What I do here

My name’s Phil, and I’m a translator and teacher. I translate Tang poetry because it’s one of the world’s great literatures, but it’s criminally under-represented in English. Most poems have never been translated. A large body of famous poems have only been translated two or three times. And even for the few that have been translated more - classics from Wang Wei or Du Fu - we’re still in the low dozens of English versions. Dozens might sound like a lot, but there are hundreds and thousands of English Dantes and Homers out there. It takes that level of sustained examination, translation and retranslation, to get to the essence of a piece of literature. Every translation is a refraction of certain aspects of the original. We need hundreds of people to apply their minds to the problem of, what is this poet saying?

My particular angle is that I translate Tang poems into English verse. Tang poetry rhymes and scans, but the vast majority of translations into English don’t, and something is lost along the way. Many Tang poems (the ones that were selected by editors for their lasting quality) have the feel of nursery rhymes for adults. They have an insistent rhythm and music that lingers in the ear (your basic Tang quatrain is eight bars of common time - a rhythm that everyone on the planet can feel in their bones). But the emotions and ideas expressed are complex, layered, and indirect. For the best poems, that contrast of a bright, swinging rhythm and deep, swirling emotions is the core of what makes them memorable. By translating the poems into what I hope are memorable English verse lines, I want to start the process of English readers understanding Tang poetry on this level.

I've also started using this blog to post my thoughts on other topics, so if you have any interest in those, you can look under the other sections.

Index of poems

Bai Juyi 白居易

Mongolian Whirling Girl 胡旋女

Birds 鸟

A Spring Song 春词

Grass 草

A Poem on 'Parting on an Ancient Steppe' from the Songs of Chu 赋得古原草送别

To Liu Nineteen 问刘十九

Cen Shen 岑参

Climbing the Tower at the Temple of Blessings with Gao Shi and Xue Jue 与高适薛据登慈恩寺浮图

Chang Jian 常建

Failing the Examinations in Chang’an 落第长安

Ancient Song 古兴

A Night at the Cottage Where Wang Changling Stayed When He Retired for the First Time 宿王昌龄隐居

An Ancient Theme 古意

Chen Shubao 陈叔宝

Jade Trees and Flowers in the Harem 玉树后庭花

Chen Tao 陈陶

Bring In the Wine 将进酒

Chu Guangxi 储光羲

Climbing the Tower with Friends at the Temple of Blessings 同诸公登慈恩寺塔

Cui Hao 崔颢

Yellow Crane Tower 黄鹤楼

Dai Shulun 戴叔伦

Out of Sight 独不见

A Hard Road to Walk 行路难

Du Fu 杜甫

A View of the Sacred Mountain 望岳

A Visit by Esteemed Personages (with Wine) After I Fall Off My Horse, Drunk 醉为马坠, 诸公携酒相看

The Tactical Octagon 八阵图

The Fine Lady 佳人

A Moonlit Night 月夜

Song of the Radiant Women 丽人行

A Vision of Springtime 春望

Five Songs Inspired by Historic Sites (1) 咏怀古迹五首·其一

Five Songs Inspired by Historic Sites (2) 咏怀古迹五首·其二

The Sergeant of Xin’an 新安吏

The Sergeant of Shihao 石壕吏

The Sergeant of Tong Pass 潼关吏

To Leave a Home That Isn’t There 无家别

To Leave a New Bride 新婚别

To Leave In Old Age 垂老别

The Wind Destroys my Cottage Roof 茅屋为秋风所破歌

Adrift 旅夜书怀

The Ballad of the Army Carts 兵车行

Climbing the Tower with Friends at the Temple of Blessings 同诸公登慈恩寺塔

Six Short Poems (1) (The sun rises) 绝句六首·其一(日出篱东水)

Six Short Poems (2) (Resplendent) 绝句六首·其二(蔼蔼花蕊乱)

Six Short Poems (3) (A well) 绝句六首·其三(凿井交棕叶)

Six Short Poems (4) (A sudden rain) 绝句六首·其四(急雨捎溪足)

Six Short Poems (5) (The bamboo shoots) 绝句六首·其五(舍下笋穿壁)

Six Short Poems (6) (The river) 绝句六首·其六(江动月移石)

Four Short Poems (About my New Cottage) No. 2 (nervousness) 绝句四首·其二(欲作鱼梁云复湍)

Four Short Poems (About my New Cottage) No. 4 (uncertainty) 绝句四首·其四(药条药甲润青青)

Four Short Poems (About my New Cottage) No. 1 (delight) 绝句四首·其一(堂西长笋别开门)

Four Short Poems (About my New Cottage) No. 3 (ownership) 绝句四首·其三(两个黄鹂鸣翠柳)

Du Mu 杜牧

A Gift on Parting (1) 赠别二首·其一

A Gift on Parting (2) 赠别二首·其二

Autumn Evening 秋夕

Du Qiu 杜秋(杜秋娘)

Golden Robes 金缕衣

Du Xunhe 杜荀鹤

Even In Spring, the Palace Women Weep at their Mirrors 春宫怨

Gao Shi 高适

A Vision of Spring on my Farm 田家春望

Climbing the Tower with Friends at the Temple of Blessings 同诸公登慈恩寺浮图

Farewell to Officer Li (Reassigned to the Gorges) and Officer Wang (Reassigned to Changsha) 送李少府贬峡中王少府贬长沙

Farewell to Dong Tinglan (1) 别董大二首·其一

Farewell to Dong Tinglan (2) 别董大二首·其二

Han Wo 韩偓

The Cool Moment 已凉

Han Yu 韩愈

Song of the Stone Drums 石鼓歌

He Zhizhang 贺知章

Lines on Returning to My Hometown (1) 回乡偶书·其一

Lines on Returning to My Hometown (2) 回乡偶书·其二

Picking Water Lilies 采莲曲

Helan Jinming 贺兰进明

A Hard Road to Walk (1) 行路难五首·其一

A Hard Road to Walk (2) 行路难五首·其二

A Hard Road to Walk (3) 行路难五首·其三

A Hard Road to Walk (4) 行路难五首·其四

A Hard Road to Walk (5) 行路难五首·其五

Hu Zeng 胡曾

Out of Sight 独不见

Huang Fuzeng 皇甫曾

The Brook Flows Out of the Mountains 山下泉

Li Bai 李白

Drinking Alone in the Moonlight (1) 月下独酌·其一

Drinking Alone in the Moonlight (2) 月下独酌·其二

Drinking Alone in the Moonlight (3) 月下独酌·其三

Drinking Alone in the Moonlight (4) 月下独酌·其四

A Night in a Mountain Temple 夜宿山寺

Spring Dreams 春思

Mulberry by the Lane 陌上桑

Sitting Alone with Mt Jingting 独坐敬亭山

Picking Water Lilies 采莲曲

Phoenix Podium in Jinling 登金陵凤凰台

On a Visit to Li Yong 上李邕

Bring In the Wine 将进酒

To the tune of Reproach on Jade Steps 玉阶怨

Ballad of Changgan (1) 长干行二首·其一

Song of the Maestro of Fufeng 扶风豪士歌

A Hard Road to Walk (1) 行路难·其一

A Hard Road to Walk (2) 行路难·其二

A Hard Road to Walk (3) 行路难·其三

Li Duan 李端

A Performance on the Zheng Harp 听筝

Li He 李贺

Bring In the Wine 将进酒

Li Pin 李频

A Vision of Spring at the Leyou Gardens 乐游原春望

Li Qi 李颀

Dong Tinglan Plays Eighteen Songs for a Nomad Flute: A Song for Supervising Secretary Fang 听董大弹胡笳声兼语弄寄房给事

Listening to An Wanshan Play the Bili Flute 听安万善吹觱篥歌

Li Shangyin 李商隐

The Cicada 蝉

A Palace of the Short-lived Sui Dynasty 隋宫

For the Willows 赠柳

Han Yu's Carved Stele 韩碑

Chang’e 嫦娥

Leyou Hill 乐游原

Liu Changqing 刘长卿

The Departure of the Monk Clear Spirit 送灵撤

A Parting Poem for a Monk 送方外上人

Playing the Qin Harp 弹琴

Liu Deren 刘得仁

A Vision of Spring from the Leyou Pleasure Gardens 乐游原春望

Liu Xiaowei 刘孝威

Out of Sight 独不见

Liu Yun 柳恽

Out of Sight 独不见

Liu Yuxi 刘禹锡

A Spring Song, Following Bai Juyi 和乐天春词

Liu Zongyuan 柳宗元

River Snow 江雪

An Old Fisherman 渔翁

A Hard Road to Walk (1) 行道难三首·其一

A Hard Road to Walk (2): Pillars of the Nation 行道难三首·其二

A Hard Road to Walk (3): Time Brings All Things Low 行道难三首·其三

Lu Lun 卢纶

Songs from Outside the Line (1) 塞下曲·其一

Songs from Outside the Line (2) 塞下曲·其二

Songs from Outside the Line (3) 塞下曲·其三

Songs from Outside the Line (4) 塞下曲·其四

Songs from Outside the Line (5) 塞下曲·其五

Songs from Outside the Line (6) 塞下曲·其六

Lu Zhaolin 卢照邻

A Hard Road to Walk 行路难

Luo Binwang 骆宾王

Song of the Cicada from a Chang'an Jail (poem and introduction) 在狱咏蝉(并序)

Meng Haoran 孟浩然

Spring Dawn 春晓

Goodbye to Attendant Censor Wang Wei 留别王侍御维

To My Friend Zhang Five, When I Climbed Mt Lan in the Autumn 秋登兰山寄张五

Meng Jiao 孟郊

A Son Leaves Home 游子吟

Candle Moths 烛蛾

Down with Spiders 蜘蛛讽

Mosquitoes 蚊

Chill River (1) 寒溪·其一

Chill River (2) 寒溪·其二

Chill River (3) 寒溪·其三

Chill River (4) 寒溪·其四

Chill River (5) 寒溪·其五

Chill River (6) 寒溪·其六

Chill River (7) 寒溪·其七

Chill River (8) 寒溪·其八

Chill River (9) 寒溪·其九

Pei Di 裴迪

Sung to Cui Di as He Rode Away to Far South Hill 崔九欲往南山马上口号与别

Qiji 齐己

A Hard Road to Walk (1) 行路难·其一

A Hard Road to Walk (2) 行路难·其二

Qian Qi 钱起

The Wild Geese Return 归雁

Shen Quanqi 沈佺期

Out of Sight 独不见

Song Zhiwen 宋之问

The Lantian Estate 蓝天山庄

Tao Hongjing 陶弘景

A Poem in Reply to a Royal Letter Enquiring What There Is in the Mountains 诏问山中何所有赋诗以答

Wang Changling 王昌龄

Picking Water Lilies (1) 采莲曲二首·其一

Picking Water Lilies (2) 采莲曲二首·其二

Variation on A Hard Road to Walk 变行路难

Wang Wei 王维

Wang River Collection (1) The Dip by Meng Wall 辋川集(一)孟城坳

Wang River Collection (2) Glory Ridge 辋川集(二)华子冈

Wang River Collection (3) Pavilion of Rich-grained Apricot Wood 辋川集(三)文杏馆

Wang River Collection (4) Bamboo Loggers' Forest 辋川集(四)斤竹岭

Wang River Collection (5) Deer Grove 辋川集(五)鹿寨

Wang River Collection (6) Magnolia Grove 辋川集(六)木兰柴

Wang River Collection (7) Dogwood by a Stream 辋川集(七)茱萸沜

Wang River Collection (8) Scholar Tree Avenue 辋川集(八)宫槐陌

Wang River Collection (9) Lakeside Gazebo 辋川集(九)临湖亭

Wang River Collection (10) Lakeside South Mound 辋川集(十)南岔

Wang River Collection (11) Lake Qi 辋川集(十一)欹湖

Wang River Collection (12) Willow Waves 辋川集(十二)柳浪

Wang River Collection (13) Rapids by the Luan Farm 辋川集(十三)栾家濑

Wang River Collection (14) Gold Dust Spring 辋川集(十四)金屑泉

Wang River Collection (15) White Boulder Shallows 辋川集(十五)白石滩

Wang River Collection (16) Lakeside North Mound 辋川集(十六)北垞

Wang River Collection (17) Cabin in the Bamboo 辋川集(十七)竹里馆

Wang River Collection (18) Magnolia Hollow 辋川集(十八)辛夷坞

Wang River Collection (19) The Lacquer Plantation 辋川集(十九)漆园

Wang River Collection (20) Pepper Orchard 辋川集(二十)椒园

Song of a Luoyang Girl 洛阳女儿行

A Reply to District Defender Zhang 酬张少府

The Keepsake Tree 相思

Days of Rain, a Poem at the Wang River Estate 积雨辋川庄作

The Song of Xi Shi 西施咏

Greenbrook 青溪

My Estate at Far South Hill 终南别业

Hometown (On the River Wei) 渭川田家

Wang Xun 王训

Out of Sight 独不见

Wei Yingwu 韦应物

To the New Mrs Yang 送杨氏女

A Letter to Secretary Yuan as I Depart from Yangtze Ford 初发扬子寄元大校书

To Li Dan and Yuan Xi 寄李儋元锡

To the Daoist Hermit in the Quanjiao Hills 寄全椒山中道士

Outside the City 东郊

Wei Zhuang 韦庄

Taicheng, Centre of Power for Six Nations 台城

Wu Yuanheng 武元恒

Out of Sight 独不见

Empress Wu Zetian

Announcement of a Royal Visit to the Palace Park on the Occasion of the End-of-Year Sacrifices 腊日宣诏幸上苑

Xi Bi Ren/Your Humble Servant in the West 西鄙人

The Song of General Geshu 哥舒歌

Emperor Xuanzong of Tang 唐玄宗

Sombre Thoughts at the Sacrifices to Confucius as I Pass through Lu 经邹鲁祭孔子而叹之

Xue Feng 薛逢

Sung in the Palace 宫词

Yang Juyuan 杨巨源

Out of Sight 独不见

Yang Yuhuan 杨玉环

For the Dancer Zhang Yunrong 赠张云容舞

Yuan Zhen 元稹

Mongolian Whirling Girl 胡旋女

Bring In the Wine 将进酒

The Summer Residence 行宫

Zhang Hong 张纮

A Hard Road to Walk 行路难

Zhang Hu 张祜

To Her Inside 赠内人

Zhang Ji 张继

Mooring at Maple Bridge in the Night 枫桥夜泊

Zhang Jiuling 张九龄

Feelings (1) 感遇·其一

Feelings (5) 感遇·其五

Feelings (7) 感遇·其七

Zhu Qingyu 朱庆馀

To Zhang Ji of the Water Ministry, Before the Examinations 近试上张籍水部

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Translations of Chinese poetry from the Tang Dynasty


I translate from Chinese to English