Li Shangyin, from New York Review Books, edited by Chloe Garcia Roberts with translations by with translations by Roberts, A. C. Graham, and Lucas Klein, won’t be available until July 31, but it’s already gotten reviewed in the new issue of Asymptote. Theophilus Kwek writes:
Reading sense in tandem with—and sometimes as secondary to—sound and sight can be slow and even frustrating for those of us accustomed to more expository translations. With this sensory emphasis Garcia Roberts holds the reader at a careful distance from conventional ideas of authorial “intention,” providing a space in which meaning can shimmer into view. Not unlike the equally allusive poems of John Ashbery or Geoffrey Hill that may be more familiar to Anglophone readers, Garcia Roberts’s translations force us to accept a necessary, unbridgeable gulf between what we know and what Li knew, the specificity of his experiences forever locked away in his language. And yet, as we pore over a translated text that is brimming with suggestion, we marvel nonetheless at the beauty and complexity of Li’s worlds.
It’s not a bad review, over all, but it still operates according to the same, lame untranslatability bias that’s familiar from most takes on premodern Chinese poetry put into English: Roberts, Kwek writes,
aims to reconcile Li’s bookish manner with naturalistic modern phrasing, but English, which affords few visual and tonal possibilities compared to Chinese characters, proves unable to handle both.
With that as your starting point, there’s not much of a chance you could be satisfied with any translation, is there?
Click the image for the full review.