When I Find You Again It Will Be in Mountains
Mike O'Connor, a poet from Washington state and a former resident of Taiwan, brings us a scholarly yet compact edition of the late eighth- and early ninth-century Chinese poet Chia Tao. O'Connor's introduction is quite helpful: it offers a biography of the poet, an overview of his period, and a discussion of his style, and also provides interesting information about the poet's critical reception. O'Connor has translated 88 of Chia Tao's 404 extant poems; the English texts are attractively printed next to the Chinese originals, and in four cases are also accompanied by photographs from China by Steven R. Johnson. A brief glossary and twenty pages of endnotes provide help with references to Chinese geography, history, customs, and other matters. A five-page bibliography lists editions of the poet's work and translations of it, as well as a number of works of general interest to students of Chinese poetry. You couldn't hope for a more inviting introduction to Chia Tao, who is less well known in the Occident than his eighth-century predecessors Li Po, Tu Fu, and Wang Wei. My sole complaint about the book's format is the lack of an index; any future edition should include one.
Classic Chinese poetry abounds with poems of farewell and travel, and that is certainly true of Chia Tao's work. A former monk, he also often writes about visits with monks and hermits; O'Connor notes that the frequency of this choice of topic distinguishes his oeuvre from those of earlier poets. He also points out that stylistically Chia Tao's poetry is marked by a new concern for le mot juste, a concern likewise evident in O'Connor's fine English versions. If there is any shortcoming to the translations, it is that they give little sense of attempting to duplicate the sound effects of the originals—effects, such as rhyme, that O'Connor describes in his introduction. But of course this is a problem each translator deals with in his own way; to translate is "to bring across," and such smuggling always involves one compromise or another.
"Seeking but Not Finding the Recluse"
I ask the boy;
he says: "My master's gone
to gather herbs.
I only know
he's on this mountain,
but the clouds are too deep
to know where."