David Hinton on Translating Classical Chinese Poetry

By Bill Marx

Translator and poet David Hinton in the midst of nature.

On this week’s World Books podcast I talk to David Hinton, an award-winning translator of classical Chinese poetry and philosophy. His latest book, which Hinton translated and edited, is “Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology” from Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. The wonderfully rich volume features nearly 500 poems from the first three millennia of verse in China.

Hinton also provides a useful historical context for his selections – he has written an introduction to each poet. Given Hinton’s interest in Chinese philosophy, it should come as no surprise that his approach as a translator and editor reflects his admiration for the poetry’s exacting blend of the intellectual and the sensual.

Our conversation ranges over a number of issues raised by the volume, from what guided Hinton’s choice of poets (he has chosen to focus on a relatively small number), to in what ways he thinks the volume should change our perceptions of Classical Chinese poetry. His contention is that the verse, which has already influenced modern poetry, still has much to offer us today. For those who want to see the dazzling image of the Su Hui poem that Hinton says could not be included in the book should go to the FSG web page. Those who want to know more about Hinton and his writings should go here.


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  2. Jack Dwyer on December 7, 2008 at 11:34 am

    There’s a good online review of Hinton’s new Chinese translations at On the Seawall, Ron Slate’s website, http://www.ronslate.com.

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