Burton Watson, 1925 – 2017

https://i2.wp.com/xichuanpoetry.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/A41A6373-2.jpg?resize=229%2C307Burton Watson, the greatest translator of premodern poetry and prose from Chinese and Japanese, passed away on the evening of April 1, 2017, at Hatsutomi Hospital in Kamagata City, Chiba, Japan. He was 91.

I have so far been unable to find an obituary. I am reposting “Not Altogether an Illusion: Translation and Translucence in the Work of Burton Watson,” which I wrote for World Literature Today, published in May of 2014.

Ascent and grounding describe as well Watson’s reconciliation of the scholarly and poetic demands of translation: the solidity of his knowledge of classical Chinese finds expression in an English that calls attention to itself primarily in how it barely calls attention to itself. It is an extension of the overall architecture of the regulated verse form, down to the “succession of highly disciplined maneuvers” that define the antithetical parallelism of their middle couplets at their best. Where others have presented poetry and translation as forever at odds, Watson’s work sees this conflict as its own static tableau and reduces it to a productive part of his own translational poetics.

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1 thought on “Burton Watson, 1925 – 2017

  1. Two days I found out that Burton Watson passed away. Very sad news indeed. My bookshelves are lined with his translations. I have been in awe of his tremendous productivity and the quality of his work for years. Was delighted to read your essay “Not altogether an Illusion ” Professor Klein. The best analysis of Watson’ s translation work I have come across. I was glad that Watson received the Pen/Manheim award for his lifetime devotion to translation and got the recognition he deserved. Thank you for everything Professor Watson.

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