In Such Hard Times: The Poetry of Wei Ying-wu

Chinese poet Wei Ying-wu, who lived from 737 to 792, although not well known, is considered one of the great poets of the T'ang Dynasty. In this collection, translator Red Pine brings 160 of Wei's poems into a lyrical yet conversational English. This book is a true gift, as most of Wei's work has never been translated before. In his interesting and helpful introduction, Red Pine writes, "Rather than trying to impress people with his erudition, Wei was more interested in drawing the reader into a landscape or a setting or a mood, especially the moods of seclusion and serenity." Here is a tiny poem that entirely creates a mood:

I love unnoticed plants that grow beside a stream
orioles singing overheard somewhere in the trees
at dusk the current quickens fed by springtime
I pull myself across on an unmanned country

Wei also writes about the disappointments of his government posts in a way that speaks to a contemporary dissatisfaction with bureaucracy and the menial. Each poem is presented bilingually with explanatory notes, which allows the reader deep access to the poet's work and his time.

This book review originally appeared in American Poets.