Wang An-shih (1021–1086) was a remarkable figure—not only one of the great Song Dynasty poets but also the most influential and controversial statesman of his time. Wang rose to the position of Prime Minister, where he instituted a controversial system of radically egalitarian social reforms in an effort to improve the lives of China’s peasants. Wang then left politics and retired to a reclusive artistic and spiritual life of self-cultivation.
Wang spent those later years practicing Ch’an (Zen) Buddhism and wandering the mountains around his home, and that Taoist civilization of the rivers-and-mountains realm shapes his poems. His writing has won him wide acclaim across the centuries in China and beyond. Here he enters English for the first time, where his deeply ecological approach is sure to resonate with fans of Gary Snyder, Mary Oliver, and Hayden Carruth.
Dawn lights up the room. I close my book and sleep,
dreaming of Bell Mountain and full of tenderness.
How did you grow old living with failure and disgrace?
Never leave that cascading creek: cold, shimmering.
Wang’s poetry possesses the power to transport the reader to another time and place…
—John Bradley, Rain Taxi
Though some of the 20th century’s finest translator poets have gone before him, David Hinton has managed to find his own way through the rivers and mountains of medieval Chinese verse re-imagining the poems themselves as subtle soundscapes suspended in us. Hinton’s accomplishment is quiet but clear: His translations yield the gentlest pleasure in the mouth when read aloud, echoing that fusion of essence and sense, being and nonbeing that lies at the heart of the understanding from which these poems emerge.
—Judges’ Citation for the PEN Poetry in Translation Award
David Hinton’s music is subtle, modulated, and does not slacken with either contemporary or classic. He has listened to the individual tone of each poet, and his craft is equal to his perception.
—Rosmarie Waldrop, Citation for The Harold Morton Landon Translation Award