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Selected Poems of Su Tung-Po [Paperback]

Shih Su , Su Tung-Po , Burton Watson

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Gathers poems about travel, nature, daily life, friendship, and exile by the eleventh-century Chinese poet, who wrote under the name Su Tung-p'o.

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Amazon.com: 5.0 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
27 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A poetry that cleanses and refreshes the sensibility. 19 Jun 2001
By tepi - Published on Amazon.com
SELECTED POEMS OF SU TUNG-P'O : Translated from the Chinese by Burton Watson. 148 pp. Port Townsend, WA : Copper Canyon Press, 1994. ISBN 1-55659-064-4 (pbk.)
Burton Watson has always struck me as an eminently civilized scholar and as a fine translator. Unlike certain others, he wears his scholarship lightly, and doesn't overburden the text with extraneous matter. His many translations from Chinese and Japanese Literature are of uniformly high quality, and are well worth having as they are books one often wants to returns to.
The present book, after a typically brief but interesting and informative introduction which provides all we really need before diving into the poems, gives us translations of 105 of Su Tung-p'o's poems, lightly annotated and beautifully printed on spacious pages.
Su Tung-p'o is one of China's greatest poets, and Watson has outdone himself here. The wrapper includes a highly laudatory appreciation by Gary Snyder, and it's easy to see why. Watson has always been a brilliant translator, and a true artist with words, but in this book he has lifted himself into the ranks of the very best, and has produced translations indistinguishable in quality from those of Snyder himself.
Here, as an example of his marvelous control of tone, thought, feeling, image, rhythm, and sound, are the opening lines of poem 52 (with my obliques added to indicate line breaks) - 'Reading the Poetry of Meng Chiao' :
"Night : reading Meng Chiao's poems, / characters fine as cow's hair. / By the cold lamp, my eyes blur and swim. / Good passages I rarely find - / lone flowers poking up from the mud - / But more hard words than the Odes or Li Sao - / jumbled rocks clogging the clear stream, / making rapids too swift for poling. / My first impression is of eating little fishes. . . . " (p.70).
What we find here is what Burton Watson, in his 'Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry' (1984), has described as "a freshness and immediacy that is often quite miraculous" (p.3).
Not poems about airy notions and exalted abstractions, then, but poems describing events from daily life, poems recording the scenes of a journey, poems expressing grief, joy, boredom, or irritation as here, poems both serious and funny and by someone who is in many ways like ourselves.
Su Tung-p'o's is a wholesome poetry, a poetry that cleanses and refreshes the sensibility, and that translates us from the technoid madness of our own chaotic world to something more human and hence more nourishing. There's real food for the spirit in these poems. Watson has done them full justice. Sensitive readers would be unwise to pass them by.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Continues to speak after 1000 years 29 Jan 2006
By John Pedersen - Published on Amazon.com
The amazing thing about Su Tung-p'o is how modern he feels. Part of this is the translation by Burton Watson, but most of it is a reminder that the human condition has not changed a lot in 1000 years. We still miss our friends, marvel at the beauty of nature, feel the bittersweet loneliness of travel, and live in special moments. An excellent collection.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The poems of Su Tung-P'o 14 July 2007
By Jan Hutchison - Published on Amazon.com
Burton Watson, recognised as one of the finest translators of our time, gives us a selection of poems by an illustrious Chinese poet who lived in the 11th century. Many of the poems refer to Su Tung-P'o's travels as a government official in China. The poems are remarkable for their descriptions of the landscape and for their clear, concrete detail. The poet often has a light, playful touch. The poems reveal Su Tung-P'o as a compassionate man who, even though he suffered hardship, had a cheerful temperament. He asks questions still relevant to us all. There are poems that are warm and tender - others that reveal the influence of Taoism - and others such as "Dipping water from the river and simmering tea" that are artistic and touching. Jan Hutchison.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Superb Selection of Su Tung-p'o 3 April 2007
By Crazy Fox - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fine little volume of poetry by Su Tung-p'o, one of the great poets of Sung Dynasty China, translated with the usual virtuosity by Burton Watson. As usual, too, Watson knows how to be scholarly without being pedantic: his introduction is appropriately brief and to the point, outlining the poet's life and his poetics nicely and so giving readers enough background information without delaying them too much from the wonderful poems that follow. In the same way, enough footnotes are included to clarify and contextualize without overburdening the poems with a morass of prose.

Su has sort of helped Watson out on this, though, because his poems are for the most part very straightforward and accessible, appealing directly to our sensibilities. There is nothing so very convoluted or obscure about them that would require lots of annotation (in contrast, say, to poetry like that of Li He (as seen in Goddesses, Ghosts and Demons (Poetica)). This is not to say that Su's poems are shallow or simplistic. Far from it. They include within themselves depths and depths of feeling and insight by someone who was clearly moved by the world around him, someone who had seen his shares of life's ups and downs, someone who as a layperson practiced Buddhist meditation and fine-tuned his spirit thereby but who was far from adverse from inspiring himself with spirits of a more liquid nature. Indeed, the poems give every impression that this poet would've been a great guy to hang out with, perched somewhere on the ridge of some mountain temple, looking out over the landscape, sharing a few bottles of wine and a good laugh. In a way, the poems themselves travel over the centuries and give the reader just such an experience.
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Translation of Great Chinese Poetry 17 May 2014
By appreciator of art - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
i really liked these poems of Su Tung-P'o. Most are nature poems but a few are written about relationships. These poems are very accessible. The images in them are very sharp and quite lyrical. i think Burton Watson did a great job of translating these poems.
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