Tranter on China in Tranter

Australian poet John Tranter has published an essay titled “China: The influences of Eastern poetry and calligraphy,” in which:

A persuasive theory equates the English-language poets of the Elizabethan age (Shakespeare, Wyatt, Surrey, Sidney, Marlowe, Raleigh, Campion, and others) with the Chinese-language poets of the T’ang (or Tang) dynasty (618 to 907) which is often considered to be the Golden Age of Chinese poetry. Poets like Wang Wei, Tu Fu, Li Bai (or Li Po), and later poets like Su Shih, have in common with the Elizabethan poets and with many modern American poets that they were highly-educated and at the same time virtually unemployable. The emphasis on academic qualifications and the impossibility of attaining proper employment haunt these three eras: the Elizabethan Age, the Tang Period, and the modern American age.This means that many scholars from those three periods are highly trained in the various branches of rhetoric, yet afflicted with a world-view that is highly complex, negative, and painfully aware of the likelihood of unemployment.

And

The picture we in the west have of Li Bai is that of cheerful mastery through excess: he wrote millions of poems, threw most of them away, drank lots of alcohol and drowned on a drunken swim, trying to catch the reflection of the moon in the water. So legend has it.

Australians like poets who drink too much.

Click the link for the full article.

Owen’s Du Fu in the Harvard Gazette

The Harvard Gazette has run a write-up promoting Stephen Owen translates the poetry of Du FuStephen Owen’s complete Poetry of Du Fu: “A monumental undertaking (the prolific Du Fu left 1,400 extant poems), Owen spent nearly a decade working on the translation, which resulted in a 3,000-page, six-volume book that weighs in at nine pounds.”

Along with recordings of Owen reading some of this translations, the article also quotes Owen’s appreciation of the poet:

“He’s a quirky poet. When he moves to Chengdu with his family, he has to set up house and writes a poem to people asking for fruit trees and crockery. No one had ever done this kind of poem. He has a poem praising his bondservant Xinxing for repairing a water-piping system in his house … He’s forgotten what you can and can’t do in poetry, and 30 years later poets looked back and said, ‘This is the greatest poet we have,’” Owen said.

Here’s a recording of Owen reading his translation of “Having Been Thrown From My Horse While Drunk“:

Click the image for the article and to hear more.

Jenne on China’s Literary Lushes

 

“They feast and drink merrily despite no accompaniment of strings or flutes. When somebody wins a game or a match of chess, they mark up their scores with drink and raise a cheerful din sitting or standing. The guests are enjoying themselves. In their midst sits an elderly man with white hair, totally relaxed and at ease. That is the governor, already half drunk…The governor can share his enjoyment with others when he is in his cups, and sober again can write an essay about it. Who is this governor? He is Ouyang Xiu.”

In addition to Ouyang Xiu 歐陽修, the article mentions Confucius 孔子, Li Bai 李白, Du Fu 杜甫, and Lu Xun’s Kong Yiji 孔乙己.

Owen’s Complete Poetry of Du Fu

https://i1.wp.com/www.degruyter.com/doc/cover/9781501501890.jpg?resize=253%2C373The Poetry of Du Fu 杜甫, edited and translated by Stephen Owen, is now available from the Library of Chinese Humanities (a new venture started by Owen and Paul Kroll and edited by them and Sarah Allen, Christopher Nugent, Anna Shields, Xiaofei Tian, and Ding Xiang Warner). It is not only available for sale, it is also available for open-access free download in .pdf format.

This six-volume opus, totaling almost 3000 pages, is to my knowledge the first translation of the complete poetic output of any individual Chinese poet in history. The promotional materials say,

The entirety of Du Fu’s works provides a more nuanced portrait of the author than the standard selections. It gives testimony to the great rebellion of 755, but also poems on building a chicken coop and repairing bamboo plumbing. In the whole we discover how the sublime and quotidian are united in a larger vision of life.

Likewise, in his introduction, Owen writes,

If there is a justification for translating all of the poems,  it may be deepening our sense of his engagement with the mundane and  not allowing it to resolve into simply a way to talk about “big things.” It is the persistence of his vision of large significance in the everyday—sometimes ironically—that makes a whole Du Fu more satisfying than a selected Du Fu.

This is true. As is Tfrom high-minded loyalist to bereft father to woeful exile to irritable curmudgeon to sycophantic hack to meditative imagist,” which is “a welcome counterbalance to the stereotyped image of Du Fu as a great ‘Confucian’ poet, the sort of thing you find in introductory textbooks to Chinese literature, both in China and abroad.”

But I also think there is a poetic argument, not limited to the specifics of Chinese literature, for a complete Du Fu (or any poet) in English, which is the one Eliot Weinberger makes in his introduction to The Collected Poems of Octavio Paz, 1957-1987:

to study the topography of a major poet we need to see both the peaks and the valleys. One does not exist without the other; the “minor” poems not only lead to, but often illuminate, the more important work. (And, of course, what one editor or critic considers “minor” may turn out to be a revelation for another reader.)

Click the image above for more information and the full free download.

Salutations; a Festschrift for Burton Watson

Edited by Jesse Glass and Philip Williams, this collection of essays, articles, and poems about Chinese and Japanese literature and culture celebrates the illustrious scholarly career of Burton Watson, whose range of excellent literary translations into English from Japanese and classical Chinese is second to none. Over half of the book’s seventeen chapters are articles about Chinese or Japanese literature and culture with full scholarly apparatus; the remainder are tributes to Watson in the form of poetry or informal essays.

Topics include analysis of Watson’s skills as a translator and practical critic; a cultural history of Chinese literati; masterpieces of the Ming essayist Zhang Dai; revisiting David Hawkes’ interpretations of Du Fu’s poetry; China’s earliest science fiction from the late Qing; reflections on cultural change by the early Yuan Confucianist Hao Jing; the multi-dimensional symbolism in Hagiwara Sakutarô’s poetry; the fictional portrayal of a self-sacrificing female Chinese Buddhist saint; key patterns of arboreal imagery in the 300 Tang Poems anthology; and Japanese linked verse across the centuries.

Featuring contributions by Victor Mair, Robert Hegel, Hiroaki Sato, William Nienhauser, Jonathan Chaves, Lucas Klein, Hoyt Tillman, Yenna Wu, Yoko Danno, Hua Li, Duncan Campbell, Stephen Addiss, Robert Epp, Timothy Clifford, Philip Rowland, Sam Hamill, and Gary Snyder.

Click on the image for ordering information.

Translation, Chineseness, & World Literature in Chinese Poetry

May 8, 2015 (Friday), 4:00-5:30 pm
Room 730, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU
Foreign Echoes & Discerning the Soil:
Translation, Chineseness, & World Literature in Chinese Poetry
Presenter: Lucas Klein; Commentator: Xiaofei Tian 田曉菲
What constitutes the relationship between world literature and Chineseness? How has translation shaped Chinese poetry, and can translation be understood as at the foundation not only of world literature, but of Chineseness, as well? This talk will begin to answer these questions by demonstrating how Chineseness as an aspect of the Chinese poetic tradition is itself a result of translation. Looking at Chinese poetry’s negotiation with concepts central to translation—nativization and foreignization, or the work’s engagement with the Chinese historical heritage or foreign literary texts and contexts, respectively—I argue not only that Chinese poetry can be understood as translation, but for an understanding of the role of such translation in the constitution of both Chineseness and world literature. After contextualizing recent debates in the field of Sinology and translation studies, I will examine the work of Bian Zhilin 卞之琳 (1910 – 2000) and his implicit vision for a world literature able to merge the Chinese literary heritage with Western influence. Since debates around world literature, especially in Chinese literary studies, focus on the modern era, however, I shift focus with a discussion of the Tang dynasty (618 – 907), when China had earlier become highly international, even cosmopolitan, in a detailed look at the history of regulated verse (lüshi 律詩), describing not only its origins in Sanskrit but how it maintained associations with Buddhism. Following this, I consider the work of Du Fu 杜甫 (712 – 770) to understand how the canonization of his work nativized regulated verse through its historiography. I conclude with a reconsideration of the ethics of world literature and translation in determining our understanding of the local.
Click the image above for more information.

Du Fu in Kuizhou on Asymptote

Asymptote has published Boey Kim Cheng’s re-imagination of the time Du Fu 杜甫 spent in Kuizhou. Here’s how it begins:

In the summer of 765, after years of wandering following the onset of the An Lu Shan Rebellion in 755 and the tumultuous years that followed, Du Fu and his family arrived in Kuizhou (present-day Baidicheng, which is 8km downstream from Fengjie County on the Yangtze). Here Du Fu experienced perhaps the most peaceful and prolific years of his life. With the help of the governor, who gave him an easy official appointment, Du Fu came to own two properties: a house in Nang-west with a garden and a large orchard, and another house in East Village with a rice farm attached.  He also spent time in the official quarters further west, called West Pavilion in the poems.

The heat is something he can’t get used to. It sits heavy on the village, the hills and the river, the inert air dense with moisture that could not be wrung out. His clothes are soaked just from walking a few lis to the house in East Village. To make the Yangtze summer more unbearable, the mosquitoes are savage and the flies indefatigable. At night the family lies awake, straw-fan in hand, tossing and groaning, wishing they were back north in Changan or Luoyang. Even the snow and cold are better than this heat that holds them captive.

Click on the image for the full piece.