The River’s Stone Roots: Two dozen poems by Tu Fu, Translated by By James Deahl (Serengeti Press,2005 )
Reviewed by Anna Yin
I first heard of James Deahl, through John.B.Lee, who mentioned to me the book, River’s StoneRoots, James Deahl’s recent translation of ancient Chinese poet, Tu fu.
I wondered how he translated these poems without knowing Chinese. Opening its pages, I soon found out.
As I write poems in both English and Chinese, I am no stranger to the challenges faced in this type of translation. It is difficult indeed to recapture the true effect of the original. It was a pleasant surprise to find James Deahl’s surprising demonstration of a great talent in the face of this difficult task.
I was immediately attracted to the book for its economy with words and concise style. I could feel its haunting sorrow and precision of meaning carry me back through time to the ancient original.
Tu fu is recognized as the greatest of China’s poets. His works address all there is to be found in human experience, from the intimate and concrete to the political and abstract.
I first read Tu fu’s poems at a very young age. Most of his poems depict a bitter side of life and grief through loss. This ancient poet gained a unique perspective on the human condition through direct personal experience of war and hardship. This served to forge the emotional and spiritual nature of his work, which successfully unveils the conflicts between humanity and the harsh realities of this world. Compared with his contemporaries, Tu fu better understood the anguish of tragedy and showed greater sympathy and concern for the individual.
Like Tu Fu’s poems, James Deahl’s translation spoke to me of the same deep understanding of and insight into the great events, wars, the cycle of nature, life, humanity, friendship and more besides. His rendering in English achieves a poetic flow that retains the true beauty of Chinese traditional poetry. Words are skillfully chosen to represent bittersweet feelings and hopes. I can find the full sense of both black despair and exquisite beauty that were there in the original classic.
Tu fu’s poems show us an unforgettable look into his life and his times, James Deahl’s translation preserves them for our world and our times.
I am grateful for what James has done for it enriches our lives and our world.
this review first appeared in Hammered Out! (June/2007)