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LAUGHING LOST IN THE MOUNTAINS: POEMS OF WANG WEI
Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei. Translations by Tony Barnstone, Willis Barnstone, and Xu Haixin. Critical introduction by Willis Barnstone and Tony Barnstone. Published by University Press of New England in 1991.
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Translations by Willis Barnstone, Tony Barnstone and Xu Haixin.

Wang Wei ranks with Li Po and Tu Fu and Po Chu-i --among the very greatest poets of T'ang dynasty China. He is a master of 'impersonality,' often completely disappearing into his poems of nature. His poetry is a record of a long struggle to be free of desire, free even of the desire to be free. This translation captures the sense of uncluttered aloneness--completeness--found in the original, the deceptive apparent ease of Wang's poems as a whole. Laughing Lost in the Mountains is refreshing, the best Wang Wei available in English.
--Sam Hamill


The largest selection from the work of Wang Wei (circa 699-761), one of the finest poets in China's long literary history, is offered here in accessible and definitive translations. Wang Wei is among the three most important Chinese poets (with Li Po and Tu Fu) and wrote during the Tang Dynasty, the pinnacle of Chinese literary achievement. Though widely known to Western readers, his work has never before been presented in such a comprehensive volume in English. The 171 poems here may be read with pleasure by the general reader and scholar alike, for the distinguished translators succeed in making the pieces work poetically in modern English while still retaining their ecstasy of stillness and quiet lucidity. A critical introduction provides helpful background and compares Wang Wei to mystical poets in other cultures; extensive endnotes permit deeper appreciation of the works. Wang Wei was a talented musician, painter, and poet who served in various official posts throughout his life, at times suffering banishment and even imprisonment as he came in or out of favor. During frequent retreats to his country estate on the Wang River, he sought the "reality of disengagement and the study of nonbeing and illumination," write the Barnstones. A devout Buddhist, he wrote "poems of eremitic seclusion" in which the empty mountain, rain, clouds, and other aspects of nature form a literary landscape painting rich with meaning. The poet is "invisibly present and intensely personal" in poems on grief, friendship, loneliness, reverie, exile, and aging. Without being theological, he evokes key notions of Buddhism and Taoism in these exquisitely rendered translations that shimmer with beauty and quietude.

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