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170 Chinese Quatrains: Classical Chinese poetry of the Song dynasty (960-1279)

By Philip Watson

Translated from the Chinese, with Introduction and Commentary by Philip Watson.

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The Chinese quatrain has a range which belies its brevity. These deft translations of ninety Song dynasty poets range from the moving and serious to the witty or trivial, their themes as diverse as nature, politics, religion, travel or the domestic. The poems, with Chinese text and light but lucid commentaries, show us a world remote yet fresh and recognisable; Watson’s introduction telling us all we need to know about this shortest of poetic genres so different from the Japanese haiku. But it’s the translation themselves, coming a century after Arthur Waley illuminate China’s great literary tradition for English readers, that bring us probably as close to the originals as dissimilar cultures and languages will permit. Watson’s versions give a real sense of the form, feel and poetry of the Chinese. This is a compelling picture of society then, and helps us to an understanding of China’s present.


Philip Watson has previously published Grand Canal, Great River, the travel journal of a twelfth-century Chinese poet, and other translations of Chinese poetry and prose.


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