Poetry and prose of the Tang and Song by Yang Xianyi
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This collection includes works from eighteen prominent poets and writers from the Tang (618-907 AD) and Song (960 – 1279 AD) Dynasties of China. Among the most famous of the included authors are: Wang Wei, Li Bai, Du Fu, Bai Juyi, Wang Yucheng, and Su Shi. The included works (mostly poems but including some brief prose writings) explore subjects such as nature, social justice, patriotism, travel, and drinking. If some of those topics surprise you, you’re not alone. I may be letting my biases show, but I was surprised by how much social outrage and humor was contained in these works from the China of 750 to 1,400 years ago. That said, most of the works do present the kind of sparse imagist depictions of natural scenes one would likely expect from Chines poets in days of yore. (Think haiku, but longer — though no less devoid of analysis or judgement.)
As someone who isn’t an expert on Chinese literature or even a speaker of any of the Chinese languages, I can’t comment intelligently on how precise the translations are. However, the English language versions contained in this volume are evocative, clever, and, occasionally, funny.
To give one an idea of the kind of humor, I’ll offer this quote from a poem by Xin Qiji:
Last night by the pine I staggered tipsily
And asked the pine, “How drunk am I?”
When I imagined the pine sidling over to support me,
I pushed it off saying, “Away!”
I enjoyed this collection, and would highly recommend it.
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