Library Finds: Translations from the Chinese

Translations from the Chinese by Arthur Waley

When a poet friend of mine died last year, his widow needed to deal with his collection of books. She came across one volume she thought I might like to have. As sad as the circumstances were, I was happy to swing by her home to pick up the book and to keep it as a reminder of a dedicated writer.

The book, published in 1941 by Alfred A. Knopf (originally published in 1919), is Translations from the Chinese by Arthur Waley, with illustrations by Cyrus Leroy Baldridge. The book comes in a handsome protective sleeve with the title on the spine.

In addition to over 100 poems by Po Chu-I, now more often written as Bai Juyi (白居易), a Ninth Century Tang Dynasty poet, the volume also contains translations of poems by many of the well-known classical poets, including Wang Wei, Wu-ti, Li Po and others. There are about 300 poems in the book.

Here is “The Red Cockatoo” by Bai Jui:

Sent as a present from Annam—
A red cockatoo.
Coloured like the peach-tree blossom,
Speaking with the speech of men.
And they did to it what is always done
To the learned and eloquent.
They took a cage with stout bars
And shut it up inside.

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