Reading in Autumn Scenery, by Shen Zhou (c. 1500)

When my family lived in China and I was studying Mandarin in middle school (and when my family was back in the States and I was studying Mandarin solo), I tried to consume media in that language as much as possible – through YouTube podcasts like Mandarin Corner and Slow Chinese, through Mandarin language movies like Coming Home (归来), through music like “The moon represents my heart” (Teresa Teng). However, though I loved, and still love, poetry, I didn’t delve into the Chinese tradition. I hope to do so now.

Into the Middle Kingdom

It was Ezra Pound who really brought Chinese poetry to the Western world. Whether his translations are any good or not has been debated. Some say he was a brilliant poet, but a lousy translator. Regardless,  we do owe it to him for bringing this rich and important poetic tradition to our attention. T.S. Eliot said, “Chinese poetry, as we know it today, is something invented by Ezra Pound.”

There are volumes and volumes of Chinese poetry that has been translated into English, most of it from the Tang and Song Dynasties. Translations range from literal to free. That is a literal translation that stays as true to the original as possible and tries as much as possible to retain the form and content of the original poem. On the other hand, you have free translations that focus on capturing the feeling or mood of a poem with less concern…

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