The Selected Poems of Tu Fu: Expanded & Newly Translated by David Hinton
Trade paperback format.
Translated from the Classical Chinese by David Hinton. A new and substantially expanded version of Hinton’s landmark translation of Tu Fu, published on the thirtieth anniversary of that original edition.
Tu Fu (712–770 C.E.) has for a millennium been widely considered the greatest poet in the Chinese tradition, and Hinton’s original translation played a key role in developing that reputation in America. Most of Tu Fu’s best poems were written in the last decade of his life, as an impoverished refugee fleeing the devastation of civil war. In the midst of these challenges, his always personal poems manage to combine a remarkable range of possibilities: elegant simplicity and great complexity, everyday life and grand historical drama, private philosophical depth and social engagement in a world consumed by war. Through it all, his is a wisdom that can only be called elemental, and his poems sound remarkably contemporary:
Leaving the City
It’s bone-bitter cold, and late, and falling
frost traces my gaze all bottomless skies.
Smoke trails out over distant salt mines.
Snow-covered peaks slant shadows east.
Armies haunt my homeland still, and war
drums throb in this far-off place. A guest
overnight here in this river city, I return
again to shrieking crows, my old friends.
Hinton’s translation of The Late Poems of Wang An-shih is one of my favorite books of poetry, period, so when I saw that New Directions would be releasing a new edition of Hinton’s translations of Tu Fu, I knew I wanted to read it. Tu Fu’s poems arrive in soft, elemental couplets, serene and powerful. Hinton’s language register is fluid, simple, vivid, and elegant. I also find his language to be remarkably timeless and precise. In “Plum Rains,” “All day long, dragons delight: swells coil/and surge into banks, then startle back out”—so visceral and reptilian are these sensations that I imagine sharing the same Autumn rainy sky with Tu Fu. I texted the husband the following couplet from the poem “Out in the Boat,” to urge him to take me canoeing before it gets too cold: “Today, my wife and I climb into a little river-boat. Drifting,/skies clear, we watch our kids play in such crystalline water.” In the images of this vivid verse, I see Tu Fu’s life—as a refugee, as a Buddhist, as a devoted family member.—Gina Balibrera Amyx, Literati Bookstore