I have been reading Chinese and loving Chinese poetry for about 25 years, over half my life now. I have also read many books of translations, for better and worse, but nothing in English so alive, so understanding and wide as this. I have an old experience of reading Chinese poems and thinking - this poem is so amazing, o if I could tell them... & had long given up the thought that I would ever see a group of translations I could so enthusiastically share with my non-Chinese speaking friends. Now I am buying this book for that purpose. When you sit long enough with a good thought you never know what exactly will happen. This is how I feel about this book.
Regarding the book itself, it is miraculous to have such an English translation of so many poems at once, and to have the poems so intelligently selected and ordered to illustrate the changes in style and thought over time. It is completely delicious. It is like innocently visiting those Chinese places, those rivers, mountains and temples, in an English language time machine. I feel this especially with the Chan era poems of the Tang and Sung, with their emphasis on rendering immediate experience. In the context of their immediacy, they arrive as timeless, and so translate amazingly well in the hands of such a gifted translator.
Technically, Hinton does a good job of dealing with the impossible problem, of rendering the natural multivalence of Chinese imagery and syntax while maintaining the life-stream of fluency and clarity these poems have. I agree with the previous reviewer Maynard here, and like his adjectives for this translation: "knotty, thoughtful, muscular and torsive...musical." Maynard talks of the earlier Pound translations as "pellucid and minimalist." This is also the case. In Hinton we have a bridge to a better understanding of Chan/Zen than Pound had.
The empty Zen garden we imagine from photos, the one that looks like a perfect celestial parking lot, is at best a tool for people practicing to learn what Wu-emptiness means. It is not the result of Zen. The "ten-thousand things" - they are what is empty, & what need to be realized as empty. The better Chinese Chan poets really knew this, & Hinton seems to understand it, which is why his non-minimalist style is more accurate, meaningful, and to me more beautiful. He chooses poems which say as much and renders them vividly.
I think Hinton may confuse Chan emptiness somewhat with the Taoist wash-away realization of the great mystery of the come-and-go, but I think the Chinese also may have had this confusion, so maybe Hinton is just expertly representing that, or maybe it is my problem. It is a point that could be discussed. Hinton is like the Chinese poet masters in that he is a scholar, realizer and musician too. We see him as a scholar in his introductions to the periods the poems where written in, and in the useful references he provides. As a poet we judge him as the poems go. We can each of us decide what percentage, balance or mix of these elements makes the best poet or the best translator, but I don't know who, who takes these things to heart, can quibble with the value of this effort.
Translations can never be the poems themselves, but with a heroic effort the poems will try to leap through, and I think this is that. Like I said, you never know what will happen. I suggest everyone who is interested should get this book, keep it and read it. Thank you to the translator for your attention, inspiration and labor. It is very kind to us.