David Hinton

David Hinton has been hailed as “simply the best translator of Chinese poetry presently working in English.” In the words of renowned translator Burton Watson, “David Hinton’s translations, while remaining faithful to the meaning and spirit of the original, are consistently imaginative in language and effective as English poetry, and he has shown a remarkable skill in capturing the particular style and voice of the different poets he has tackled.”

An internationally renowned expert on Asian culture and literature, and a preeminent translator of Chinese classics, Hinton is the first twentieth-century translator to render the four masterworks Chauang Tzu, Mencius, The Analects, and Tao Te Ching into English. His clear and exquisite translations of many T’ang dynasty poets, including Li Po, Wang Wei, and Tu Fu, have introduced thousands of non-academic readers to a rich literary tradition. Hinton also translates contemporary writers such as Bei Dao.

His translations have won numerous distinguished awards, including the Academy of American Poets Harold Morton Landon Translation Award, fellowships from the Witter Bynner Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Ingram Merrill Foundation.

Hinton’s most recent translation, Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, is a hefty volume of the earliest and most extensive literary engagement with wilderness in human history. It is also a poetry that feels utterly contemporary. In addition to reading from this and other collections, and talking about the cosmology and the deep ecological worldview embodied in the poems, he’ll also read poems of his own from Fossil Sky.

Hinton makes his home in the mountains of rural Vermont—a landscape that echoes, even while it does not mirror, the landscape of the poems he has translated to great acclaim.

Poetry Center Reading:

Spring 2004

Overnight at Stone-gate Cliffs

by Hsieh Ling-yün (385-433)

I spent the morning digging out orchids,
afraid frost would soon leave them dead,

passed the night among fringes of cloud,
savoring a moon up beyond all this rock,

chortles telling me birds have settled in,
falling leaves giving away fresh winds.

Sounds weave together in the ear, strange
unearthly echoes all crystalline distance,

though there’s no one to share wonders
or the joys in wine’s fragrant clarities.

We’ll never meet again now. I sit beside
a stream, sun drying my hair for nothing.

translated from the Chinese by David Hinton

From MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POETRY OF ANCIENT CHINA (Counterpoint, 2002)

The New Moon

by Tu Fu (712-770)

Thin slice of ascending light, arc tipped
aside all its bellied dark-the new moon

appears and, scarcely risen beyond ancient
frontier passes, edges behind clouds. Silver,

changeless-the Star River spreads across
empty mountains scoured with cold. White

dew dusts the courtyard, chrysanthemum
blossoms clotting there with swollen dark.

translated from the Chinese by David Hinton

From MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POETRY OF ANCIENT CHINA (Counterpoint, 2002)

Lunar Eclipse

by Mei Yao-ch’en (1002-1060)

A maid comes running into the house
talking about things beyond belief,

about the sky all turned to blue glass,
the moon to a crystal of black quartz.

It rose a full ten parts round tonight,
but now it’s just a bare sliver of light.

My wife hurries off to fry roundcakes,
and my son starts banging on mirrors:

it’s awfully shallow thinking, I know,
but that urge to restore is beautiful.

The night deepens. The moon emerges,
then goes on shepherding stars west.

translated from the Chinese by David Hinton

From MOUNTAIN HOME: THE WILDERNESS POETRY OF ANCIENT CHINA (Counterpoint, 2002)