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Chinese Rhyme-Prose

Chinese Rhyme-Prose

preface by Lucas Klein, translated from the Chinese by Burton Watson

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Selected as one of the sixty-five masterpieces for the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works

The fu, or rhyme-prose, is a major poetic form in Chinese literature, most popular between the 2nd century b.c. and 6th century a.d. Unlike what is usually considered Chinese poetry, it is a hybrid of prose and rhymed verse, more expansive than the condensed lyrics, verging on what might be called Whitmanesque. The thirteen long poems included here are descriptions of and meditations on such subjects as mountains and abandoned cities, the sea and the wind, owls and goddesses, partings and the idle life.

Burton Watson is universally considered the foremost English-language translator of classical Chinese and Japanese literature for the past five decades. In 2015, Watson was selected as the recipient of the 2015 PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation, one of PEN's most prestigious lifetime achievement awards. Gary Snyder calls him a “great and graceful scholar,” and Robert Aitken has written that “Burton Watson is a superb translator because he knows what literature is.” Here his seemingly effortless translations are accompanied by a comprehensive introduction to the development and characteristics of the fu form, as well as excerpts from contemporary commentary on the genre. A path-breaking study of pre-modern Chinese literature and an essential volume for poetry readers, the book has been out of print for decades. For this edition, Lucas Klein has provided a preface that considers both the fu form and Watson’s extraordinary work as a whole.Lucas Klein, translated from the Chinese by Burton Watson

Additional Book Information

Series: Calligrams
ISBN: 9789629965631
Pages: 172
Publication Date:


Burton Watson is the inventor of classical East Asian poetry for our time....Not that Watson is only a translator of poetry: he has made Bronze Age Chinese philosophy, medieval Japanese sagas, sūtras originating in Sanskrit, and modern Japanese scholarship on Chinese literary history as accessible to readers of English as Herodotus, Livy, and Johnson had been for generations.
—PEN America Translation Committee citation, on the occasion of Burton Watson winning the 2015 PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation

To translate the fu into English is by no means an easy task, and Professor Watson should be congratulated on his commendable achievement in handling these difficult and recondite materials....The translations as a whole are both accurate and enjoyably readable.
Journal of Asian Studies

Burton Watson's lifelong dedication to Chinese literature [is] a gift to us all.
—Gary Snyder

His erudition, his deep familiarity with and his evident love of the source, and the delicacy and precision of his own English have given us an invaluable body of renderings from the vast tradition of Chinese poetry.
—W.S. Merwin

Burton Watson is a superb translator because he knows what literature is.
—Robert Aitken

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