Classical Chinese is an intrinsically interesting language. It refers to the written language of the premodern Chinese tradition and covers a period of some 2500 years (500 BCE~1920 CE) … It served as the shared language of the elites in premodern China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Knowledge of classical Chinese opens you up to new worlds. It represents the human experience of something like 1/5 of the people who ever walked the earth.More practically speaking, knowledge of classical Chinese will also greatly improve your modern Chinese. The two are distinct languages (at least, by any meaningful definition of “language”), but the modern Chinese languages grew out of their classical ancestor and still bear its imprint. Most of the set phrases (chengyu 成語) that mark one’s speech as refined in modern Chinese are summaries of or quotations from classical sources and therefore obey classical structures. Many of the puzzling usages in formal, written Mandarin (the kind used in newspapers) make perfect sense with a basic knowledge of classical Chinese.
“Since the 18th century, poetry has been a cornerstone of the Yale curriculum.” It makes sense that Yale News–writing from the US, in English, for a university whose English dept. has contributed and constituted much of its fame–to highlight poetry in English when discussing poetry’s stony corner at Yale and the inauguration of the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry Fund. Hence:
The university has been home to many distinguished figures in its teaching and study—among them William Lyon Phelps, known for his charismatic recitations of Tennyson, poet and New Criticism co-founder Robert Penn Warren, and Marie Borroff, a renowned poet, translator, and pioneer in the art of computer poetry.
But we live in non-parochial, multinational times, so it also makes sense to highlight that poetry has not only been written in English, and that the endowed professorship can be available to poets and scholars teaching in other languages:
The Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry Fund will support a recognized living poet or a scholar who teaches poetry or dramatic poetry of any era. Those appointed may teach poetry in English, French, Italian, Spanish, German, Russian, ancient Greek, or Latin.
But notice anything? Just like Robert Penn Warren, or for that matter Harold Bloom, or Paul de Man, or anyone else important to the history of scholarship in poetry in Western languages, Yale has also been home to George Kennedy, Hans Frankel, Hugh Stimson, and Kang-i Sun Chang 孫康宜, not to mention several others in the interim who have broadened and deepened the teaching and research of Chinese poetry–and in the case of Cheng Chou-yu 鄭愁予, writing it. But their like will not be included by the Frederick Iseman Professor of Poetry Fund.
“This professorship is very broad — it can cover the work of Chaucer, Dante, Catullus, and Aeschylus, all the way to Akhmatova, Rilke, Lorca, and Beckett,” Iseman said. “Yale has a surpassing commitment to the humanities, and I want to help that any way I can.”
So broad, this professorship, that it will not cover the Shijing 詩經, Du Fu 杜甫, Li Shangyin 李商隱, or Xi Chuan. Or any poets unfortunate enough to write in Arabic, Sanskrit, Javanese, Japanese,or any other language not spoken primarily by Europeans.