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19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated Paperback – March 1, 1995

4.6 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Language Notes

Text: English, Chinese, French, Spanish

About the Author

Weinberger is a contemporary American writer, essayist, editor, and translator. Born in New York City (Feb 6, 1949) where he still lives, Weinberger is the recipient of the Mexican Order of the Aztec Eagle (2000). Weinberger earned the citation by virtue of his translations into English of the work of Octavio Paz, the noted Mexican and Nobel Prize winning poet.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 53 pages
  • Publisher: Moyer Bell Limited; 1st edition (July 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0918825148
  • ISBN-13: 978-0918825148
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.2 x 7.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #111,743 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Poetry, said Robert Frost, is what gets lost in translation.
Poetry, says Eliot Weinberger in the introduction to this small volume, is that which is worth translating.
Both, of course, are right. That is what I like about poetry. It tolerates different points of view, a multitude of interpretations. A poem, or its translation, is never 'right', it is always the expression of an individual reader's experience at a certain point in his or her life: "As no individual reader remains the same, each reading becomes a different - not just another - reading. The same poem cannot be read twice."
"Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated" contains a simple four-line poem, over 1200 years old, written by Wang Wei (c. 700-761 AD), a man of Buddhist belief, known as a painter and calligrapher in his time. The book gives the original text in Chinese characters, a transliteration in the pinyin system, a character-by-character translation, 13 translations in English (written between 1919 and 1978), 2 translations in French, and one particularly beautiful translation in Spanish by Octavio Paz (1914-1998), the Mexican poet who received the 1990 Nobel Prize for literature. Paz has also added a six-page essay on his translation of the poem.
Wang Wei's poems are fascinating in their apparent simplicity, their precision of observation, and their philosophical depth. The poem in question here is no exception. I would translate it as:
Empty mountains
I see no one
but I hear echoes
of someone's words
evening sunlight
shines into the deep forest
and is reflected
on the green mosses above
Compared to the translations of Burton Watson (1971), Octavio Paz (1974), and Gary Snyder (1978), this version has a number of flaws.
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Format: Paperback
Eliot Weinberger's "19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei" (subtitled "How a Chinese Poem is Translated") presents Wang Wei's famous "Deer Park" poem in 19 versions: Chinese, transliterated Chinese (Pinyin), and a word-by-word rendering, then in 16 (or so) translations with Weinberger's comments. (The translations are primarily into English, although a Spanish version and two French versions are also included.)

From the title, which appears to be inspired by Wallace Stevens's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," I expected something a little more contemplative. I found Weinberger's comments, on the whole, to be unnecessarily vicious and judgmental. It's as if every section of Stevens's poem ended with the line "But this way of looking at a blackbird is wrong." Weinberger never does offer a translation of his own, although he appears to have some kind of ideal in mind of which every translation he profiles somehow falls short.

This would not in itself be a bad thing--for we must recognize that every translation does, in some way, depart from the original. But Weinberger seems to feel that any change to the poem, especially any expansion, is due to the translator's special hatred for the poet and contempt for his readers' intelligence. In section 8 he states that additions to a translation are "the product of a translator's unspoken contempt for the foreign poet" (p. 17). He goes on to suggest that the translators of the version on which he is commenting were too dense to realize that Wang Wei could have written X (as in the translation) but chose to write Y. While I think his point is well-taken, it could easily have been made without the caustic innuendo.
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1 Comment 19 of 19 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
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Format: Paperback
This book takes a 4 line poem in Chinese, then looks at 19 translations of the poem and provides a commentary on what works, does not work, is added, is omitted ... for three of the translations - Octavio Paz, Gary Snyder and Francoise Cheng comments of the translator are also given. This is a wonderful case study on the art of translation.
Outside the aspect of translation, the volume also gives the reader ample opportunity to become familiar with Wang Wei's poem and with its Buddhist content.
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Format: Paperback
I checked the book out of the local library a couple of weeks ago and have not stopped reading it since. The library volume is due back, so I just purchased it. My only complaint is that the last poem is Gary Synder's from 1978. I would like to see Mr Weinberger reissue the volume with latter translations such as Arthur Sze or Sam Hamill. And if any one is looking for a most needed project, a translation of all of Wang Wei's Wang River poems.
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By A Customer on February 24, 2000
Format: Paperback
This book is very valuable on the art of translation. It offers one Wang Wei quatrain: in the original Chinese characters, a literal translation of those characters, and then about 1.5 dozen different translations of the poem...in English, Spanish, and French (all non English versions are translated themselves). If nothing else it is very interesting, and contains essays as well. I enjoyed it immensely.
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Format: Paperback
The multiple translations of Wang Wei's poem are a door into the incredible spectrum of human thinking. This small delicate poem and its translations show how culture, translation and individual thinking change a work of art. I found myself writing a "translation" of the poem to discover yet another prismatic dimension of this jewel of a poem.
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