Poetry. Asian & Asian American Studies. Translated by Red Pine. Before Qu Yuan (340-278 B.C.E.), poems in China read as if they could have been written by anyone. Qu Yuan changed this. It was his voice. He was a poet. Wang Wei once said he never traveled anywhere without taking two books with him: the Vimalakirti Sutra, from which he took his own pen name, and the poems of Qu Yuan. He wasn't alone. It's hard to find any Chinese poet of the past whose verse wasn't affected, if not inspired, by what Qu Yuan wrote and by the way he used language, his rhythms and his voice.
Bill Porter, who translates under the name Red Pine, was born in Califoria and grew up in Northern Idaho. He attended Columbia University and studied with a faculty that included Margaret Mead and Ruth Benedict. He became interested in Buddhism, and in 1972 he left America and moved to a Buddhist monastery in Taiwan. During this time, he married a Chinese woman, with whom he has two children, and he began working on translations of Chinese poetry and Buddhist texts. In 1993, he returned to America so that his children could learn English. For the past twenty years, he has worked as an independent scholar and has supported himself from book royalties and lecture fees. During this time, he has lectured at many of the major universities in the US, England and Germany where he has lectured on Chinese history, culture, poetry, and religion. His translations of texts dealing with these subjects have been honored with a number of awards, including two NEA translation fellowships, a PEN translation award, the inaugural Asian Literature Award of the American Literary Translators Association, a Guggenheim Fellowship, which he received to support work on a book based on a pilgrimage to the graves and homes of China's greatest poets of the past, which was published under the title Finding Them Gone in January of 2016, and more recently in 2018 the Thornton Wilder Prize for Translation bestowed by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His translations include ZEN ROOTS: THE FIRST THOUSAND YEARS (Empty Bowl, 2020), WHY NOT PARADISE (Empty Bowl, 2019), STONEHOUSE'S POEMS FOR ZEN MONKS (Empty Bowl, 2019), CATHAY REVISITED (Empty Bowl, 2019), A DAY IN THE LIFE (Empty Bowl, 2018), P'U MING'S OXHERDING PICTURES AND VERSE (Empty Bowl, 2015), and more.Author City: PORT TOWNSEND, WA USA
Although we know next to nothing about Qu Yuan's time at court, he was said to have been self-assured and unafraid of speaking his mind. Clearly he had a way with words, and people listened to him, including his king. But forthright people have rarely lasted long where power is involved. Qu Yuan aroused the jealousy and envy of others and eventually their slander. When the king believed the slander, Qu Yuan was banished to the north, beyond the Han River. His king, meanwhile, ignored his advice to beware the state of Qin and died a few years later as its prisoner. Qu Yuan was later recalled to court, but the king's son and successor was not receptive and banished him again, this time to the south, beyond the Yangzi, to the region surrounding Dongting Lake. A dozen years later, in 278 BC, Qu Yuan heard that the Chu capital had been sacked by Qin. Feeling that his world had collapsed, he walked into the Miluo River carrying a large stone, not far from where the river enters the lake, and drowned.Author City: CHI