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THE POEMS OF MAO TSE-TUNG: A NEW TRANSLATION BY WILLIS BARNSTONE
The Poems of Mao Tse-tung: A new translation by Willis Barnstone. Translations by Willis Barnstone. Published by Bantam Books in 1972.

 

 

Translation, Introduction and Notes by Willis Barnstone. In Collaboration with Ko Ching-Po. Originally published in hardback by Harper & Row Publishers.

Mao Tse-tung was born in Hunan Province in 1893, the son of an impoverished and temperamental peasant. Fifty-six years later, in October of 1949, he proclaimed from a balcony of the Gate of Heavenly Peace in Peking the founding of the People's Republic of China.

Mao is an enigmatic figure to the West- a peasant revolutionary who united a quarter of mankind. That he is also a poet of extraordinary grace and eloquent simplicity is totally unexpected. The poems of this collection (from the 1963 Peking edition) are not the product of an elder statesman's leisure; as Willis Barnstone writes in his introduction, "Mao has written poems obsessively, during years of wandering and living in caves, writing all night, evening after evening, and then throwing away his 'scribbles.'" The poems themselves, conservative in terms of Chinese versification, are expressions of the decades of struggle, of the terrible loss of his first wife, of the hope for a new China, the organization of the Red Army, the 6,000-mile Long March, the ultimate victory over the Nationalist forces. Aside from their obvious political interest, Mao's poems are simply very beautiful in their own right.

Mao, like few good poets in our century, seems immediately accessible, indeed an easy poet--if deceptively so. In this apparent simplicity, he has, like Robert Frost, that rare ability to speak to us on several levels at once. In the soundless calligraphy of Chinese ideograms, lucidly arranged, he records his vision of nature and man. Old and new China come together in his fresh poems in the traditional style.

 

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