35 of 36 people found the following review helpful
New Master, Old Masters,
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This anthology is itself a work of American literature---not something that can be said with any degree of confidence of most such compilations. For many years now Hinton has been quietly and tenaciously amassing a body of translations of classical Chinese poetry that is provocatively different from the Poundian model (which tends to favour a style that is spare, pellucid, minimalist and---by definition---'Imagist').
Hinton's versions, by contrast, are knotty, thoughtful, muscular and torsive. They are also intensely musical. They restore a measure of sheer passion and 'difficulty' to Chinese poems that, while it suits certain poets better than others, is always highly compelling. Hinton is steeped in Chinese philosophy (particularly Daoism) and this has led him to develop his own private 'philosophical' diction, which he uses pretty consistently throughout. We general readers sometimes forget how allusive Chinese poetry is, not just to Chinese history, astrology, medicine etc., but also to Confucianism, Daoism and Buddhism.
My only (very minor) reservation about this admirable collection, is that his style is so distinctive that it might be thought to impose a degree of homogeneity on his chosen source texts; and that this could be seen as a little misleading. The same charge could of course be laid against Waley's translations, or Burton Watson's---or even Ezra Pound's. Nor, when one looks more closely at the text as a whole, does it seem quite fair: Hinton's Shi Jing poems are unlike anything he's ever done before, for instance; and his renderings of Li He are likewise noticeably different from those of Du Fu or Meng Jiao.
By tackling so broad a span of Chinese literary history, Hinton has set himself a whole set of new problems to solve, and the result has been a triumphant success. What a treat to see him getting under the skins of so many other major Chinese writers, and giving them fresh voices!
His decision to stop at the end of the Song Dynasty makes perfect sense, though I'd love one day to see what he makes of those many wonderful Yuan Dynasty qu poems that at present we have to go to Seaton for (not that Seaton isn't pretty wonderful himself).
In recent years we've been highly fortunate in our American translators of both Chinese and Japanese verse: but Hinton really is in a class of his own. Buy this, and treasure it during your own lifetime; then pass it on to your children and grandchildren. Buy it in hardback, so that it will weather the decades. (But do so quickly. Hardback editions have relatively small print-runs. In fifty years' time, second-hand copies of this masterpiece will be worth a small fortune.)