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Let me state at the outset that I know no Chinese. Myduty in Mrs. Ayscough's and my joint collaboration hasbeen to turn her literal translations into poems as near tothe spirit of the originals as it was in my power to do. Ithas been a long and arduous task, but one which has amplyrepaid every hour spent upon it. To be suddenly introducedto a new and magnificent literature, not throughthe medium of the usual more or less accurate translation,but directly, as one might burrow it out for one's self withthe aid of a dictionary, is an exciting and inspiring thing.The method we adopted made this possible, as I shallattempt to show. The study of Chinese is so difficult thatit is a life-work in itself, so is the study of poetry. A sinologuehas no time to learn how to write poetry; a poet hasno time to learn how to read Chinese. Since neither of uspretended to any knowledge of the other's craft, ourassociation has been a continually augmenting pleasure.

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In the Autumn of 1917, Mrs. Ayscough arrived in Americaon one of her periodic visits to this country. Shebrought with her a large collection of Chinese paintings forexhibition, and among these paintings were a number of[vii]examples of the "Written Pictures." Of these, she hadmade some rough translations which she intended to use toillustrate her lectures. She brought them to me with arequest that I put them into poetic shape. I was fascinatedby the poems, and, as we talked them over, we realized thathere was a field in which we should like to work. When shereturned to China, it was agreed that we should make avolume of translations from the classic Chinese writers.Such translations were in the line of her usual work, and Iwas anxious to read the Chinese poets as nearly in theoriginal as it was possible for me to do. At first, we hardlyconsidered publication. Mrs. Ayscough lives in Shanghaiand I in Boston, and the war-time mails were anythingbut expeditious, but an enthusiastic publisher kept constantlybefore us our ultimate, if remote, goal. Four yearshave passed, and after many unavoidable delays the bookis finished. We have not done it all by correspondence.Mrs. Ayscough has come back to America several timesduring its preparation; but, whether together or apart,the plan on which we have worked has always been thesame.

It has been necessary, of course, to acquire some knowledgeof the laws of Chinese versification. But, equally ofcourse, these rules could only serve to bring me into closerrelations with the poems and the technical limits of thevarious forms. It was totally impossible to follow eitherthe rhythms or the rhyme-schemes of the originals. All[ix]that could be done was to let the English words fall intotheir natural rhythm and not attempt to handicap theexact word by introducing rhyme at all. This is the methodI followed in my translations of French poems in my book,"Six French Poets." I hold that it is more important toreproduce the perfume of a poem than its metrical form,and no translation can possibly reproduce both.

Our plan of procedure was as follows: Mrs. Ayscoughwould first write out the poem in Chinese. Not in theChinese characters, of course, but in transliteration. Oppositeevery word she put the various meanings of it whichaccorded with its place in the text, since I could not use aChinese dictionary. She also gave the analyses of whatevercharacters seemed to her to require it. The lines were carefullyindicated, and to these lines I have, as a rule, strictlyadhered; the lines of the translations usually corresponding,therefore, with the lines of the originals. In the few poemsin which the ordering of the lines has been changed, this hasbeen done solely in the interest of cadence.

I had, in fact, four different means of approach to a poem.The Chinese text, for rhyme-scheme and rhythm; the dictionarymeanings of the words; the analyses of characters;and, for the fourth, a careful paraphrase by Mrs. Ayscough,to which she added copious notes to acquaint me with allthe allusions, historical, mythological, geographical, andtechnical, that she deemed it necessary for me to know.[x]Having done what I could with these materials, I sent theresult to her, when she and her Chinese teacher carefullycompared it with the original, and it was returned to me,either passed or commented upon, as the case might be.Some poems crossed continent and ocean many times intheir course toward completion; others, more fortunate,satisfied at once. On Mrs. Ayscough's return to Americathis year, all the poems were submitted to a farther meticulousscrutiny, and I can only say that they are as near theoriginals as we could make them, and I hope they may giveone quarter of the pleasure to our readers that they have tous in preparing them.

To the confusion of the foreigner, however, Chinese poetryis so made up of suggestion and allusion that, withouta knowledge of the backgrounds (I use the plural advisedly)from which it sprang, much of its meaning and not a littleof its beauty is necessarily lost. Mr. Arthur Waley, in thepreface to his "A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems,"says: "Classical allusion, always the vice of Chinese poetry,finally destroyed it altogether." Granting the unhappytruth of this statement, the poetry of China is neverthelessso human and appealing as to speak with great force even[xx]to us who live under such totally different conditions; itseems worth while, therefore, to acquire a minimum ofknowledge in regard to it and so increase the enjoyment tobe derived from it. In the present collection, I have purposelyincluded only those poems in which this nationalvice is less in evidence; and this was not a difficult task.There is such an enormous body of Chinese poetry that thedifficulty has been, not what to take, but what to leave out.I have been guided somewhat by existing translations, notwishing to duplicate what has already been adequatelydone, when so much still remains untouched. Not that allthese poems appear in English for the first time, but manyof them do; and, except for Mr. Waley's admirable work,English renderings have usually failed to convey the flavourof the originals.

Chinese scholars rank their principal poets in the followingorder: Tu Fu, Li T'ai-po, and Po Chü-i. Realizing that,naturally, in any literature, it is the great poets whichanother nation wishes to read, I have purposely keptchiefly to them, and among them to Li T'ai-po, since hispoems are of a universal lyricism. Also, Mr. Waley hasdevoted his energies largely to Po Chü-i. Tu Fu is verydifficult to translate, and probably for that reason his workis seldom given in English collections of Chinese poems.Some of his simpler poems are included here, however. Asmall section of the book is devoted to what the Chinese[xxi]call "written-on-the-wall-pictures." I shall come back tothese later.

The great stumbling-block which confronts the translatorat the outset is that the words he would naturally useoften bring before the mind of the Occidental reader anentirely different scene to that actually described by theOriental poet. The topography, the architecture, thefauna and flora, to say nothing of the social customs, areall alien to such a reader's own surroundings and cannoteasily be visualized by him. Let me illustrate with a modernpoem, for it is a curious fact that there has latelysprung up in America and England a type of poetry whichis so closely allied to the Chinese in method and intentionas to be very striking. This is the more remarkable since,at the time of its first appearance, there were practically notranslations of Chinese poems which gave, except in a remotedegree, the feeling of the originals. So exact, in fact,is this attitude toward the art of poetry among the particulargroup of poets to whom I have reference and theChinese masters, that I have an almost perfect illustrationof the complications of rendering which a translator runsup against by imagining this little poem of Miss Lowell'sbeing suddenly presented to a Chinese scholar in his grasshut among the Seven Peaks:

As travel has always been very popular, every conceivableform of water-borne craft has sprung up, and these thepoets constantly used as they went from the capital to takeup their official posts, or from the house of one patron toanother, the ancient custom being for the rich to entertainand support men of letters with whom they "drank wineand recited verses," the pastime most dear to their hearts.The innumerable poems of farewell found among the worksof all Chinese poets were usually written as parting giftsfrom the authors to their hosts.

This period, and those immediately preceding it, formthe poetic background of China. The ancient States, constantlyreferred to in the poems, do not correspond to themodern provinces. In order, therefore, to make their geographicalpositions clear, a map has been appended to thisvolume in which the modern names of the provinces andcities are printed in black ink and the ancient names in red.As these States did not all exist at the same moment, it isimpossible to define their exact boundaries, but howstrongly they were impressed upon the popular mind canbe seen by the fact that, although they were merged into[xxxvii]the Chinese Empire during the reign of Shih Huang Ti,literature continued to speak of them by their old namesand, even to-day, writers often refer to them as though theywere still separate entities. There were many States, butonly those are given in the map which are alluded to in thepoems published in this book. The names of a few of theold cities are also given, such as Chin Ling, the "GoldenMound" or "Sepulchre," and Ch'ang An, "EternalPeace," for so many centuries the capital. Its present nameis Hsi An-fu, and it was here that the Manchu Court tookrefuge during the Boxer madness of 1900.

Later history need not concern us here, since most of thepoems in this book were written during the T'ang period.Though these poems deal largely with what I have calledthe historical background, they deal still more largely withthe social background and it is, above all, this social backgroundwhich must be understood.


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