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Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

by Eliot Weinberger

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There is a great profusion of Chinese poetry in English, and this fact is significant. It suggests that, despite all the barriers, this poetry does communicate, even urgently, to modern Western readers. Both the difficulty and the urgency are elegantly demonstrated in Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei. Weinberger collates and comments on a series of translations of Wang Wei’s famous poem ‘Deer Park,’ allowing the reader to see how even this brief poem—twenty characters, in four lines—contains endless shades of meaning and implication.

—Adam Kirsch, The New Republic

The classic study of translation, finally back in print in an expanded edition

Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

Nonfiction by Eliot Weinberger

The difficulty (and necessity) of translation is concisely described in Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei, a close reading of different translations of a single poem from the Tang Dynasty—from a transliteration to Kenneth Rexroth’s loose interpretation. As Octavio Paz writes in the afterword, “Eliot Weinberger’s commentary on the successive translations of Wang Wei’s little poem illustrates, with succinct clarity, not only the evolution of the art of translation in the modern period but at the same time the changes in poetic sensibility.”

published October 11th, 2016