“The Medieval Chinese Gāthā and Its Relationship to Poetry.” T’oung Pao 103.1–3 (2017): 94–154.
Abstract: This paper investigates the shifting definitions of the term gāthā (Ch. ji) over an 800-year period, from the earliest sūtratranslations into Chinese until the mid-tenth century. Although the term originally referred to the verse sections of scriptures, gāthās soon began to circulate separately, used in ritual, contemplative, and pedagogical practices. By the late sixth century, it began to mean something like “Buddhist verse.” Over the course of the Tang, gāthās came to take on the formal features of poetry, eventually becoming all but indistinguishable from elite verse. However, the word gāthā was always seen as something inferior to real poetry, and, by the late Tang, we find poet-monks belittling other monks’ didactic verses so as to distinguish their own work and avoid the taint of the word gāthā.
Résumé: Cet article explore l’évolution du sens du terme gāthā (ch. ji) sur une période s’étendant sur plus de huit cent ans, depuis les premières traductions des sūtra en chinois jusqu’au milieu du dixième siècle. Bien que ce terme désignât à l’origine les parties rimées des textes sacrés bouddhiques, les gāthās très tôt commencèrent à circuler indépendamment et à être employées dans les pratiques rituelles, contemplatives et pédagogiques. Vers la fin du sixième siècle, il devint synonyme de « poésie bouddhique ». Au cours de la dynastie des Tang, les gāthās adoptèrent les règles formelles de la poésie, si bien qu’ils devinrent quasiment identiques aux autres formes d’expression poétique des élites. Le mot gāthā cependant continua à évoquer un style inférieur à celui de la « vraie » poésie, et à la fin des Tang des moines-poètes moquèrent les vers didactiques composés par d’autres moines dans le but de distinguer leur propres compositions et de se démarquer des connotations peu flatteuses du terme gāthā.
“The Invention of Chinese Buddhist Poetry: Poet-Monks in Late Medieval China.” Ph.D. diss., Princeton University, 2017.
Abstract: This dissertation presents an alternative history of late medieval literature, one which traces the development of Chinese Buddhist poetry into a fully autonomous tradition. It does so through a careful study of the works of poet-monks in the late medieval period (760–960), especially Guànxiū (832–913) and Qíjǐ (864–937?). Weaving together the frayed threads of the literary traditions they inherited, these poet-monks established a tradition of elite Buddhist poetry in classical Chinese that continued in East Asia until the twentieth century. This dissertation also breaks new methodological ground by using digital tools to analyze and display information culled from medieval sources, and by using poetry composition manuals to understand medieval Chinese poetry on its own terms.
The introduction systematically analyzes the meanings of the concept of “religious literature” and situates this study of poet-monks therein. Part I, comprised of chapters 2, 3, and 4, presents a social history of poet-monks first by examining the invention of the term “poet-monk” in the late eighth century and its development until the tenth, then by mapping literary relations in the late medieval period using social network analysis. It demonstrates the existence and importance of poet-monks to the literary culture of this time. Part II, comprised of chapters 5 and 6, turns to the monks’ poetics at their most extreme: first the wild excess of repetition in song, madness, and incantation; then the austere devotion of “bitter intoning” (kǔyín) and the identification of poetry with meditation. Both extremes are the fruit of the poet-monks’ deliberate mixing of literary and religious practices. The conclusion brings the various threads together to show how the poet-monks identified their religious and literary practices, hints at why their work had been neglected in both Buddhist and classical literary circles, and reflects on the implications of this dissertation for the study of religious poetry.
Thus, this dissertation provides one way of answering the question of how to define religious poetry and, in the process, sheds light on an overlooked corner of Chinese literary history, reconstructing an entire subtradition to demonstrate their fusion of religious and literary practices.
“Guanxiu’s ‘Mountain-Dwelling Poems’: A Translation.” Tang Studies 34.1 (2016): 99–124.
Abstract: This is a translation of one of the most influential poetic series of the late-ninth century, the twenty-four “Mountain-Dwelling Poems” written by the Buddhist monk Guanxiu (832–913). Focusing on the speaker’s use of imagery and allusion, the translations are accompanied by annotations which clarify obscure or difficult passages. An introduction places these poems in their historical context and highlights some ways in which they build syntheses out of perceived oppositions (original and revision; Buddhism, Daoism, and classical reclusion; solitude and community; readers’ various perspectives; poem and series). An afterword briefly sketches the method and circumstances of the translation.
“Jiǎ Dǎo’s Rhythm, or, How to Translate the Tones of Classical Chinese.” Journal of Oriental Studies 49.1 (2016): 27–48.
Abstract: Since the early twentieth century, translators and critics of classical Chinese poetry have tended to focus on imagery and suggestion, balking at rhythm. It is commonly assumed that modern English and classical Chinese are too different, phonemically, for any of the aural qualities of one to translate into the other. My essay aims to overcome these differences through a series of experimental translations of poems by Jiǎ Dǎo 賈島 (779–843). I begin with a discussion of linguist/translator Henri Meschonnic’s definition of rhythm as “the organization of movement in speech,” a concept which includes a poem’s performance and audience, its effect on its community and language at particular points in time. For a master craftsman of tonal patterning and parallelism like Jiǎ Dǎo, this means it is necessary to establish a method for translating medieval Chinese tonal prosody. Drawing on the theory that the medieval Chinese tonal binary of “level” 平 and “deflected” 仄 tones emerged out of the Sanskrit syllabic binary of light (laghu) and heavy (guru) syllables, I translate each level tone into a stressed long vowel and each deflected tone into a stressed short vowel in English. This creates a real yet subtle shift in the rhythm of the translation, carrying over some of Jiǎ Dǎo’s force on language in time. Thus, in translating Jiǎ Dǎo’s rhythm, I aim to translate his illocutionary power: not just what his poems say, but what they do.