Chinese Poetic Writing
by François Cheng, translated by Jerome P. Seaton and Donald A. Riggs
Revised and Updated Edition
Since its first publication in French in 1977, Chinese Poetic Writing has been considered by many to be the most innovative study of Chinese poetry ever written, as well as a profound and remarkable meditation on the nature of poetry itself. As the American poet Gustaf Sobin wrote, two years after the book’s appearance, “In France it is already considered a model of interdisciplinary research, a source book, and a ‘star’ in the very space it initially explored, traced, and elaborated.”
Cheng illustrates his text with an annotated anthology of 135 poems he has selected from the Tang dynasty, presented bilingually, and with lively translations by Jerome P. Seaton. It serves as a book within the book, and an excellent introduction to the golden age of Tu Fu, Li Po, Wang Wei, and company.
The 1982 translation, long out of print, was based on the first French edition. Since then, Cheng has greatly expanded the book. This is the first English-language edition of the expanded version, with the original translators returning to accommodate the many new additions and revise their earlier work.
Cheng’s book, L’ecriture poetique chinoise, soon became a classic in the already extensive corpus of French translations of Chinese poetry, and remains a staple of every French sinologist’s library...Cheng’s work complemented and enhanced a body of French translations...already impressive for both its quantity and diversity.
Cheng, writing in 1977, produces a complex and detailed approach to Chinese writing practices that complicates both pictographic and phonological assumptions.
My...reaction was astonishment that anyone could accomplish the task [of translation] with such sensitivity and formal tact. Every line, detail and compositional device in the poems that Cheng studies is given its appropriate emphasis and placement, so that not only the individual meaning but the combined significance emerges with clarity and refreshing illumination. This is that rare scholarly work that gives pleasure as well as understanding...a work that represents a definite advance in the study of Chinese poetry.
—John Kwan-Terry, World Literature Today