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The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry
$17.95
Paperback
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BOOK DETAILS

  • Paperback
  • Feb.20.2008
  • 9780385721981
  • Anchor

Tony gives an overview of the book:

Unmatched in scope and literary quality, The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry spans three thousand years, bringing together more than six hundred poems by more than one hundred thirty poets, in translations-many new and exclusive to the book-by an array of distinguished translators. Here is the grand sweep of Chinese poetry, from the Book of Songs-ancient folk songs said to have been collected by Confucius himself-and Laozi's Dao De Jing to the vividly pictorial verse of Wang Wei, the romanticism of Li Po, the technical brilliance of Tu Fu, and all the way up to the twentieth-century poetry of Mao Zedong and the post-Cultural Revolution verse of the Misty poets. Encompassing the spiritual, philosophical, political, mystical, and erotic strains that have emerged over millennia, this broadly representative selection also includes a preface on the art of translation, a...
Read full overview »

Unmatched in scope and literary quality, The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry spans three thousand years, bringing together more than six hundred poems by more than one hundred thirty poets, in translations-many new and exclusive to the book-by an array of distinguished translators.

Here is the grand sweep of Chinese poetry, from the Book of Songs-ancient folk songs said to have been collected by Confucius himself-and Laozi's Dao De Jing to the vividly pictorial verse of Wang Wei, the romanticism of Li Po, the technical brilliance of Tu Fu, and all the way up to the twentieth-century poetry of Mao Zedong and the post-Cultural Revolution verse of the Misty poets. Encompassing the spiritual, philosophical, political, mystical, and erotic strains that have emerged over millennia, this broadly representative selection also includes a preface on the art of translation, a general introduction to Chinese poetic form, biographical headnotes for each of the poets, and concise essays on the dynasties that structure the book. A landmark anthology, The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry captures with impressive range and depth the essence of China's illustrious poetic tradition.

Read an excerpt »

Two Poems by Du Fu (712-770)

Gazing in Springtime

The empire is shattered but rivers and peaks remain.

Spring drowns the city in wild grass and trees.

A time so bad, even the flowers rain tears.

I hate this separation, yet birds startle my heart.

The signal fires have burned three months;

I'd give ten thousand gold coins for one letter.

I scratch my head and my white hair thins

till it can't even hold a pin.

Thoughts While Night Traveling

Slender wind shifts the shore's fine grass.

Lonely night below the boat's tall mast.

Stars hang low as the vast plain splays;

the swaying moon makes the great river race.

How can poems make me known?

I'm old and sick, my career done.

Drifting, just drifting. What kind of man am I?

A lone gull floating between earth and sky.

DU FU (712-770)

If there is one undisputed genius of Chinese poetry it is Du Fu. The Taoist Li Bai was more popular, the Buddhist Wang Wei was sublimely simple and more intimate with nature, but the Confucian Du Fu had extraordinary thematic range and was a master and innovator of all the verse forms of his time. In his life he never achieved fame as a poet and thought himself a failure in his worldly career. Perhaps only a third of his poems survive due to his long obscurity; his poems appear in no anthology earlier than one dated one hundred thirty years after his death, and it wasn't until the 11th century that he was recognized as a preeminent poet. His highly allusive, symbolic complexity and resonant ambiguity is at times less accessible than the immediacy and bravado of Li Bai. Yet there is a suddenness and pathos in much of his verse, which creates a persona no less constructed than Wang Wei's reluctant official and would-be hermit or Li Bai's blithely drunken Taoist adventurer. Most of what we know of his life is recorded in his poems, but there are dangers to reading his poems as history and autobiography. By the time he was in his twenties, he was referring to his long white hair-in the persona of the Confucian elder. As Sam Hamill notes, "It was natural that many a poet would adopt the persona of the ‘long white-haired" and old man-this lent a younger poet an authority of tone and diction he might never aspire to otherwise." Du Fu is sometimes called "the poet of history" because his poems record the turbulent times of the decline of the Tang dynasty and constitute in part a Confucian societal critique of the suffering of the poor and the corruption of officials. He also records his own sufferings, exile, falls from grace, the death of his son by starvation; but some critics have suggested that the poems on these themes are exaggerated in the service of self-dramatization.

Du Fu was born to a prominent but declining family of scholar-officials, perhaps from modern day Henan province, though he referred to himself as a native of Duling, the ancestral home of the Du clan. In the Six Dynasties period his ancestors were in the service of the southern courts; his grandfather Du Shenyan, was an important poet of the early Tang dynasty, and a more remote ancestor, Du Yu (222-84), was a famed Confucianist and military man. In spite of family connections, however, Du Fu had difficulty achieving patronage and governmental postings, and twice failed the Imperial Examinations, in 735 and 747. He was a restless traveler, and the poems of this early period show him to be a young man given to revelry, military and hunting arts, painting and music. In 744 he met Li Bai, and this formed the basis for one of the world's most famed literary friendships; the two poets devote a number of poems to each other. In 751 Du Fu passed a special examination that he finagled through submitting rhyme-prose works directly to the emperor, but it wasn't until 755 that he was offered a post-a rather humiliating posting in the provinces-which he rejected, accepting instead the patronage of the heir apparent. In the winter of that year, however, the An Lushan Rebellion broke out, and the emperor fled to Sichuan, abdicated, and the heir apparent became the new emperor in Gansu province. Meanwhile, the rebels seized the capital, and Du Fu, attempting to join the new emperor in the distant northwest, was captured by the rebels. He was detained for a year, but managed to escape, and after traveling in disguise through the occupied territory, joined the emperor's court in the position of Reminder. He was arrested soon after four his outspokenness in defending a friend, a general who had failed to win a battle, but was pardoned and exiled to a low posting in Huazhou. He quit his job there, and moved to Chengdu, where he and his family depended upon the kindness of friends and relatives, and moved again and again to avoid banditry and rebellions. In spite of this instability, his poems show a serenity in this period, particularly those from 760-762, when he lived in a "thatched hut" provided by a patron and friend named Yan Yu, who hired him in the years that followed as a military adviser. After Yan's death in 765, Du Fu left Chengdu, traveling down the Yangtze River, finding patrons and dreaming of a return to Changan, but being prevented by invasions from Tibet. He spent his final three years traveling on a boat, detained in sickness, and finally winding down to his death as he journeyed down the Yangtze, apparently accepting the withering away of his health and life.

tony-barnstone's picture

This anthology attempts to put into one volume the essence of Chinese poetry, stretching from its beginnings in the Book of Songs (the ancient anthology of folk songs supposedly collected by Confucius himself) and culminating in the political and experimental poetics of the contemporary Chinese poets, many of whom are in political exile in the post-Tiananmen Square massacre diaspora. Our concerns in making this selection are in part to represent in fine translation the well-established canon of great Chinese poems, and in part to deviate from that canon in ways we found interesting. In this volume, you will find many of the familiar classical gems, popular favorites, and anthology pieces, and yet we have chosen to cut out old touchstones that don't fare well in translation, preferring to represent Chinese poetry with poems that read in English as poems in and of themselves.

We have also attempted to adjust the canon, here and there, to shine a spotlight on fine poets whose work is often overlooked, and especially to make room for the poems of Chinese women in this book. In the classical Chinese anthologies, the voices of women were largely neglected, relegated to a small selection at the end of the volumes, and so they have survived the ravages of the centuries at significantly lower rates than those of men. The work of many of the finest Chinese women poets has been lost, and we know them only by a few poems or a few dozen poems, if we are lucky (while for many male poets hundreds or even thousands of poems survive). Perhaps one could argue that we are skewing the canon by including a fifth of the 50 extant poems of a great woman poet such as Li Qingzhao, while only including one thousandth of the poems of a poet like Lu You, who wrote over 10,000 poems. However, our goal is not to be merely representative in this anthology. We have chosen to swell the selections of poets whose work we particularly admire (Tao Qian, Wang Wei, Li Bai, Du Fu, Bai Juyi, Han Shan, Su Dongpo, Mao Zedong, Bei Dao, and others) , so that the reader can truly come to know their work. We consider such larger selections to be "pillars" that support the book, little books or chapbooks within the larger book that show the range and development and depth of the finest poets of this extraordinary tradition.

In order to aid the general reader (as well as students and scholars of Chinese) in navigating such a large selection of work by so many poets, we have provided both Pinyin and Wade-Giles transliterations of the authors' Chinese names, and have presented titles and author names both in English and in Chinese characters in the Table of Contents. One peculiar characteristic of Chinese poetry is that since so many Chinese poems have the same title, a title index is actually less useful than a first line index. Therefore, we have provide the book with an index of first lines in English and Chinese characters. Finally, in order to help give readers the context necessary to ground their reading of this selection from two millennia of Chinese poetry, we have outfitted the book with historical introductions to each major period, a history of the development of Chinese literary forms, and an essay on the key issues that confront the English-language translator of classical and contemporary Chinese poetry.

I would like to thank the poet and novelist Ha Jin for generously putting in touch with Anchor Books and helping this project to find a home. I would also like to thank our editor, LuAnn Walther, and John Siliciano at Anchor Books, for their patience with the book's slow development, and for making the project possible. Although the majority of the translations in the volume are team-translated by Chou Ping and myself, I supplemented our translations with a smattering of others by my father, Willis Barnstone, and by other poet-scholar-translators of Chinese, such as Arthur Waley, Sam Hamill, Kenneth Rexroth, David Hinton, Xu Haixin, Newton Liu, Ko Ching-p'o, Burton Watson, Michelle Yeh, Arthur Sze, Gregory B. Lee, John Cayley, Bonnie S. McDougall, Chen Maiping, James A. Wilson, and Ho Yung. Although the selection by other translators is small, it is meant as a tribute to them for their extraordinary work in carrying Chinese poetic genius across oceans and centuries and transplanting it in American soil. It has meant a lot to me as a reader, and I would like to thank all these translators for allowing me to reprint their Chinese translations here. Finally, I would like to thank my co-editor and primary co-translator for his good humor and insight, which has made it a pleasure to work with him on this and other projects since we first met in my small apartment in Beijing, twenty years ago, in the winter of 1984.

---Tony Barnstone

About Tony

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...

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