Oct 2, 2023Liked by Phil H

This is powerful poetry by Meng Jiao.

I doubt this guy was the Tang Bukowski, but he seems to have laid waste to the poetic sensibility of the times the same way that Buk did in his day. Yeah, he must’ve been hated.

Again, thank you for doing this work. It is so rewarding to read the poems with your commentary and get an inside look at the process of translating

these wonderful aged yet timeless poems.

I have many translations by various authors, but I find that when I’m opening up a book, I tend to read a number of poems and they kind of blur together.

I enjoy the way your approach makes me focus on one poem or a few poems at a time.

I wish I had a good resource to understand the Chinese characters, but I don’t even know how many exist. (Chinese characters)

But reading your translations and commentary of Meng Jiao and the others gives me a better understanding of the complexity of the Chinese originals and the challenge of turning them into poems in English. Choices in diction must be maddening.

As you’ve probably surmised, I’m not an academic or a scholar, just a fan of Poetry, and I hope you don’t mind my commenting on your work.

Some of the English word choices in the first poem give me pause: thready, scree, ford, and this disagreement, “ I’ve learned its vulgar, shallow heart

May freeze at night, but they ford at dawn.”

He’s talking about the freeze at night and the thaw and free flow in the warmer morning, I suppose. Or the difference between night and day.

It must be a struggle to translate the poem accurately in historical context yet make it work well as poetry in English. And I suppose that is why so many liberties have been taken with translations of Chinese poetry.

The trade-off of tradition, period form, syntax, allusion, diction, with the poems exquisite emotional and imagistic impact is a trade worth considering.

As I prefer reading poetry, rather than listening to it, I’d trade the traditions and forms for the powerful impact of what the poets have to say.

It’s all good, the more the merrier.

Thanks for putting this out there in the ether.

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Thank you for taking the time to read so carefully!

There's a real problem with Meng Jiao in particular, that his poems are just very difficult to read. He jumps from image to image with no warning, and historians still disagree on what the poems even mean. The difficulty of the translation reflects that to some extent. But Meng is definitely doing something interesting. If I ever figure out what, I'll try to write it up clearly, and more importantly, find a way of showing it in the translation.

But yeah, the most important thing is what you said: the more the merrier. More eyes means more ideas, more attempts means we'll get closer and closer to the truth. In large part, I don't expect to be getting these translations "right" myself, just to offer a different approach - a more poetic approach - that will give modern readers a different way into the poems.

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