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The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry: From Ancient to Contemporary, The Full 3000-Year Tradition Paperback – February 8, 2005

ISBN-13: 978-0385721981 ISBN-10: 0385721986

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (February 8, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385721986
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385721981
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #602,536 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.


(1122-256 BCE)

Though Chinese civilization stretches back to Neolithic times, the earliest known dynasty, the Xia, is of limited importance to a discussion of Chinese literature, as there is no evidence that a written language was in use. The succeeding dynasty, the Shang, was a Bronze Age agricultural civilization. During the Shang, characters were written on oracle bones (usually made of turtle shell or cattle shoulder bones, and later on bamboo strips, silk, and bronze), but no literature from this time is extant.

The Shang were overthrown by the king of Zhou, a small dependent nation in the Wei River Valley in the western Shang territory, and thus began the Zhou dynasty, the first great period of Chinese literature. It was during the Zhou dynasty that the doctrine that the Chinese King was exercising a "Mandate of Heaven" in his rule developed. It later became an extremely important doctrine both to justify imperial rule and to explain the fall of an empire (should an emperor prove corrupt or weak, heaven would remove his mandate). The Zhou dynasty is the longest of China's many dynasties, and is divided into the Western Zhou (1122-771 BCE) and the Eastern Zhou (771-256 BCE), as the Zhou were forced out of their capital at Xian by barbarian invaders from the north, and moved east to found their new capital in Luoyang. The Eastern Zhou is itself subdivided into the Spring and Autumn Period (771-481 BCE) and the Warring States Period (463-221 BCE). The troubled Warring States Period marked the waning years of the dynasty. Such great thinkers, moralists, and philosophers as Confucius, Mencius, Laozi, and Zhuangzi lived during the Eastern Zhou. It was the time of the Hundred Schools of Thought, the golden age of Chinese philosophy, when the great traditions of Confucianism, Daoism, Legalism, Militarism, and Mohism developed. In this period, itinerant thinkers traveled with their followers, finding employment with rulers, who would seek their advice on warfare, morality, diplomacy, and government. The Zhou dynasty eventually weakened to the point where it ruled only in name, as seven powerful warring states vied for dominance. In 221 BCE, the ruler of a western state emerged triumphant from the ongoing warfare and unified China, naming himself Shi Huangdi (the "first emperor") and beginning the Qin dynasty. After eight hundred years, heaven had removed its mandate from the Zhou at last.

The three Zhou dynasty texts presented here are the source of Chinese poetic literature, evolving out of the beginnings of Chinese writing, and foreshadowing what was to come in this extraordinary three thousand year tradition. Chinese poetry begins with the Book of Songs, comprised of folk songs, hymns, and court songs collected largely from ordinary people living along the Yellow River, and putatively edited by Confucius himself (thus the collection is sometimes referred to as the Confucian Odes). The fact that the Chinese poetic tradition begins with folk poetry reworked and set to music has meant that the long tradition of Chinese poetry written by the nobility has often striven for a sense of folk authenticity to blend with the master poet's craft and skill, simplicity balancing elegance. The four-character verses in the Book of Songs are the model for shi poetry, whose variations came to dominate classical Chinese poetry for the next two thousand years.

The Book of Songs is one of the Confucian classics, studied throughout Chinese history by the nobility and by those who wished to rise in society as scholar-officials. Poetry is held to be one of the great arts that educated Chinese men (and sometimes women) should know and be able to practice. In fact, poetry has been in the mainstream of literary expression in Chinese literature, and so it is often afforded great powers of influence in the Chinese critical tradition. The "Great Preface" to the Book of Songs states that poetry is a Confucian rectifier that establishes the proper relationships between spouses, encourages respect and loyalty for the old, strengthens human ties, improves civilizations, and excises bad customs. In the Analects, Confucius often mentions the Songs. In Analect 2.2, for example, he states, "There are 300 Songs, but they can be summed up with one phrase: let your thoughts be free of depravity." Poetry serves a moral purpose, according to Confucius, "stimulating the reader, and making him observant, sociable, and capable of expressing his grievances," while at the same time "helping him to serve his family and his King" (Analect 17.8). Though the poems in the Book of Songs were in fact simply songs of the peasants, they were read as moral allegories, or as analogues to political and historical events.

The second text presented here is the marvelous, riddling, profound, and elegantly difficult Dao De Jing of Laozi (better known in the West by an earlier transliteration as the Tao Te Ching of Lao Tzu). As the Book of Songs stands as one of the key texts that gave birth to the Confucian tradition, so the Dao De Jing (along with another great text, the Zhuangzi) stands as the source of the great religious and philosophical tradition of Daoism, and ultimately of Chinese Buddhism, which blended with Daoism in a particularly Chinese philosophical and spiritual mélange. Though it is not normally considered to be poetry, the Dao De Jing translates as marvelous poetry. A selection from it can help give Western readers an understanding of the concepts that underlie so many of the great Daoist and Buddhist poets in China who were to come later.

The final text in this section is a selection from the great long poem Encountering Sorrow, by Qu Yuan (c. 332-c. 295 bce). This poem comes from the Verses of Chu, the second great early anthology of Chinese poetry, which included Qu Yuan's poetry, as well as that of a later poet, Song Yu. Encountering Sorrow and other poems in the collection tell of how Qu Yuan's dedication to his king was rewarded with banishment, leading him to drown himself in despair. The poems are celebrated for their Confucian dedication to duty. The work of Qu Yuan represents the beginning of an ornate literary tradition in China, which is counterbalanced by the simpler, vernacular, folk tradition of the Book of Songs. His poems are also the source of Chinese fu poetry, an irregular blend of poetry and prose that was to become an important part of the Chinese tradition. Fu poems usually begin and conclude with prose passages, with rhymed poetry in the center.

Qu Yuan is supposedly the first Chinese poet whose name we know (though in fact there are a few cases in the Book of Songs in which a poet's name is embedded). That the Verses of Chu begins the tradition of named poetry in China is more important than one might think. When one knows a poet's name, and something of his or her life, one gets a powerful sense of human connection to the person behind the poem. As poets name the world, so their own names name something to us as readers-a life and, perhaps more important, a lifework. Though the songs from the Books of Songs can often feel personal, they are almost exclusively anonymous and written to set generic topics. Thus, despite their allusive and elaborate nature, the poems of Qu Yuan are the fountainhead of personal poetry in China.


(c. 600 bce)

The Book of Songs is the earliest anthology of Chinese poetry, and the thematic and formal source of the Chinese poetic tradition. The Chinese name for the Book of Songs is the Shi Jing, and the term shi (the general term for poetry, like the Japanese term waka) derives from its name. Legend has it that its 305 poems were compiled by Confucius (551-479 bce) from an earlier manuscript of around three thousand songs. The assertion that Confucius was the compiler is questionable, but certainly the anthology was extant in Confucius's time, and it seems likely that the anthology was collected between 1100 and 600 bce. Confucius refers to the Book of Songs in the Analects, and it was part of the curriculum of his disciples; it is counted among the Confucian classics that form the basis of Confucian education. The collection was banned in the third century bce, along with the other Confucian classics, but was reconstructed during the Han dynasty, and the edition that is most complete derives from this time.

The Book of Songs contains three basic categories of song: folk songs and ballads, court songs, and sacrificial songs. Like the Sanskrit Vedas of India, these songs provide us with a window onto the simple and beautiful life of an ancient time. Heroes and ancestors are praised, love is made, war is waged, farmers sing to their crops, people complain about their taxes, and moral categories are set forth in stark and powerful form. Though these are songs, the music has been lost, and some of them have been revised from folk song roots by court musicians, rhymed and arranged into stanzas. Others were aristocratic songs, songs to be sung to accompany ritual dancing, or to accompany the rites of ancestor worship.

White Moonrise

The white rising moon

is your bright beauty

binding me in spells

till my heart's devoured.

The light moon soars

resplendent like my lady,

binding me in light chains

till my heart's devoured.

Moon in white glory,

you are the beautiful one

who delicately wounds me

till my heart's devoured.

Translated by Tony Barnstone

and Willis Barnstone

Fruit Plummets from the Plum Tree

Fruit plummets from the plum tree

but seven of ten plums remain.

You gentlemen who would court me,

come on a lucky day.

Fruit plummets from the plum tree

but three of ten plums still remain.

You men who want to court me,

come now, today is a lucky day!

Fruit plummets from the plum tree.

You can fill up your baskets.

Gentlemen if you want to court me,

just say the word...

More About the Author

I was born in Middletown, Connecticut, into a very unusual family. My father, Willis Barnstone, was a young professor at Wesleyan University at that time. When I was two, we left Connecticut to live in Spain on a Guggenheim Fellowship my father had been granted, and so my first spoken language was Spanish. After that year, we moved to Bloomington, Indiana, where my father took a job at Indiana University, where he stayed until his retirement.

Willis is the author of more than 70 books, of poetry, translation, literary criticism, biblical scholarship, memoir, and so on, and I grew up surrounded with his books. I believe that in a very real sense I grew up inside my father's mind. My walls were lined with Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, with Borges and Calvino, with James Wright and Paul Celan, with Freud and Sartre, and along with a healthy dose of pulp fiction, these were the books I browsed through and tried to read from a very young age. My mother, Elli Barnstone, is an artist who was among the first to convert the craft of batik into abstract and representational art. I grew up surrounded by her extraordinary batiks, some of which were mounted on wooden frames and lit from behind so that the wax glowed and illuminated the colors like stained glass. We spent our childhood painting, drawing, writing poems and stories, and playing in nature, both in Indiana and in Vermont, where we have a summer house in the Green Mountains outside of Brandon.

With this sort of cultural submersion, I suppose it is no surprise that my brother Robert became a Harvard-trained architect, painter and sculptor, and that my sister Aliki became a well-known poet, translator and literary critic. I suppose it is no surprise that I followed this path as well. What my strange and interesting family did for me was to give me a vision of what it was to have a life work, as well as a life, and to give me permission to pursue that life work, even at the expense of practical considerations. I knew that I had to have a career in the arts, and that I had to succeed at it, because my earliest models of whole human development were the artists, singers, architects and writers who filled our house with laughter and shook the floor with their dancing.

I returned to Middletown to go to college at Wesleyan University, where I stayed for two years. However, at the end of my second year I was already deeply in debt, had just broken up with my college sweetheart, and was deeply exhausted from the strain of a very intense semester's work, so I decided to take a year off of college and think things through. I spent the first summer studying Greek at the Hellenic American Union in Athens and the second summer studying Spanish at the Universidad de Menendez Pelayo, in Santander, Spain. During the year, I lived in my family home in Indiana and took a graduate workshop in literary translation that my father was teaching. Then, when my sister called me up from California and told me that I should transfer to the University of California at Santa Cruz, I did so, sight unseen. I moved to California in 1981, and have stayed there with some interruptions, ever since.

After I graduated from Santa Cruz, I floated for a while, trying to find a job with my English major, and working as a window washer, a factory worker in a granola factory, a data entry person, and a personal assistant at Pacific Telesis. Opportunity came in the form of a phone call from my father, who had been granted a Fulbright to China, but was depressed after a bad break-up. He wanted company in China, and asked me to come along for moral support. We lived together in the Friendship Hotel in Beijing for a year, from August 2004-August 2005, and taught together at the Beijing Foreign Studies University.

While in China, I got in touch with the underground Chinese poets, the Misty School of poets who were writing poetry influenced by western Modernism, poetry that went against the Maoist precepts of Social Realism and that celebrated emotion and subjectivity instead of politics and useful clarity. I befriended many of the experimental poets involved with the Beijing Spring, the Democracy Movement, and the Misty Poetry movement. Those intense, youthful encounters took on a more serious note when many of my friends found themselves to be writers-in-exile after the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

Though some of these writers, notably Bei Dao, have gone on to considerable literary fame, at the time they were struggling to survive, a struggle made more difficult because their poetry simply did not exist in the languages of their exile. Therefore, when I returned to the United States, and while working on my MA in Creative Writing and Ph.D. in English at U.C.Berkeley, I went to work on a book to promote their poetry in English, which was published by Wesleyan University Press as Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry (1993). I have continued to champion their work in the textbooks, anthologies, articles and book reviews that I have edited and/or authored. My other books of translation are The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters (1996), Chinese Erotic Poems (2007) and The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry (2005). The latter project is a translation of the major poems from the entire tradition of Chinese poetry over a 3000 year period, and it is the culmination of my work in Chinese over the last 22 years.

I have been very active in the field of world literature over the last two decades as a teacher, translator, critic, anthologist and writer of textbooks. I am the editor or co-editor of several world literature textbooks, including The Literatures of Asia (Prentice Hall, 2002); The Literatures of the Middle East (Prentice Hall, 2002); and The Literatures of Asia, Africa, and Latin America from Antiquity to Now (Prentice Hall, 1998). As a writer seeking to expand my craft and vision, I have chosen to live overseas (in China, Africa, and Greece), and I have used translation as a means to make the larger world intimate and to open the geography of my literary imagination. Today, my work is influenced as deeply by Chinese parallelism as by Western accentual-syllabic verse, by the rhetoric and imagery of the Arabic, Urdu and Persian ghazal as by that of the sonnet. My work has been translated into Arabic and Chinese and is currently being translated into German and Kannada.

My primary work, however, is my poetry. I have published five books of poems, Impure (University Press of Florida, 1999), Sad Jazz: Sonnets (Sheep Meadow Press, 2005), The Golem of Los Angeles (winner, Benjamin Saltman Award in Poetry, Red Hen Press, 2008), Tongue of War: From Pearl Harbor to Nagasaki (winner, The John Ciardi Prize in Poetry, BKMK Press, 2009), and Beast in the Apartment (Sheep Meadow Press, 2014).

Currently, I am the Albert Upton Professor of English Language and Literature at Whittier College, where I founded the Creative Writing program within the English Major, created the Newsom Awards in Poetry and Fiction, founded the annual Whittier Writers Festival, run the Visiting Writers Series, teach poetry writing, fiction writing, creative nonfiction, and courses in American and Asian literature, and in general try to make Whittier College a place that is a center for writers and writing.

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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Kevin Maynard on March 13, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
All lovers of Chinese literature will know how central a contribution the Barnstones, father and son, have made to the gradual Anglicization (or Americanization) of at least a small part of the poetic treasures now pouring out of the Middle Kingdom for the world to wake up to at last. This Anchor collection is a noble enterprise and a huge achievement, comparable in scope to earlier anthologies such as those compiled so magisterially by Cyril Birch, Burton Watson, Jonathan Chaves, Victor Mair and Stephen Owen. It is worth buying for the introduction alone, but the originality of the enterprise consists largely in the novelty of so many of the poems chosen. Of course any anthology that claims to include 'the Full 3000-Year Tradition' is guilty of massive over-exaggeration, since it is the nature of anthologies to be highly selective. And if, in your pursuit of the new and the unexpected you choose to leave out a lot of the 'old familiar faces', as Barnstone does, then perhaps the danger is that you may inadvertently give readers who are themselves new to Chinese poetry a slightly false picture of its most salient geographical features. He is a good enough translator at his best to do ample justice to many of those anthology 'plums' that most other anthologists consider indispensable. On the other hand, one can have too much of a good thing, and he may well be right to have sometimes wandered away from the well-trodden highway. A good guide is one who makes the tour idiosyncratic and personal, and Barnstone is certainly that. The overall quality of the poetry, considered as poetry IN ENGLISH, is pretty consistently high: perhaps not quite in the same class as Kenneth Rexroth, Sam Hamill, David Hinton or David Young, but still often bright, fresh and bubbling with energy. No library of Chinese literature in translation should be without this cornucopia of delights.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Floyd Cox on August 21, 2010
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I have purchase many books of poetry for my kindle. I bought this book on a whim (perhaps late night wine-addled Amazon buy-now-clicking, which now I find would be applauded by most of the poets over the past 3000 years of Chinese poetry) Anyway, I bought this book..., then I started reading the poems. What a joy!! The poets and their works are well reviewed and presented in this very readable book. I cannot comment on the accuracy of the translations since I cannot read Chinese, but even if the poems are very loosely put forth to the reader ( as most translators are accused) I still would strongly recommend this wonderful book.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By ishi on December 31, 2008
Format: Paperback
This is the best one-volume collection of Chinese poetry I've yet come across. 600 poems over 3,000 years, step into this book and enter a world. The translations are simple, clean and clear, and, for that, deeply moving.
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I have read numerous translated Chinese poetry books and this ranks among the best. Also, the insightful introductions are extremely helpful. I like several of the translations so well that I put the to memory and repeat them often.
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