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This web site is dedicated to the preservation of the spirit of Tang poetry.

Li Bai and Du Fu

More Tang Poets

Read poems by the greatest masters of Tang poetry translated by Lan Hua

Tang Spirit Archive

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The Adventures of Monkey King

Have you ever heard of the Adventures of Monkey King? A great classic now available in a new translation from Lan Hua

The Gan Yu

Chen Zi'ang is one of the early masters of Tang poetry. Now you can read some of his poems translated for the first time into English by Lan Hua

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The Dream of Zhuang Zhou

Dream of ZHuang ZhouA new translation straight from the Zhuangzi's Inner Books in which the sage Zhuang Zhou tries to explain to us a few important points about the Transformation of Things. 

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A Day in the Life of a Straw Dog

In this issue we delve deeper into the Dao De Jing with a new translation of the fifth verse.

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A Poem to Celebrate the New Year

 We celebrate the year of the Wooden Horse with a short poem by the great Song     poet, caligrapher and statesman Su Shi. 

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Feature Story -- January, 2014


Of the Dao That Can Be Spoken

                                                           the dao

In this issue of we take a more philosphical turn and translate the one of our favorite passages in Chinese literature - the opening verse of the Dao De Jing.

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Feature Story -- December 9, 2013

Poems of the Spirit and Flesh

Yang GuifeiIn this issue of we turn our attention to classical poetry about more worldly themes with translations of two poems by the late Tang poet Du Mu.  These are both unmistakably poems of the flesh; they underscore part of what we find so remarkable about Tang poetry – a voluminous body of work (created over the course of the Tang dynasty’s 300 years), spanning literary modes from the lyrical and spiritual to the explicitly sensual.

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Feature Story -- October 27, 2013

Autumn Poems -  A Little Dab of Little Du

Du Mu In this issue of our newsletter we have translated 3 poems by Du Mu a poet from the the Late Tang period, active during the first half of the 9th century. Perhaps already familiar to modern readers for his contributions as a rock 'n roll lyricist, Du Mu is credited by Rogers Waters as an important source of inspiration in Pink Floyd's song Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.   Whether you're a Pink Floyd fan or not, this selection of Du Mu's poems does  reflect his contemporary sensibility. 

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Feature Story -- July 15, 2013

A Translation Experiment

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Xuanzang - Tang pilgrim and monkIn this issue of the newsletter we propose conducting an experiment in translation -- in which a single text will be subjected to serial translations, from one language to another, in order to assess the changes in meaning through the cycle of translation.  Quite by accident we discover that this experiment was in fact already conducted more than a millenium ago with the Heart Sutra as a source text, as it underwent serial translations from Sanskrit to Chinese and back to Sanskrit again.  We continue the experiment with our own new version - a translation of Xuanzang's 7th century Chinese text.

Feature Story -- May 27, 2013

Different Understandings of  a Retreat

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In this issue of the newsletter we translate another poem by Wang Wei about his retreat to the mountains south of the Tang capital of Chang An. On first reading this seems to be a simple nature poem about the poet's chance encounter with an old woodcutter on the edge of the forest.  But further reading yields a different understanding.

November 12, 2012

A Journey to Yu Gong with Wang Wei

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Poem and painting by Wang WeiAfter a long hiatus, the Tang Spirit Newsletter returns this week with the translation of a series of three poems by Wang Wei. The poems are called Yu Gong Valley, a place of very simple beauty yet the poems themselves are not so easy to translate or comprehend, which goes to the very heart of the matter as our newsletter briefly tries to explain.

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Feature Story -- September 5, 2012

From the Southern School of Sudden Enlightenment

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Hui-neng cutting bambooIn this issue of the Newsletter, we retell the story of a poetry writing competition, of sorts, between Shen-hsui and Hui-neng held during the early years of the Tang Dynasty. Our narrative is primarily based on the excellent translation by Philip Yampolsky of The Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch. And we are very grateful to Professor James Miller of the Queen's School of Religion for recommending to us this wonderful book. The poems below have been translated by Lan Hua.

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Feature Story -- July 25, 2012

Three More Poems by Xuanzang

This week we continue with three more poems by the Chinese monk Xuanzang, a figure of literature and legend, most known through the pages of Journey to the West where his pilgrimage to India provides the throughline for Wu Cehng En's great epic tale, in which Xuanzang and a menagerie of animal traveling companions battle various spirits and demons along their perilous way. Now with the recent rediscovery of these poems, we have a chance to appreciate Xuanzang as a poet in his own right.

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The Gan Yu by Chen Z'iang

Orchids birthedChinese poetry can be a nightmare to translate sometimes because a single word or phrase has such subtlety and idiomatic meaning, making it nearly impossible to render into English without resort to a full sentence or two, at the risk of destroying all the poetry. The phrase Gan Yu is a case in point. Quite concise in Chinese, the closest I can come to capturing the full idea in English would be something cumbersome, along the lines of – Feelings Encountered Along Life’s Way.

So this week we begin our translation of the Gan Yu, a truly remarkable collection of poems written by Chen Z'iang along his life's way during the late 7th century. These poems are almost completely unknown to Western readers. Chen Z'iang is from the early Tang period with a lifespan thought to have run from 656 or 661 to 702. According to our friend and resident expert Steve Zhang, Chen is not even well known or widely read in China today, his work having fallen into obscurity due to the long shadows cast by the great Tang poets who followed. (We owe many thanks to Professor Jonathan Stalling for calling our attention to Chen's poems in his excellent collection of essays, The Poetics of Emptiness.)

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Previous translations:

Journey to the Immortal Peach Garden

The Arrival of Spring - Three Vernal Scenes

The Perils of Poetry -- A Prison Poem by Luo Bin Wang

Li Bai and Du Fu - Poems to and from Each Other

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About the hosts of this site

Lan Hua is the pen name for an American born writer and translator who lives in New York with his wife and two cocker spaniels. Lan Hua’s most recent work is a book length translation of The Adventures of Monkey King. He is also currently at work on the first English translation of a group of mystical poems called the Gan Yu written in the late 7th Century by Chen Ziang.

Steven Zhang is a translator and interpreter based in New York where he also teaches Chinese language and art history. He has written on Chinese literature and conducted translation workshops on the poetry of Rilke and Auden. With half a lifetime of experience traversing trans-cultural realms and cross-textual studies, he finds equal pleasure in the poetry of Berio and Boulez and the music of Whitman and Wang Wei.

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