NEA Literature Fellowships

David Hinton

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(2001 - Poetry)

David Hinton

Climbing Green-Cliff Mountain in Yung-chia
Hsieh Ling-yün (385-443 C.E.)
translated by David Hinton

Taking a little food, a light walking-stick,
I wander up to my home in quiet mystery,

the path along streams winding far away
onto ridgetops, no end to this wonder at

slow waters silent in their frozen beauty
and bamboo glistening at heart with frost,

cascades scattering a confusion of spray
and broad forests crowding distant cliffs.

Thinking it's moonrise I see in the west
and sunset I'm watching blaze in the east,

I hike on until dark, then linger out night
sheltered away in deep expanses of shadow.

Immune to high importance: that's renown.
Walk humbly and it's all promise in beauty,

for in quiet mystery the way runs smooth,
ascending remote heights beyond compare.

Utter tranquillity, the distinction between
yes this and no that lost, I embrace primal

unity, thought and silence woven together,
that deep healing where we venture forth.

Drinking Wine
Tao Ch'ien (365-427 C.E.)
translated by David Hinton

I live here in a village house without
all that racket horses and carts stir up,

and you wonder how that could ever be.
Wherever the mind dwells apart is itself

a distant place. Picking chrysanthemums
at my east fence, I see South Mountain

far off: air lovely at dusk, birds in flight
returning home. All this means something,

something absolute: whenever I start
to explain it, I forget words altogether.

David Hinton studied Chinese at Cornell and in Taiwan. His translations of ancient Chinese poetry have earned wide acclaim for creating compelling English poems that convey the actual texture and density of the originals. Hinton's books include translations of the ancient poets Tu Fu, Li Po, T'ao Ch'ien, Meng Chiao, Po Chü-i, and Hsieh Ling-yün, as well as the contemporary poet Bei Dao. Also a distinguished translator of ancient Chinese philosophy, he is the first twentieth-century translator to render the four central masterworks of Chinese thought: Chuang Tzu, Mencius, The Analects, and Tao Te Ching.

Hinton has held fellowships from NEA and NEH, as well as a number of private foundations, such as Witter Bynner and Ingram Merrill. In 1997 his work was awarded the Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets. In addition to Taiwan, Hinton has spent several years in France. He currently lives in Vermont as an independent scholar and writer.

Translator's Statement

Ancient Chinese poetry has been a major part of modern American poetry, providing an ancient tradition much more useful to the avant-garde than the traditions of the West, for they are rooted in a completely discredited worldview. I approach the ancients from this perspective, following Pound, Rexroth and Snyder. My intent is to translate the major poets of ancient China, and thereby create a new tradition of contemporary American poetry, a tradition with a coherent "voice" within which the distinct voices of individual poets are clear and consistent.