Paul Rouzer’s Translation of Hanshan (Cold Mountain)


The Hanshan 寒山 (Cold Mountain) poems are among the most celebrated Chinese verses in the West. Some of them were famously translated by Gary Snyder in 1958, after he had studied Chinese poetry with Chen Shih-hsiang at Berkeley. They were later celebrated by Jack Kerouac in his hit novel The Dharma Bums (also 1958) and beloved by hippies, spiritualists, and naturalists from ’60s through the present.

As part of its Library of Chinese Humanities Series, DeGruyter has published a new translation of these poems by Paul Rouzer, a professor of Chinese literature at the University of Minnesota. They available for free as Open Access PDFs.

I’ll be reviewing Rouzer’s recent study of Hanshan, On Cold Mountain, for the Journal of the American Oriental Society soon, so I won’t say much about Rouzer’s larger project here.

It’s always good to have more translations of Tang poetry in other languages, and especially translations by someone as knowledgeable as Paul Rouzer. After all, he literally wrote the book on classical Chinese—or at least, one of the textbooks widely used to teach it. He’s a sensitive reader and a smooth writer, and I’m sure his translations are wonderful (I’ve yet to go through them with a close eye).

However, this publication does not have the same impact on the field as Stephen Owen’s Du Fu translation. For one, there are already two complete translations of Hanshan out there, by Robert Henricks and Red Pine (personally, I’m fond of the latter), as well as multiple partial translations by such prominent translators as Arthur Waley, Burton Watson, Peter Hobson and T. H. BarrettJ. P. Seaton, and doubtless others. A close reading will show how these translations each contribute something different to our understanding of this poetic corpus, and this in itself is helpful for teaching and understanding Tang poetry.

But I continue to believe that it is of greater service to the field, and to cross-cultural understanding more generally, to try to take on the 50,000 or so Tang poems that have never been translated into English, and the thousands of poets beyond the handful of names routinely trotted out. I have tried to do this in my own work, such as the network maps of late Tang literary relations I’ve built from 6,800 poems (to be expanded to 12,000 soon). I have also discovered that there is much beauty and innovation in the works of relatively unknown poets, such as the monks Guanxiu and Qiji, who are at the center of my dissertation project.

I applaud Paul Rouzer and DeGruyter for the production of another fine entry in the Library of Chinese Humanities series. I look forward to the next titles, Robert Ashmore’s Li He 李賀 and Stephen Owen/Wendy Swartz’s Ruan Ji and Xi Kang, even if these cover ground that has already been trod.

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