BOOK REVIEW: Three Tang Dynasty Poets by Wang Wei, Li Po, and Tu Fu

Three Tang Dynasty PoetsThree Tang Dynasty Poets by Wang Wei
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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This book is in a series put out by Penguin Books entitled “Little Black Classics.” As the series name implies, these are booklets featuring classic works (or fragments, thereof.) This book features a combined 33 poems by three Chinese poets who lived in the eight century.

In the 14 poems by Wang Wei (a.k.a. Wang Youcheng) we see his famed mastery of landscape and nature poems, and we feel the effect of his Cha’an (Zen) Buddhist mindset.

Among the ten poems by Li Po (a.k.a. Li Bai) we are introduced from the beginning to the poet’s legendary proclivity for drink. While it’s not all carousing, human characters do play a more central role in Li Po’s work.
There are nine poems by Tu Fu (or, Du Fu), which share Li Po’s inclination to feature humanity at the heart of each poem, if in a more straight-laced way.

I enjoyed the poems in both their imagery and sound quality. I can’t really speak to how skilled the translation was, i.e. how much better or worse they could have been. The translators were G.W. Robinson and Arthur Cooper, who I know nothing of, but who apparently both translated a considerable amount of classic Chinese literature.

The poems are almost all short form works, so – with one exception – the poems are included in their entirety (i.e. not excerpted.)

The booklet has an appendix that features a two-page prose story entitled “The Story of the Peach Blossom Spring” by Tao Yuanming. The reason for including the story is that it’s the inspiration for the Wang Wei poem that opens the volume.

I enjoyed reading this little booklet of poetry. The translations are easy to follow, and the imagery is appealing. The Zen / Taoist feel that is widespread in these works is pleasant.

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