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Classical Chinese Poetry

An Anthology

Translated and edited by David Hinton

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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ISBN10: 0374531900
ISBN13: 9780374531904

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512 Pages



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With this collection, translated and edited by the renowned poet and translator David Hinton, a new generation will be introduced to the work that riveted Ezra Pound and transformed modern poetry. The Chinese poetic tradition is the largest and longest continuous tradition in world literature, and this rich and far-reaching anthology of nearly five hundred poems provides a comprehensive account of its first three millennia (1500 BCE to 1200 CE), the period during which virtually all its landmark developments took place.

Unlike earlier anthologies of Chinese poetry, Hinton's book focuses on a relatively small number of poets, providing selections that are large enough to re-create each as a fully realized and unique voice. New introductions to each poet's work provide a readable history, told for the first time as a series of poetic innovations forged by a series of master poets. From the classic texts of Chinese philosophy to intensely personal lyrics, from love poems to startling and strange perspectives on nature, Hinton has collected an entire world of beauty and insight. And in his eye-opening translations, these ancient poems feel remarkably fresh and contemporary, presenting a literature both radically new and entirely resonant.


Praise for Classical Chinese Poetry

"Three thousand years of poetry, from the first oral folk songs to the elegant simplicity of the mature written tradition. Chinese poetry, writes Hinton in his introduction, is graphic and physical, 'an act of meditation,' 'a perfectly empty mind mirroring the actual.' In this collection Hinton chose major poets from all walks of life as it was lived outside of the monastery by courtesans, shamans, peasants and farmers. 'Seventh moon, Fire star ebbs away, / and ninth, we share our warm robes, / By the eleventh moon, chill winds howl, / and by the twelfth, it's bitter cold, killing / cold, rough-quilt robes a blessing'—from 'Seventh Moon,' part of 'The Book of Songs,' poems from the 12th to the 6th centuries BC, compiled by Confucius."—Susan Salter Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

"David Hinton has translated the poetry of Wang Wei, Lao Tzu, Meng Chiao, and a host of other major classical Chinese poets . . . [Classical Chinese Poetry] represents 3,000 years of Chinese work, tracing its journey from an oral tradition practiced by singing bar girls and peasants to a written endeavor done only by the elite who worked for the Chinese government. The poems may be distant from American life in terms of origin and culture, but the details within them remain relevant to people reading the work today."—Vanessa E. Jones, The Boston Globe

"If you know someone who likes poetry, go out now and get David Hinton's Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology . . . David Hinton has been translating Chinese poetry for more than a decade. His new anthology gives us, for the first, best time, the sweep of this tradition in excellent English poetry. As Hinton writes, this may be the longest unbroken literary tradition that exists, starting around at least 1400 B.C. and still going. We know Chinese poetry through the efforts of Pound, who helped supercharge modern poetry. It should be said, though—someone has to say it—that Pound's renderings of Chinese verse were idiosyncratic and, in some respects, misleading. Hinton's are neither. His triumph, across hundreds of poems, is to suggest the range of this work, its many different voices . . . All are as fresh as if they were written now."—John Timpane, The Philadelphia Inquirer

"In the way of the pioneer translators of Chinese poetry during the past century—of Arthur Waley, Burton Watson, Willis Barnstone—David Hinton has heard and lured into English a new manner of hearing the great poets of that long glory of China's classical age. His achievement is another echo of the original, and a gift to our language."—W.S. Merwin

"David Hinton is simply the best translator of Chinese poetry presently working in English . . . Hinton reads deeply and with great sensitivity to nuance."—J.P. Seaton, University of North Carolina

"[Hinton's] sense of the philosophical weight of poetry is unique to himself. Waley's Bloomsbury countertenor is now a distant voice, and so is Watson's mid-century Gebrauchsmusik. Fortunately we now have Hinton, speaking to us with a peculiarly contemporary edginess, unpredictability, and compactness."—David Lattimore, Brown University

"David Hinton's translations, while remaining faithful to the meaning and spirit of the original, are consistently imaginative in language and effective as English poetry, and he has shown a remarkable skill in capturing the particular style and voice of the different poets he has tackled."—Burton Watson, Columbia University

"The oldest poems translated in David Hinton's magnificent anthology Classical Chinese Poetry date to the fifteenth century B.C.E., long before the Bible was written . . . A scholar-translator such as David Hinton, whose new anthology forms the capstone to a long and productive career, certainly knows infinitely more about Chinese language, culture, and literature than Pound ever did. In addition to his many volumes of translations of individual poets—including Li Po, Tu Fu, and Wang Wei, the three greatest poets of the T'ang Dynasty—Hinton has brought into English the classics of Chinese philosophy . . . No doubt our own time of troubles, our own ugly and vicious world, which separates the world of Cathay from the world of Classical Chinese Poetry, is the reason why the Chinese poets seem to speak to us more intimately now when they speak of suffering and disillusionment rather than of beauty and perfection—or even, in David Hinton's magisterial book, of enlightenment."—Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

"Poets periodically refresh tired conventions by studying the art of another culture, then absorbing it into their own. Elizabethan lyricists borrowed French devices, as did some of the early Modernists, and later John Ashbury. Exposure to East European and South American poetry helped English and U.S. poets of the mid-20th century reinvent themselves. When the Sinologist Arthur Waley began publishing translations of Chinese verse in the 1920s, the short-lived Anglo-American 'Imagist' movement seized on its concentrated images. In almost every subsequent generation, various schools of Western poets have latched on to Li Po, composing sparse lines evoking wet leaves, chirping crickets and distant mountains. David Hinton's Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology now provides a reintroduction to this often borrowed tradition . . . Hinton has performed a dual service. His volume reminds us of much that has entered into our own literary tradition while exposing us to many concepts alien to Western thought. It also emphasizes a universal principle: The greatest influence on verse is other verse. Relationships among poets advance the art, delighting our imaginations even as we gain insight into our own inner landscapes."—Phoebe Pettingell, The New Leader

"[Hinton's] latest book, which Hinton translated and edited, is Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. The wonderfully rich volume features nearly 500 poems from the first three millennia of verse in China. Hinton also provides a useful historical context for his selections—he has written an introduction to each poet. Given Hinton's interest in Chinese philosophy, it should come as no surprise that his approach as a translator and editor reflects his admiration for the poetry's exacting blend of the intellectual and the sensual."—Bill Marx, The Arts Fuse

"Award-winning-translator Hinton gifts readers with nearly 500 poems—ancient yet contemporary—covering 3,000 years (1500 BCE to 1200 CE) releasing their voice, insight, and beauty. Via concrete imagery, clarity and openness, these ancient poets speak to us through their daily lives, philosophy, love poetry, personal lyrics, and nature."—Jeri Lynn Crippen, Lovin' Life

Table of Contents


EARLY COLLECTIONS: THE ORAL TRADITION (c. 15th century b.c.e. to 4th century c.e.)

THE BOOK OF SONGs (c. 15th to 6th century b.c.e.)
Dark-Enigma Bird Ancestors Majestic
Birth to Our People
Emperor Wen
Seventh Moon
My Love's Gone Off to War
Nothing Left
In the Wilds There's a Dead Deer
Gathering Thorn-Fern
A Dove
Rats So Fat
In the Wilds There's a Grass Mat
He Built His Hut
Ospreys Cry
I Climb a Hilltop
Cut an Axe Handle
Willows near the East Gate
We Cut Grasses
Eastern Mountains
TAO TE CHING (c. 6th century b.c.e.)
[Untitled Poems]

THE SONGS OF CH'U (c. 3rd century b.c.e.)
The Question of Heaven
The Nine Songs
Great-Unity, Sovereign of the East
Lord of the Clouds
Lord of the East
The Mountain Spirit
from Confronting Grief

LATER FOLK-SONG COLLECTIONS (c. 2nd century b.c.e. to 4th century c.e.)
MUSIC-BUREAU FOLK-SONGS (c. 2nd to 1st centuries b.c.e.)
Earth-Drumming Song
They Dragged Me Off at Fifteen to War
By Heaven Above
We Fought South of the Wall
Garlic Dew
Village of Weeds
Watering Horses at a Spring Beneath the Great Wall
Sun Emerges and Sinks Away
East Gate

NINETEEN ANCIENT-STYLE POEMS (c. 1st to 2nd centuries c.e.)


FIRST MASTERS: THE MAINSTREAM BEGINS (4th to 5th centuries c.e.)

SU HUI (4th century c.e.)

T'AO CH'IEN (365 to 427)
Home Again Among Fields and Gardens
Written in the 12th Month, Kuei Year of the Hare . . .
Drinking Wine
An Idle 9/9 at Home
Cha Festival Day
Peach-Blossom Spring
Burial Songs

HSIEH LING-YüN (385 to 433)
On a Tower Beside the Lake
Climbing Green-Cliff Mountain in Yung-chia
I've Put in Gardens South of the Fields . . .
Dwelling in the Mountains
On Stone-Gate Mountain's Highest Peak
Overnight at Stone-Gate Cliffs
Following Axe-Bamboo Stream, I Cross over a Ridge . . .
On Thatch-Hut Mountain


MENG HAO-JAN (689 to 740)
Autumn Begins
Gathering Firewood
Listening to Cheng Yin Play His Ch'in
On Reaching the Ju River Dikes, Sent to My Friend Lu
Climbing Long-View Mountain's Highest Peak
Overnight on Abiding-Integrity River
Looking for Mei, Sage Master of the Way
Sent to Ch'ao, the Palace Reviser
Searching Incense Mountain for the Monk Clarity-Deep
At Lumen-Empty Monastery, Visiting the Hermitage . . .
Adrift at Warrior-Knoll
Anchored off Hsün-yang in Evening Light . . .
Returning Home to Deer-Gate Mountain at Night
On a Journey to Thought-Essence Monastery . . .
Spring Dawn

WANG WEI (701 to 761)
Mourning Meng Hao-jan
Bird-Cry Creek
In the Mountains, Sent to Ch'an Brothers and Sisters
Mourning Yin Yao
In Reply to P'ei Ti
Wheel-Rim River
In the Mountains
Autumn Night, Sitting Alone
For Ts'ui Chi-chung of P'u-yang . . .
In Reply to Vice-Magistrate Chang
Offhand Poem

LI PO (701 to 762)
On Yellow-Crane Tower, Farewell to Meng Hao-jan . . .
Wandering up Ample-Gauze Creek on a Spring Day
Thoughts of You Unending
Night Thoughts at East-Forest Monastery . . .
Inscribed on a Wall at Summit-Top Temple
Steady-Shield Village Song
Mountain Dialogue
Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon
Spring Thoughts
Listening to a Monk's Ch'in Depths
Sunflight Chant
To Send Far Away
9/9, Out Drinking on Dragon Mountain
War South of the Great Wall
Reverence-Pavilion Mountain, Sitting Alone
Jade-Staircase Grievance
Autumn River Songs
At Golden-Ridge
Thoughts in Night Quiet

TU FU (712 to 770)
Gazing at the Sacred Peak
Inscribed on a Wall at Chang's Recluse Home
Song of the War-Carts
from First-Devotion Return Chant
Moonlit Night
Spring Landscape
Dreaming of Li Po
The Conscription Officer at Stone-Channel
The New Moon
Seven Songs at Gather Valley
The River Village
Leaving the City
Brimmed Whole
Night at the Tower
Thatch House
8th Moon, 17th Night: Facing the Moon
Dawn Landscape
Riverside Moon and Stars
Leaving Equal-Peace at Dawn
Overnight at White-Sand Post-Station

COLD MOUNTAIN (HAN SHAN) (c. 7th to 9th centuries)
[Untitled Poems]

WEI YING-WU (c. 737 to 792)
At West Creek in Ch'u-chou
At Truth-Expanse Monastery, in the Dharma-Master's . . .
Autumn Night, Sent to Ch'iu Tan
Sent to a Master of the Way in the Utter-Peak Mountains
Winter Night
New Year's
Moonlit Night
In Idleness, Facing Rain
Lament over a Mirror
Autumn Night
Evening View
At Cloud-Wisdom Monastery, in the Ch'an Master's . . .
Outside My Office,Wandering in Moonlight
Climbing Above Mind-Jewel Monastery . . .


MENG CHIA (751 to 814)
Cold Creek
Laments of the Gorges 245
Autumn Thoughts 249

HAN Yü (768 to 824)
A Girl from Splendor-Bloom Mountain
Losing Teeth
from South Mountain
Pond in a Bowl
Autumn Thoughts

PO CHü-I (772 to 846)
Peony Blossoms—Sent to the Sage Monk Unity-Exact
Autumn Thoughts, Sent Far Away
New Yüeh-fu
The Old Broken-Armed Man from Prosper-Anew
Crimson-Weave Carpet
An Old Charcoal Seller
Songs of Ch'in-chou
Light and Sleek
Buying Flowers
Ch'in Song in Clear Night
Winter Night
Setting a Migrant Goose Free
After Lunch
Early Autumn
In the Mountains,Asking the Moon
Li the Mountain Recluse Stays the Night on Our Boat
Enjoying Pine and Bamboo
Mourning Little Summit-Peak
Waves Sifting Sand
The North Window: Bamboo and Rock
Idle Song
At Home Giving Up Home

LI HO (790 to 816)
Endless-Peace Arrowhead Song
Dawn at Shih-ch'eng
Sky Dream
Ch'in Spirit Song
Old Man Mining Jade Song
Past and Forever On and On Chant
Wives of the River Hsiang
Borderland Song
Lamentation Chant
The Chill of Canyon Twilight
Dragon-Cry Impersonation Song

TU MU (803 to 853)
Anchored on Ch'in-huai River
Autumn Evening
Spring South of the Yangtze
Thoughts After Snow in Hsiang-yang
Inscribed on Recluse Dark-Origin's Lofty Pavilion
Pond in a Bowl
Climbing Joy-Abroad Plateau
Inscribed on the Tower at Veneration Monastery
Autumn Dream
A Mountain Walk
Passing Clear-Glory Palace
Autumn Landscape at Ch'ang-an
Back Home Again
Sent Far Away
The Han River
A Clear Stream in Ch'ih-chou

LI SHANG-YIN (c. 813 to 858)
The Brocade Ch'in
Off hand Poem
Lady Never-Grieve Grieves, Singing . . .
On History
Fish-Hunt Song
Swallow Terrace
Day After Day
Incense-Burning Song

Yü HSüAN-CHI (c. 840 to 868)
Orchid Fragrance, Sent Far Away
In Reply to Li Ying's "After Fishing on a Summer Day"
Gazing Out in Grief, Sent to Adept-Serene
Radiance, Regal and Composure Were Three Sisters . . .
Visiting Ancestral-Truth Monastery's South Tower . . .
Thoughts at Heart, Sent to Him
Late Spring 328
After His Poem, Following Its Rhymes
Free of All Those Hopes and Fears
Inscribed on a Wall at Hidden-Mist Pavilion
Sorrow and Worry


MEI YAO-CH'EN (1002 to 1060)
8th Month, 9th Sun: Getting Up in the Morning . . .
Staying Overnight in Hsü's Library . . .
The Boat-Pullers
A Lone Falcon Above the Buddha Hall . . .
1st Moon, 15th Sun: I Try Going Out . . .
Hsieh Shih-hou Says the Ancient Masters . . .
On a Farewell Journey for Hsieh Shih-hou . . .
Lunar Eclipse
East River
A Little Village
Eyes Dark
Autumn Meditation

WANG AN-SHIH (1021 to 1086)
Middle Years
Events at Bell Mountain
Following Thoughts
Self-Portrait in Praise
Written on a Wall at Halfway-Mountain Monastery
Wandering Bell Mountain
River Rain
Above the Yangtze
Gazing North
Inscribed on Master Lake-Shadow's Wall
East River
Reading History
Leaving the City
After Visiting a Master of the Way on Bell Mountain . . .
Sun West and Low
At Lumen River Headwaters
East Ridge
Above the Yangtze
In Bamboo Forest
Cut Flowers

SU TUNG-P'O (1037 to 1101)
12th Moon, 14th Sun:A Light Snow Fell Overnight . . .
Inscribed on a Wall at the Prefectural Court
At Seven-Mile Rapids
Sipping Wine at the Lake: Skies Start Clearing,Then Rain
Inscribed on a Wall at a Small Monastery . . .
Stopping by in Rain to Visit Master Shu
After Li Szu-hsün's Painting Cragged Islands on the Yangtze
6th Moon, 27th Sun: Sipping Wine at Lake-View Tower
Midsummer Festival,Wandering Up as Far as the Monastery
Exiled,We Move to Overlook Pavilion
East Slope
At Red Cliffs,Thinking of Ancient Times
Presented to Abbot Perpetua All-Gathering . . .
Inscribed on a Wall at Thatch-Hut Mountain's . . .
Inscribed on a Painting in Wang Ting-kuo's Collection . . .
Bathing My Son
At Brahma-Heaven Monastery . . .
After My Brother's "Thoughts of Long Ago . . ."
Writing-Brush at Leisure
After T'ao Ch'ien's "Drinking Wine"

LI CH'ING-CHAO (c. 1084 to 1150)
Untitled (As the day comes to an end . . . )
Untitled (I can't forget that river pavilion . . . )
Untitled (The last blossoms tumble down . . . )
Untitled (Thin mist and thick cloud . . . )
Untitled (Tired of my thousand-autumn swing . . . )
Untitled (Wind freshens on the lake . . . )
Untitled (Who's with me sitting alone . . . )
Untitled (A lovely wind, dust already fragrant . . . )
Untitled (Night comes, and I'm so drunk . . . )
Untitled (I planted a banana tree outside the window . . . )
Untitled (Year after year, a little drunk . . . )
Untitled (These courtyard depths feel deep, deep . . . )

LY YU (1125 to 1210)
On the Wall-Tower Above K'uei-chou at Night . . .
Looking at a Map of Ch'ang-an
Flowing-Grass Calligraphy Song
At Cloud-Gate Monastery, Sitting Alone
The Sound of Rain
Monks Need Homes
Invoking the Gods
The River Village
A Mountain Walk
Taking a Trail Up from Deva-King Monastery . . .
Offhand Poem at My East Window
7th Moon, 29th Sun, Yi Year of the Ox . . .
To My Son,Yü
Light Rain
On a Boat
At Dragon-Inception Monastery, Visiting Tu Fu's Old House
Near Death, Given to My Son

YANG WAN-LI (1127 to 1206)
On the Summit Above Tranquil-Joy Temple
Inscribed on a Wall at Liu Te-fu's Absolute-Meaning Pavilion
With Chün Yü and Chi Yung, I Hike . . .
Early Summer,Dwelling in Idleness, I Wake . . .
A Cold Fly
Watching a Little Boy Gleefully Beating the Spring Ox
Cold Sparrows
Light Rain
Breakfast at Noonday-Ascension Mountain
On a Boat Crossing Hsieh Lake
Night Rain at Luster Gap
Teasing My Little One
Overnight at East Island
The Temple-Towers at Orchid Creek
Crossing Open-Anew Lake
The Small Pond
At Hsieh Cove
On a Boat, Crossing Through Peace-Humane District
On the Second Day After 9/9, Hsü K'o-chang and I . . .
No Longer Sick, I Feel So Old
12th Moon, 27th Sun, Season Spring Begins . . .
Don't Read Books

Key Terms: An Outline of Classical Chinese Poetry's Conceptual World
Women's Poetry in Ancient China Finding List for Poets
Wade-Giles with Pinyin Equivalent
Pinyin with Wade-Giles Equivalent
Finding List for Chinese Texts
Further Reading


Read an Excerpt

(c. 15th to 6th century B.C.E.)
THE EARLIEST GATHERING from China's oral tradition is The Book of Songs (Shih Ching), an anthology of 305 poems. This collection was compiled, according to cultural legend, by no less a figure...

About the author

Translated and edited by David Hinton

David Hinton's translations of classical Chinese poetry have earned him a Guggenheim fellowship, numerous NEA and NEH fellowships, and both of the major awards given for poetry translation in the United States, the Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, from the Academy of American Poets, and the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, from the PEN American Center. He is also the first translator in over a century to translate the four seminal works of Chinese philosophy: the Tao Te Ching, Chuang Tzu, Analects, and Mencius. He lives in Vermont.

Phil Dera