The Heart of Chinese Poetry by Greg Whincup

13 Sep

The Heart of Chinese Poetry by Greg Whincup

This book is really very good. Not only are the English translations felicitous — so far as I can judge — but you are taken as close as can be to the original, as there are word-by-word renderings with glosses to explain some of the finer points, Pinyin transliterations so you can actually read the original poem even if in modern Mandarin pronunciation, and, for those who can read them, the original Chinese characters.

I bought my copy around the time I was compiling From Yellow Earth to Eucalypt (Longman 1995) and used it to translate a handful of poems, with M’s assistance.

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Du Fu is one of the great Tang Dynasty poets, and among the many M and I did not translate is the beautiful “Thinking of My Younger Brothers on a Moonlit Night” (759 AD). See the magnificent portrait of the poet above. Here is the original Chinese + Pinyin, with a dreadful English translation on the right under the Pinyin, but a very handy word-by-word (or character-by-character) rendering under the Chinese. Here is a translation from China Page.

A wanderer hears drums portending battle.
By the first call of autumn from a wildgoose at the border,
He knows that the dews tonight will be frost.
…How much brighter the moonlight is at home!
O my brothers, lost and scattered,
What is life to me without you?
Yet if missives in time of peace go wrong —
What can I hope for during war?

And here is Greg Whincup’s translation.

Drums on the watchtower
Cut off men’s travels.
Autumn in the borderlands–
A wild goose’s cry.

The dew
Starting from tonight
Is white.
The moon
Over my old home
Is bright.

I have brothers,
But they are scattered.
There is no one to tell me
If they live or die.

The letters that I send
Never reach them.
And still,
The fighting goes on.

That is just brilliant.

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Posted by on September 13, 2005 in Asian, Chinese and China, Multicultural, poets and poetry, writers


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