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The Poetry of Zen

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  • Posted May 10, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    A Walk Down Memory Lane

    The Poetry of Zen is a neat, extremely compact selection of poetry from China and Japan in the Zen tradition. Readers of Asian poetry in translation will be dismayed, however, to find the use of the Wade-Giles Romanization system in the Chinese translations. Like many people who began reading Chinese poetry in the '60s, I grew up reading translations in this older style and bought The Poetry of Zen hoping to segue to some contemporary translations in the Pin-Yin form.
    If reverting to the older Wade-Giles system is not a problem for readers, the book does offer a representative selection of poems over the course of approximately 150 pages (there are additional pages of notes). The selection is well balanced, playing classically beautiful couplets (Meng Hao-Jan's "A Night on the River") against irreverent or off-color verses (Ikkyu's "My Hand is Lady Mori's Hand.") The poems are short, and not too heavy on haiku. The number of explanatory notes is just right, and makes for pleasant, but optional, reading.
    Readers will have to decide for themselves how these translations fare when compared with earlier versions or even with contemporary translations, such as those by the inimitable Red Pine. Li Po (now known as Li Bai), one of the greatest of world poets, is represented in three short poems, including one of the most famous, "Questions Answered," which perhaps is a little flat compared with some earlier translations.
    Still, this is an attractive book to own, if not comparable to the classic translations of Waley, Watson, et. al. It is an appropriate gift book, perhaps for a lover or close friend with a sense of humor. Certainly, it makes a neat introduction to the shorter forms of Asian poetry. But for long-time readers of Zen verse in translation, the use of Wade-Giles makes this seem like a walk down memory lane. How unlike Zen spirit, always bright and sly and slightly subversive!

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    Posted May 15, 2010

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    Posted July 29, 2009

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