The Farrar, Straus and Giroux Poetry Blog

April 25, 2008

David Hinton On "The Native Cosmology Of Classical Chinese Poetry"

Calligraphy042 David Hinton is both a poet and a translator. He is the editor and translator of FSG's upcoming collection of classical Chinese poetry. His comments on translation--particularly on translating ancient Chinese verse--were incredibly enlightening to me. I've never considered that translation can be this sort of a vessel. Check out what Hinton had to say:

"Every poetry gets its deep form from its native cosmology. The native cosmology of classical Chinese poetry is a system we might now describe as deep ecology, in which humans are an organic part of the earth—a very contemporary insight, and altogether different from the Judeo-Christian worldview that has shaped Western poetry until very recent times, a worldview in which we are spirits visiting this merely material earth almost like aliens. The ecological implications of these two worldviews are obvious, and I’ve found that translating classical Chinese poetry is a way for me to make contemporary poetry that operates outside of the Western cosmological or mythological system, even so far as to register a very different sense of what the self is."

How interesting is that? The idea that one can find a truer self through the words of the past than the current climes of today. I'm going to hazard a guess here--one that might be way off--but it sounds like Hinton's experience of translating poetry is far different than Marilyn Hacker's experience, which she calls "the angel-wrestling with language."

Are there any translators out there who would care to offer their thoughts? Are these two sides of a coin, or are they vastly different approaches?




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Tony Yeung

Just picked up your book "Classical Chinese Poetry" today. I quickly flipped through it and love it. I found, however, an error on page 113:
".... a blunder lasting thirteen years." Should be "thirty" years as per original text.

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