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19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated Paperback – March 1, 1995
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Top Customer Reviews
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:
I see no one
but I hear echoes
of someone's words
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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
fascinating look at nineteen different translations of the same 20 character poem.Published 6 months ago by Richard
After about 19 iterations of reading this poem's translations, you finally get a sense of what the poem is all about.Published 7 months ago by yumyumshisha
A fascinating look at translations of a classical Chinese poem.Published 8 months ago by C. N. Pidgeon
I too borrowed this from the library many years ago. I remember enjoying the book very much but the thing which struck me the most is a comment on pinyin in the introduction, or... Read morePublished 13 months ago by R. Ermish
I originally bought this book because it had words from two of my favorite poets -- Wang Wei and Octavio Paz. I was not disappointed. Read morePublished on July 8, 2013 by S. Gilmont
I enjoyed the conciseness and comprehensiveness combined to demonstrate the nuances of translating this deceptively simple poem. Read morePublished on March 22, 2013 by Phil Dinehart
The concept of this book is very useful. It demonstrates perfectly the versatility of a Chinese ideogram, and presents the development of the poem through historical perspective. Read morePublished on January 12, 2010 by Ryan Mease