleasant. I asked him about Jacques Barzun at Columbia (then already more than a hundred years old), since I was reading his huge history of Western civilization; he told me the good experience he’d had with Barzun as one of the members of his doctoral committee. The few asides he made about other people at Columbia were also interesting and revealing.

Years earlier I had wanted to recommend Burt for an honorary doctorate at my university: a way to honor him and to give our East Asia program some exposure. He would have none of it! But in 2006 I dedicated a book to him. He told me it was the first, but he didn’t recall that Bill Nienhauser had dedicated one to him in 2002. In any case, I had the publisher airmail a copy to him. I didn’t want him, already eighty, to die on me without ever having known about or seen it. It is good to see he was to live another eleven years.

April 19, 2017

www.JohnTimothyWixted.com

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Hazard & Wallwork’s Cold Mountain Documentary

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. In line with such remembrances, I am posting the documentary Cold Mountain: Han Shan, directed by Deb Wallwork and Mike Hazard, a film portrait of the Tang Dynasty poet Han Shan 寒山, a/k/a Cold Mountain, recorded on location in China, the US, and Japan, with interviews with Burton Watson, Red Pine, and Gary Snyder.

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Chloe Garcia Roberts on Burton Watson (1925 – 2017)

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. The following comment is from poet and translator Chloe Garcia Roberts:

Burton Watson’s translations were the weft of my education. His voice spanning the entirety of my development as a translator and as a writer, underlying studies in literature, philosophy, history, and culture. However he is not someone I discovered, or searched for, or followed because the result of the regard in which he is held across the disciplines is that his were always the translations first recommended, first suggested, first given. Which is to say his texts were so vital, so true, as to always be present.

From Mr. Watson’s work I learned that the shortest distance between two words of different languages is a straight line. His translations do not wade too much into the hinterlands of implied meaning and subtext but instead utilize the approach of identifying and implementing the core essence of the word, the phrase, the text so that what reads as simple and spare can still reverberate with the plural tones of the original.

From Mr. Watson’s work I learned that translation is a medium through which the original is encountered, and thus it should be transparent. His fingerprints over time I’ve learned to recognize as the meticulous erasure of his presence. Like glass, his translations almost allow the reader to forget her separation. And also, like glass, they have a mass, a hardness, a heft, so that separation once acknowledged can become a pleasure and, for me, an enticement.

From Mr. Watson’s work I learned to love what he did, to long for my own encounters with the texts he led me to. And when I was finally able to bring my Chinese to a level that I could go there on my own, I found that his love became my own. And when I say love I mean the wonder of his reading. And when I say love I mean the reverence of his rendering.

For me Burton Watson was a constant. And somehow, naively, I assumed he would always be so.

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J. P. Seaton on Burton Watson (1925 – 2017)

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. The following comment is from translator J. P. Seaton:

Burton Watson is responsible for whatever good has or will come of my own work as a literary translator of Classical Chinese Literature. In 1962, about the time his career was taking off, I was as a senior in college, and along with my new wife (now of fifty-six years, Kathy Paradiso Seaton,) I left the excellent little men’s school Wabash College (where Ezra Pound taught for a little while a couple of generations earlier) so that Kathy could go back to school, and I could begin the study of Chinese language (not available at Wabash at that time). One semester into that project, living sometimes on fifteen dollars a week, I was ready to give up. Aside from Pound and Waley I had found nothing in translation that provided sufficient motivation to get me through the first stages of what was to become one of my favorite bits of weekly exercise, the memorization of new Chinese characters. (For any beginners reading this, it gets much easier and more rewarding the farther you go.) I was about to drop out of Chinese. Then I picked Prof. Watson’s Records of the Grand Historian (the book form of his Columbia dissertation as the book, and Ssu-ma Ch’ien as the historian) for the single term paper that would provide the whole grade for a required one hour historiography credit that actually was to decide whether or not I’d get the fellowship that would put Kathy and me through school. I loved Ssu-ma Ch’ien, I fell in love with Burton Watson and the legend that he’d done the translation while snowed-in all one winter in a cabin somewhere in Minnesota, (don’t tell me it’s not so!) and the professor in my 200-plus student class loved my paper. Of course, Harvard man or not, he’d never heard of Ssu-ma Ch’ien: that was before all but two of Watson’s forty-plus books had appeared. So, I got one of the first twelve of the National Defense Critical Languages’ Fellowships. So, simply put, I stayed with Chinese because of Burton Watson’s earliest translation.

Some time after I got tenure at UNC, Chapel Hill, around ’73, I got up the nerve to write Prof. Watson about a problem I was having with two lines of a quatrain by Tu Fu, and he was kind enough to send me an answer on a postcard… I have a treasured sample of his handwriting, but we had no more contact until after I reviewed his anthology, The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: from Early Times to the Thirteenth Century, for the scholarly journal CLEAR. It was a privilege, an honor, to be invited, and a joy to write. I’ve always hated “critics” and have refused to write reviews that were other than appreciations.

In the late ’80 I got the idea for a “translation issue,” a single issue dedicated entirely to translations of poetry from classical Chinese into poetry in the American language for the The Literary Review (pub. by Fairleigh Dickinson University,) where I had the usually honorary title of Advisory Editor. I was communicating a lot… old fashioned letters, OMG!) with the poet and publisher (Copper Canyon) Sam Hamill at the time, and he eventually wrote a nice little essay on the influence of Chinese poetry on 20th. cent. American poets. The scholar-translator Stephen Owen wrote another essay for the issue. Sam Hamill helped me contact several writers I didn’t know about, including the then barely known “Red Pine,” Bill Porter, but my idea was that everybody had to come on board, and I took on Gary Snyder, Jonathan Chaves, and finally, Burton Watson. I took on Watson first of these (to me) “big three,” because I hoped he might know something about my work, and/or he might have seen or at least have been told about my review of his anthology. We also had a couple of acquaintances in common, including, as I recall it, Carolyn Kizer, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet who’d been writer-in-residence at Carolina during my earlier career, and Kenneth Hanson, the great poet, who taught English and translated Lin Ho-ch’ing and Han Yu at Reed College after studying there with both Kizer and Snyder (or so it seems to my flagging memory). Anyway, Watson’s response was swift, and so sweet, yes I said sweet, that he seemed to sense how difficult it was for an unknown J.P. Seaton to write asking for help with a fairly ridiculously naive or idealistic project. Even though he said in his first response that he didn’t think he had anything I’d want, I was emboldened to ask what he did have: kanshi, or Sino-Japanese, he said (poems written in classical Chinese by Japanese poets), and right now mostly “Dog poems,” as in poems about dogs. The poems he finally sent, all of which were printed in the Spring, 1989 Literary Review (Vol. 32, #3), are printed below.

I suspect that Prof. Watson’s name opened the door for Gary Snyder’s contributions. An original poem by Snyder that I mentioned liking when I wrote to him ended up, greatly appreciated by many readers, as the cover image for the issue, and Chaves, once Watson’s student at Columbia, was the last of more than thirty extremely talented, and well known, translators to join up. As a whole, I’ll claim there’s yet to be an anthology to match it, and I credit Burton Watson for creating the editor, as in me, and for bringing on board well known poet-translators whose presence made it easy for all those folks to come together in one place. I’d asked Walt Cummins, the editor of TLR, to see if he could find money to pay the translators, (fat chance we both thought) but with an NEA grant, Walt and TLR were able to pay twenty dollars per poem, and Prof. Watson got $160 to grace our pages with his work. I’ve never gotten paid anywhere else, other than for books, for a translation, and another of the translators wrote me the same thing. At the time I figured the few dollars wouldn’t be much but a gesture to most of the established folks who offered their work. I remember that Ursula Le Guin’s agent couldn’t even figure out where the little check meant for her actually came from, for six early versions from the Tao Te Ching that she later used in her version, published by Shambhala.

In 1990 it was my great good luck to be invited to write a cover blurb (behind  Gary Snyder, of course, and the Zen man Richard Aitken), for the lovely little book of Watson’s mostly autobiographical essays, The Rainbow World, published by the wonderful and sadly short-lived Broken Moon Press. I didn’t know anything about Burton Watson the man until I read this great little book. It’s offered for sale by several book sellers on-line today. I advise anyone who’s interested in Watson the man, or who’d like to see his prose (it’s easy going and always beautiful) when he’s not limited by the subject matter and language of the translation project, to get your hands on one.

When I read John Balcom’s interview with Prof. Watson, the lead article in the Translation Review (#70, 2005 (seems like yesterday) and heard from Balcom and our mutual friend Steve Bradbury that Watson wasn’t getting money of any kind from Columbia, and was actually translating whatever came to hand, including ads and pamphlets, just to get by, I screamed in a couple of people’s ears about getting him a MacArthur grant or a big money prize of some kind… he certainly deserved a Nobel for his service to the world of literature, and of history, and for providing the basic texts of Chinese and Japanese culture to the English readers of the world. I wished I had another $160 check to send him. But, from the Wikipedia biography that tells me all I know about Prof. Watson after 2005 it appears that something like that did happen… he published a couple of more Columbia University Press works after 2005, and also received a Gold Medal prize from a prestigious Japanese cultural organization that I trust was backed up with enough support for his final years to keep him from having to pawn that medal for the gold… I hope I hear from some folks who knew him more intimately that his last couple of years were lived with some of the ease and dignity that a benefactor of the world at large deserves, but maybe sometimes, often, fails to receive.

If there’s an afterlife I dream of listening to Watson explaining Chinese and Japanese languages and translation to Dryden, and comparing notes with his first literary loves Waley and Pound. If we’re most or all reincarnated, may the Heavenly Bureaucrats in charge of our re-assignments, (recalling Waley’s Monkey) with full consideration of our karmic impacts, give us a lifetime of closer contact: I’d gladly do a turn as his amenuensis, or graduate assistant. Hail and farewell to a great man: brilliant, hard working, generous and kind.

Burton Watson poems from The Literary Review, Spring 1989, special Chinese translation issue:

Chang Yueh: Written When Drunk
Once drunk, my delight knows no limits,
So much better than before I’m drunk.
My movements are all shaped like dances,
And everything I say comes out a poem!

Su Tung-P’o: Lotus viewing
The clear wind–what is it?

Something to be loved, not to be named.
Moving like a prince wherever it goes;
The grass and trees whisper its praise.
This outing of ours never had a purpose;
Let the lone boat swing about as it will.
In the middle of the current, lying face up,
I greet the breeze that happens along
And lift a cup to offer to the vastness;
How pleasant–that we have no thought for each other!
Coming back through two river valleys,
Clouds and water shine in the night.

Po Chu-I: A Question Addressed to Liu Shih-Chiu
Green bubbles—new brewed wine;

Lumps of red—a small stove for heating;
Evening comes and the sky threatens snow –
Could you drink a cup, I wonder?

Love Long-Enduring
In the ninth month when the west wind blows,

When moonlight is cold and dew blossoms congeal,
I think of you all the long autumn night—
In one night my spirit leaps up nine times.
In the second month when east winds appear,
When grasses sprout and the hearts of flowers unfold,
I think of you through the slow spring days—
One day and my heart takes nine turnings.
I live north of the Lo River bridge,
You live south of the Lo River bridge.
I’ve know you since I was fifteen;
This year I am twenty-three.
Like the dodder plant growing
By the side of the pine,
My tendrils are short, the branches much too high—
Twine and coil as I may, I cannot reach them.
They say when a person has a wish,
If the wish is worthy, Heaven is sure to grant it.
I wish we could be beasts in some faraway place,
Touching, twining limb around limb.

Spring Outing
I mount my horse, ready to go out the gate;

out the gate, pause in uncertainty,
sure she must be puzzled by all these spring outings.
I know I go on a lot of spring outings,
But what can an old fellow do,
When the ruddy face of youth is fading, fading,
And white hairs continue and continue to appear?
You have ten fingers—use them,
Make a count of my friends for me.
Sage age one hundred is the outside limit—
How many make it into their seventh decade?
Now I am sixty-five
And speeding downhill like a wheel on a slope.
Supposing I should last to seventy,
That leaves me only five springs more.
Faced with spring, not to go out and enjoy it,
One would have to be a fool!

Rokunyo: When My Beloved Japanese Spaniel Died
A traveler offered you for two thousand coins,

And I bought and raised you—just three years.
In cold and heat, hunger and thirst constantly you stood guard;
By instinct you knew your master, made friends with the servant boys,
spoke no words, yet we always knew your feelings.
You learned to tell regular visitors, jumped up in their laps,
but barked indignantly at a strange face—small use you had for them!
Toss a fruit, call your name, and off you’d race;
paws folded, you stood on your hind legs and begged.
You did the hop-skip, the crawl—I had only to command;
but tuckered out, asleep on your mat—then you were in heaven!
One morning, listless and weak, you fell over like a cart wheel;
At heart you knew there was no cure for the sickness.
A hundred coaxings with food or medicine—you refused them all,
You wagged your tail feebly, straining to lift your
head,trying to tell us humans the misery you were in.
Creatures of different species may learn to care for one another;
look on them as brothers and there’s none you can’t accept.
I wrapped the body in a worn-out mat, buried it in the temple plot,
raised a little grave mound, planted a wooden marker.
That night, returning, I thought he came out the door to greet me;
the tinkle of a bell struck my ear—wasn’t that his sound?
I felt so downcast I barely touched my supper,
Next day the whole day sat on my cushion in a daze.
High-minded people no doubt will scoff at such foolery,
but who knows?  These feelings ay be the start of Goodness.*

*A reference to the passage in Mencius, IIA, 6: “The heart of compassion is the start of Goodness”

Spotting Plum Blossoms by the Road
I start to pick them, stop my hand—

whose plum tree is this, poking over the fence?
No one would know, but still I’d be breaking the precepts—
in my breezy sleeve I steal off with a bit of the fragrance.

Winter Day: Scene on the Road to Otsu*
Boats and wagons from north and east converge at this port;

in all the coming and going I don’t see one person idle.
Most pitiful—on Meeting Slope slippery with ice and frost,
rice-bale carriers in thin robes, their bodies drenched in sweat.

*Otsu was an important port town at the southern end of Lake Biwa. Osaka or Meeting Slope is a steep incline on the main road between Otsu and Kyoto.

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Sam Hamill on Burton Watson (1925 – 2017)

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. The following poem is by Sam Hamill, his entry in Salutations; a Festschrift for Burton Watson (Ahadada / Ekleksographia, 2015):

Salutation to Burton Watson

So very much learned
from the feet of a master—
the fall of the Ch’in,
the rise of the T’ang and Sung,
tales from Masters Chuang and K’ung.

The long dusty roads
of the various poets
and monks, and sutras
chanted, the sake cups filled
with kinship and harmonies,

Hardships remembered.
It is December, the moon
full, snow turned to ice
on the frozen ground. I raise
a cup of good Nihonshu

To a master, a
lifetime’s companionship in
wandering borders.
Through hard times and good, decade
by decade, when my heart yearned

For good company,
I always knew where to turn.
Tonight, just a cup
below Li Po’s cold clear moon—
because it is impossible
to drink alone.

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Jonathan Chaves on Burton Watson (1925 – 2017)

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. The following remembrance is from Jonathan Chaves, professor of Chinese at George Washington University:

I am deeply saddened by the death of Burton Watson. He has been an inspiration to me as scholar and translator, and he was my mentor and teacher at Columbia University while I was studying for the PhD in Chinese Literature. The translations of Arthur Waley first revealed the riches of Chinese poetry to me, and he and Watson have always been my two supreme exemplars in this field.

Watson was the first person to whom I showed my early translations, and with characteristic understatement, he limited his comments to saying, “You’re doing fine. Just keep on like this.” That was all I needed from him; I knew I could do it after that.

The 2004 edition of my book, Heaven My Blanket, Earth My Pillow is dedicated to Burton Watson.

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John Bradley on Burton Watson (1925 – 2017)

In honor of Burton Watson’s passing, I am collecting statements and memories from friends and fans, to be posted as they come in. The following remembrance is by John Bradley, from his review of Salutations; a Festschrift for Burton Watson (Ahadada / Ekleksographia, 2015), originally published in Rain Taxi #81 (21.1, Spring 2016):

Empty hills, no one in sight,
only the sound of someone talking;
late sunlight enters the deep wood,
shining over the green moss again.

This famous poem by Chinese poet Wang Wei displays the craft not only of the author but also—we all too often forget—of the translator. Burton Watson translated this poem with such craft that some may say “That’s it?” as indeed a student of Lucas Klein’s did, as he relates in his essay “Translation and Translucence in the Work of Burton Watson,” one of the offerings in this festschrift.

Watson certainly deserves acclaim for the quality and the breadth of his Asian translators. His works are much too long to list here, but a few titles will give an idea of his productivity: Cold Mountain: 100 Poems by the T’ang Poet Han-shan, The Selected Poems of Du Fu, and the Complete Works of Chuang Tzu. These are just a fraction of his translations from classical Chinese works. Some of his translation from classical and modern Japanese literature include: From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry (collaborating with Hiroaki Sato), Ryokan: Zen Monk-Poet of Japan, and Saigyo: Poems of a Mountain Home.

Salutations offers seventeen contributions, each by a different writer, with some of the texts consisting of scholarly papers on Asian literature, and others offering personal reminiscences of Burton Watson or poems dedicated to him. The scholarly papers cover such topics as “a cultural history of Wenren,” which, as Victor H. Mair and Timothy Clifford explain, refers to a “literary man” (22). While these papers would have interest to Asian scholars, for the non-specialist the personal memories of encounters with Burton Watson are more engaging.

… Perhaps the best remedy will be to turn to one of Burton Watson’s many Asian translations and savor his skill.

Contact me if you would like to add your own remembrance.