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The Selected Poems of Wang Wei


Wang Wei (701-761 C.E.) is often spoken of, with his contemporaries Li Po and Tu Fu, as one of the three greatest poets in China’s 3000-year poetic tradition. Of the three, Wang was the consummate master of the short imagistic landscape poem that came to typify classical Chinese poetry. He developed a landscape poetry of resounding tranquility wherein deep understanding goes far beyond the words on the page, a poetics that can be traced to his assiduous practice of Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism. But in spite of this philosophical depth, Wang is not a difficult poet. Indeed, he may be the most immediately appealing of China’s great poets, and in Hinton’s masterful translations he sounds utterly contemporary. Many of his best poems are incredibly concise, composed of only twenty words, and they often turn on the tiniest of images: a bird’s cry, a splinter of light on moss, an egret’s wingbeat. Such imagistic clarity is related to the fact that Wang was also one of China’s greatest landscape painters (see cover illustration). This is a breathtaking poetry, one that renders the ten thousand things of this world in such a way that they empty the self as they shimmer with the clarity of their own self-sufficient identity.


                       — from the book jacket


PEN Translation Prize



New Directions

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