A goddamn feast of classical Chinese poetry
February 4, 2017 2:25 PM   Subscribe

The Library of Chinese Humanities is a series of translations of classical Chinese literature. It was launched in 2015 with Stephen Owen's complete Poetry of Du Fu, an 8th Century poet who is central to Chinese literature. Last year saw the publication of Paul Rouzer's translations of The Poetry of Hanshan (Cold Mountain), Shide, and Fenggan, three Buddhist poet-monks. The translations are very readable, are accompanied by plenty of explanatory material, and the whole series is open access, with more volumes to follow. [Du Fu link via languagehat]
posted by Kattullus (9 comments total) 68 users marked this as a favorite
Browsing haphazardly through Owen's translation of Du Fu I found this charming poem about lettuce. Well, sort of about lettuce. It starts off with a note about the poem by the poet.
Planting Lettuce

It is autumn now that the rains have come, and I made a small plot by
the main hall. There I planted a few beds of lettuce in separate plots. It
has been almost twenty days, yet the lettuce has not germinated, and
only the wild amaranthus is growing green. A good man who laments
the times may late in life get a small salary; but the going is rough and
he makes no progress. Therefore I made this poem.

Yin and Yang were topsy-turvy,
domineering, recalcitrant, no longer in good order.
Dryness and drought were in their midst,
and the hot regions were dismal, as if ablaze.
Half of all plants had faltered and fallen,
and the excellent grains were almost done for.
Clouds and thunder suddenly sped to command
as Rainmaster and Windbaron gathered their minions.
They directed the reddish-white sun,
and in swirling masses blue light appeared.
The rain sounds were preceded by wind,
and the scattering drops all streamed westward.
Mountain streams fell into the gray river,
and peals of thunder were still in my ears.
All day long it whirled swirling,
then after two nights it ceased its briskness.
I could make a garden plot by the hall,
I called to my boy to start it out facing me.
Ah lettuce! Common among vegetables,
we went through the process to plant its seeds.
We broke up clods in several beds,
carrying hoes, the deed was easy to complete.
But after twenty days, they did not germinate,
and I, helpless, pitied how they were buried in mire.
You, wild amaranthus, I don’t know where you came from,
your teeming growth is truly right here.
This type of plant must also know autumn,
it too bears the accumulation of cold dew.
Swift-changing it speedily comes from the ground,
lushly spreading, my whole yard is ruined.
Thus I understand how evil overwhelms right,
suppressing it until it perishes.
Even if the worthy and good get a salary,
in keeping the Way, they do not bring themselves bounty.
Crowding and blocking ruins the holy mushroom and orchid,
thorns and medlars flourish in multitudes.
When a garden falls into mugwort and artemesia,
an old gardener will always find this a shame.
Offered on plates of white jade,
spread on figured silks like clouds.
Yes, the amaranthus is useful for nothing
— brazen-faced, it enters the baskets.
posted by Kattullus at 2:47 PM on February 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

I like Du Fu and Cold Mountain also has his moments. My favourite is Wang Wei, but I'm on my phone, so I can't link to my favourites. Will download this with pleasure!
posted by ersatz at 2:58 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tolle lege! Great stuff.
posted by homerica at 3:04 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Any tips about how to download? I can select ePub from the drop down, but then nothing happens, even when I click the "open access" bar. If you hit table of contents, you can download individual parts, but is there a way to get the whole thing I'm missing?
posted by Rinku at 3:52 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

More translations are always good! I know just enough Classical Chinese to despair at almost any English translation. Here's the first line of that poem (種萵苣), with glosses:

Yīnyáng yī cuòluàn, jiāo jiǎn bù fù lǐ.
yin yang one wrong-mess / arrogant unlucky not double-law

That is, each line of the translation above is just five words in Chinese. It's almost impossible to get the lapidary concision of wényán in English. To say nothing of the rhymes.

Which isn't to say there's anything wrong with Owen's translation. It's just really hard to do.
posted by zompist at 4:02 PM on February 4, 2017 [6 favorites]

MetaFilter: You, wild amaranthus, I don’t know where you came from
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:01 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

MetaFilter: Ah, lettuce!
posted by ZaphodB at 6:55 PM on February 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

Now that I have that out of my system, I liked this one a lot

Once I was a student of book and sword,
And twice I encountered sagely lords.
But though I held the east, civil merit went unrewarded,
And though I fought in the west, martial deeds were not honored.
I studied civil matters along with the martial ones,
Studied martial matters along with the civil ones.
And today I’ve already grown old;
Of what is left, all is unworthy of mention.

posted by GenjiandProust at 11:53 AM on February 5, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm having the same problem as Rinku. I've tried it in Firefox as well as Chromium. Anybody had any luck downloading the whole thing, not just individual chapters?
posted by MoTLD at 12:42 PM on February 5, 2017

« Older Trump: Metafilter is now illegal   |   Reading in the dark Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments