ON TRANSLATING: A NOTE ON MY VERSIONS

The originals of the Chinese poems I’ve translated date from the Tang dynasty (618-907), a time generally regarded as the great period of classical Chinese poetry. My versions are just that: versions, and not direct translations.

My process has been to create a direct translation, and then rework the poem to some degree, a degree that varies depending upon the individual poem. In some cases I have removed names and/or places, or Chinese idioms or cultural references that either do not usefully translate or that would be meaningless to a reader without the necessary knowledge of Chinese culture. In some cases I have moved things around quite a lot, and in most cases I have also slipped in a phrase or line of my own. Sometimes titles have been changed. In every case I have attempted to create a poem that is able to stand alone, rendered in the English I use in my everyday life and in my own poetry, but which stays as faithful as I know how to the meaning, tone and mood of the original. I am no Sinologist, and purists may object, but so it goes.

It’s worth noting too, I think, that from living and working in China for twelve years I came to understand that many (if not most) of today’s Chinese readers do not fully understand all the subtle references and allusions in these classical poems, a fact that has given me the confidence to leave some things out. My ultimate aim has been to make poems that give pleasure and food for thought. One can only try.

A selection of these translations was published by Shoestring Press in 2018. Details of that book can be found here.

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