Thursday, June 7, 2012

Review: Bright Moon, White Clouds, by Li Po & J.P. Seaton

What a truly beautiful little book this is. Small enough to fit in a generous pocket, but so full of wonderful poetry that it be a companion on any long journey and not be exhausted of inspiration to its reader. J. P. Seaton has translated many excellent works from Chinese previously, including Cold Mountain Poems, The Poetry of Zen, and The Shambhala Anthology of Chinese Chinese Poetry, and here is another gem from his expertise. As Professor Emeritus of Chinese at the University of North Carolina he has decades of experience in the field of Chinese literature, and his knowledge of both Chinese language & culture make him an expert in the field of translating Chinese into English with both precision & sensitivity. Some of the poems in this collection appear in English for the first time.

"Thinking of East Mountain
Long time since I turned toward East Mountain.
How many times have those roses bloomed?
All the white clouds of those days scattered.
Whose house is it that the bright moon shines on now?
Today I came hand in hand with a little Miss Hsieh,
Sighing long for all this friends no longer able…
Hear me, all travelers East Mountain bound!
We've opened the pass, and swept the white clouds clear."
(Ibid. p.73)

Li Po, the poet behind this wonderful verse was a 8th Century Chinese poet that wrote of nature, Zen, and wine. He has long been a popular poet in China, and has been considered a leading proponent of Lao Zi's Daoist philosophy for a thousand years. His life and character are steeped in legend, and this is explored in the generous introduction to the poet penned by the translator. The poems themselves deal with friendship, loneliness, drunkenness, war, pacifism, and wandering through nature. Seaton has placed the poems in this book into five parts, covering the life of Li Po. In doing so, the translator intends for the reader to glimpse the changes the poet went through in his life.

"Goodbyes in a Chin-ling Wine Shop
The breeze breathes the shop full of willow fragrance,
the prettiest girls in Wu press drink on us, forcing us to try…
Chin-ling's best have come to see me off.
I want to go, but I cannot go until every toast is answered.
Life's ever-eastward flowing stream…
or the loving thought that rides it, which is longer?
You tell me… now"
(Bright Moon, White Clouds p.38)
"Jade Stairs Lament
Jade steps grow white dew.
Night, late, has its way with her silken hose.
So let the crystal curtain fall…
In its jingling glitter, gaze on many Autumn moons."
(Ibid. 119)

This delightful work is a superb addition to anyone that appreciates oriental literature. Li Po's marvelous words travel not only through the mountains of China, but also through time to us modern English speakers. And this is to the credit of J.P. Seaton, the translator, of course. Moreover, for those with a taste for Daoist and Buddhist poetry, the verses of Li Po also travel through the heart, seeking out deeper meanings to life's sometimes joyous, sometimes sad flux. This book comes wholeheartedly recommended by this reviewer, not only for the orientalist, but also for anyone keen on uplifting poetry.

Title & Author : Bright Moon, White Clouds, by Li Po & J.P. Seaton
Publishers      : Shambhala Publications
Page Count    : 240
Price               : $14.95
ISBN               : 9781590307465

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