Three Chinese Poets

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First edition
(publ. Penguin/Viking) ThreeChinesePoets.JPG
First edition
(publ. Penguin/Viking)

Three Chinese Poets is a book of poetry by the titular poets Wang Wei, Li Bai and Du Fu translated into English by Vikram Seth. The Three Poets were contemporaries and are considered to be amongst the greatest Chinese poets by many later scholars. The three have been described as a Buddhist recluse, a Taoist immortal and a Confucian sage respectively. Though this trichotomy has been criticised as simplistic and artificial, it can act as a guiding approximation. They lived in the Tang Dynasty and the political strife at that time affected all of their lives very much and this impact is evident in the poetry of all three.

Wang Wei (Tang dynasty) Chinese poet, musician, painter, and statesman

Wang Wei was a Chinese poet, musician, painter, and politician during the Tang dynasty. He was one of the most famous men of arts and letters of his time. Many of his poems are preserved, and twenty-nine were included in the highly influential 18th-century anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems.

Li Bai Chinese poet

Li Bai (701–762), also known as Li Bo, courtesy name Taibai, was a Chinese poet acclaimed from his own day to the present as a genius and a romantic figure who took traditional poetic forms to new heights. He and his friend Du Fu (712–770) were the two most prominent figures in the flourishing of Chinese poetry in the Tang dynasty, which is often called the "Golden Age of Chinese Poetry". The expression "Three Wonders" denote Li Bai's poetry, Pei Min's swordplay, and Zhang Xu's calligraphy.

Du Fu Chinese poet

Du Fu was a prominent Chinese poet of the Tang dynasty. Along with Li Bai, he is frequently called the greatest of the Chinese poets. His greatest ambition was to serve his country as a successful civil servant, but he proved unable to make the necessary accommodations. His life, like the whole country, was devastated by the An Lushan Rebellion of 755, and his last 15 years were a time of almost constant unrest.

It is not clear whether Wang Wei and Li Bai ever met, but they had a mutual friend in Meng Haoran. Li Bai and Du Fu did meet and in fact Du Fu greatly admired Li Bai.

Meng Haoran poet from the Tang Dynasty

Meng Haoran was a major Tang dynasty poet, and a somewhat older contemporary of Wang Wei, Li Bai and Du Fu. Despite his brief pursuit of an official career, Meng Haoran mainly lived in and wrote about the area in which he was born and raised, in what is now Hubei province, China. Meng Haoran was a major influence on other contemporary and subsequent poets of the High Tang era because of his focus on nature as a main topic for poetry. Meng Haoran was also prominently featured in the Qing dynasty poetry anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems, having the fifth largest number of his poems included, for a total of fifteen, exceeded only by Du Fu, Li Bai, Wang Wei, and Li Shangyin. These poems of Meng Haoran were available in the English translations by Witter Bynner and Kiang Kanghu, by 1920, with the publication of The Jade Mountain. The Three Hundred Tang Poems also has two poems by Li Bai addressed to Meng Haoran, one in his praise and one written in farewell on the occasion of their parting company. Meng Haoran was also influential to Japanese poetry.

In the introduction of Three Chinese Poets, Seth talks about the influence of translations on his life and work; that while sometimes he has been so moved by a translation that he learnt another language to read the original, he doubts that he would ever be able to do this as much as he wished to. However, he says that Charles Johnston's translation of Aleksandr Pushkin's Eugene Onegin, Richard Wilbur's translation of Molière's Tartuffe and Robert Fitzgerald's translation of the Iliad have helped him enter worlds without which would have been out of his reach. He states that he avoided the style and philosophy of the famous translations by Ezra Pound which was to read and deeply understand a poem then to create an approximate translation inspired by the original - the judge of the merit being whether the new poem is a good poem in the new language. Instead he wanted to follow the example of the translators mentioned above to retain a greater fidelity and to try to preserve structure such as rhyme. He stresses that while he has tried not to lose meaning, he has often failed, explaining that because each word is much more important in poetry, the problem of losing associations of words is much greater than when translating prose. He also makes note that any satisfaction derived from the tonality of the poems is necessarily lost because of the non-tonality of English.

Sir Charles Hepburn Johnston was a senior British diplomat and translator of Russian poetry.

<i>Eugene Onegin</i> novel in verse by Alexander Pushkin

Eugene Onegin is a novel in verse written by Alexander Pushkin. Onegin is considered a classic of Russian literature, and its eponymous protagonist has served as the model for a number of Russian literary heroes. It was published in serial form between 1825 and 1832. The first complete edition was published in 1833, and the currently accepted version is based on the 1837 publication.

Richard Wilbur American poet

Richard Purdy Wilbur was an American poet and literary translator. One of the foremost poets of his generation, Wilbur's work, composed primarily in traditional forms, was marked by its wit, charm, and gentlemanly elegance. In 1987 he was appointed the second Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and he received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry twice, in 1957 and again in 1989.


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