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19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei
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19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei

4.11  ·  Rating Details ·  282 Ratings  ·  50 Reviews
Nineteen different translations of a single poem with comments on each version by Eliot Weinberger and introduction contributed by Octavio Paz.
Paperback, 60 pages
Published March 1st 1995 by Asphodel Press (first published March 1987)
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Mike Puma
Jul 21, 2012 Mike Puma rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: they know who they are
Shelves: lit-crit, poetry, 2012

After reading Weinberger’s An Elemental Thing, I knew that, sooner or later, I’d have to have more of Weinberger’s work under my belt. After biding my time, watching for an inexpensive used copy and to make up a minimum order that qualified for free shipping, I finally ordered and received this one. Good for me.

I’d read the GR description of 19 Ways, but somehow I’d decided it would be ‘about’ Wang Wei’s short poem in the same way that An Elemental Thing is about whatever-the-hell-it’s-about co

Oct 06, 2013 Steve rated it really liked it
Shelves: chinese, poetry
In this book Eliot Weinberger examines the difficulties inherent in translating classic Chinese poetry into Western languages by considering a special case in detail: he selects one poem by Wang Wei (699/701 - 761), romanizes it, gives a literal translation and then considers 16 different translators' versions of the poem in English, French and Spanish. In my review

of a book of translations of Wang's poetry I discuss some of the difficulties one necessari
Nov 04, 2016 Hadrian rated it really liked it


Short, ingenious little work showing the text of a short Chinese poem by Wang Wei, written in the 8th century, (reproduced above), a literal transliteration, and just over a dozen alternate translations. Some of these are ghastly, and some manage to preserve much of the poem's original meaning, its direct clarity, but even provide a new interpretation of it. Shows how much the styles of translation have changed over the past hundred years. One of the other translatio
Jim Coughenour
Nov 15, 2010 Jim Coughenour rated it really liked it
Shelves: chinesepoetry
I came across this book almost by chance – I thought I might like it, but I didn't expect to be chuckling most of the way through. Weinberger has taken a classic poem by Wang Wei (the 8th century Tang poet) and pursued it through 75 years of translation. A few versions are excellent; a few are awful. Weinberger is good at annotating the excellence, but even funnier elucidating the inept.

I read the book in less than an hour and enjoyed every minute. Well, maybe not the last few. The "Further Comm
Nov 29, 2013 Anastasia rated it it was amazing
I gave the book five stars not so much because I always agree with Weinberger's critique of translated poems (he does focus on the negatives more than the positives), but because it's been a while since I learned so much about poetry and translation in such a little space (a mere 51 pages, with plenty of white space in between). Brilliant and simple.
May 26, 2009 Lothe rated it liked it
Shelves: china, poetry
Eliot Weinberger’s 19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (subtitled “How a Chinese Poem is Translated”) presents Wang Wei’s famous “Deer Park” poem in 19 versions: Chinese, transliterated Chinese (Pinyin), and a word-by-word rendering, then in 16 (or so) translations with Weinberger’s comments. (The translations are primarily into English, although a Spanish version and two French versions are also included.)

From the title, which appears to be inspired by Wallace Stevens’s “Thirteen Ways of Looking at
Douglas Wilson
Oct 06, 2013 Douglas Wilson rated it really liked it
Shelves: literary-study
Informative little book on the translation of poetry out of ancient Chinese. Not something you would use everyday, but, in other ways, something we need all the time.
Marc Weidenbaum
Especially given that this slim volume is barely 50 pages long, I unhesitatingly recommend it to just about anyone who is even vaguely conscious about what they read, especially if they regularly read anything in translation.

On its surface, and a gossamer-thin surface it is, this book is a comparative-literature exercise, with its laser focus on a single, four-line Chinese poem by Wang Wei, dated from about 1200 years ago. Per the title, there are 19 translations investigated by Eliot Weinberge
Jan 10, 2010 kasia rated it it was ok
It is of course interesting to read 19 different translations of the same poem. What is less interesting is Weinberger's commentary, which to me came across as obnoxious, pedantic, and occasionally quite contentious. Though, to be fair, SOME of his observations are interesting (he notes, for instance, the number of words they use - a seemingly obvious point, but one that I didn't really think about). Still, overall, I found him more grating than anything else.
Dec 12, 2013 Isobel rated it it was amazing
I'm taking a workshop on translation next semester, and my professor assigned this book to us ahead of time. I have learned more than I expected to about the difficulties of translation, particularly the problem of ego inherent to a poet's translation of another poet, from this tiniest of books. The snarky comments about various translations of Wang Wei's short poem are wonderful. My personal favorite: "To me this sounds like Gerard Manley Hopkins on LSD..."
Mar 19, 2009 Rachel rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
I love the premise of this book: it shows the Chinese characters of one of Wang Wei's poems, then the transliteration, then the literal translation, then 16 published translations in chronological order. It's the kind of thing I'd like to see done with lots of different poems, though that might get impractical. It's a great way to start thinking about translation and how one's own priorities and ideas about it fit into what's already going on.
Feb 10, 2012 Farren rated it liked it
Super-fascinating and exhaustively investigated, but Weinberger's attitude is so snotty and judgy that I just resist the hell out of his ideas and I kind of want to flick his ear.
May 20, 2017 Stephen rated it liked it
This is an intriguing look at poetry and translation, unfortunately it is full of Weinberger's unexamined biases about the goals of translation. It is clear, though he never quite says it, th translators should stray hardly if at all from original poem. Clearly, however, many of the translators included in the translation disagree, undoubtedly seeing other ways to translate a poem a millenia plus old, not only for another language, but another culture as well. It is Weinberger's flaw that he der ...more
Satrina T
May 16, 2017 Satrina T rated it it was ok
Dear poetry,
It's not you, it's me.

Such a short book and yet the pages seemed to go on forever. Yes, translation is a very interesting subject but somehow near the middle part I was ready to finish. I guess it didn't help the fact that I was reading it in a crowded waiting room and the doctor was running late so I ended up waiting almost an hour for my appointment.

I liked the analysis done to the metrics of poetry but the author's comments on a couple of translations should have been shorter.

Jan 19, 2017 Jby rated it it was amazing
The concept of this book is great: use one poem as the constant to measure and compare the comparisons of translations from nineteen different translators. Weiberger's punchy compilation doesn't so much speak to the work of Wang Wei, but says volumes about the art of translation and the nature of translators. For anyone interested in languages and translation, this is a must read.
Dec 13, 2016 Richard rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: readers of poetry
Recommended to Richard by: other Weinberger work
I enjoyed this book for a number of reasons. First of all, as Plato suggested, all reading ends in interpretation if the writer is not present to correct or to answer questions. Translation serves as a wonderful example of the process, and here Weinberger has gathered 19+ ways of translating Wang's four-line poem "Deer Park" [?].

Weinberger's close reading of the translations following his own literal rendition of possibilities indicates the individual translator's movement away from the origina
Apr 29, 2011 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
This a very unusual book that I’ve gone back to time and time again over the years, fascinating for anyone interested in poetry, language, the mysteries of translation. It’s quite short and can be read in 30 minutes, or savored over a lifetime.
The subject of the book is a brief poem of four lines written in the 8th century by Wang Wei, a Chinese Buddhist poet, painter and calligrapher. On each pair of facing pages, the author presents a version or translation of the poem, and commentary on tha
McKenna Ross
Feb 24, 2017 McKenna Ross rated it it was amazing
He's absolutely scathing in his commentary, but in doing so, he gives you an understanding of what a "perfect," translation really is.
Jan 21, 2017 Steve rated it it was amazing
At 51 pages, lots of blank pages, some pages with little text on them, and 19 versions of the same poem, this is an easy one-sit read.

His latest collection has been getting rave reviews (amazon ran out of stock on it for a bit),, but I started out with "An Elemental Thing", and have been hooked since. Paz' "official" translator, he has also delved into Chinese poetry. Having been a Pound freak in my youth, this is a nice return to Western translation of Chinese traditional/ancient/classical poe
Dec 17, 2016 Michelle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Kinda interesting. I liked seeing the range of ways Wang Wei's poem was translated, and sometimes the observations the author made about the translations were quite scintillating. Other times he could be a jerk though.
Feb 02, 2017 Blair rated it really liked it
This is a fun little book that traces the ways that a single poem from the Tang dynasty has been translated into English (and a few other languages) throughout history. It really opened my eyes to the challenges that translators face, and the ethical and political impact that their choices have. Most of Weinberger's close readings of the translations were helpful, although in some cases I thought he was too polemical. He has a very strong opinion about the "proper" way of translating this poem, ...more
Feb 03, 2017 Sherri rated it it was amazing
A slim volume that, as the title declares presents a quatrain by Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei (699-759) in 19 "servings": original calligraphic characters, transliteration, character-by-character translation, and then 16 translations ranging over 3 languages (1 Spanish, 2 French, and 13 English) and 60 years' of effort.

Weinberger's critiques of different translations are insightful across-the-board, and offer a delightful portion of snark when discussing some of the more unfortunate translation ch
Just four lines long, the ancient Chinese poem 'Deer Park', by Buddhist poet Wang Wei, has inspired poets and translators through the ages. Eliot Weinberger's '19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei' collects nineteen different translations in English, Spanish and French, along with commentary by Weinberger and Octavio Paz. Reading so many variatons of one text, without being able to access the original directly, has a curiously meditative effect, at once enlightening and humbling, as the 'real' meaning ...more
Aug 21, 2014 Thomas rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry, china
What could have been an opportunity to observe the challenges of translation becomes instead an opportunity for Weinberger to exercise his caustic sense of humor. He takes great pleasure in pointing out the flaws in many of the translations without addressing the reasons why a translator might not present a strictly literal translation of a text. Reading the translations next to the literal rendering of the Chinese characters is worth the time spent, but I wish Octavio Paz, a legitimate poet, ha ...more
Jan 04, 2011 Dan rated it liked it
Recommends it for: poetry snobs, students of Chinese
This both was and was not what I was expecting. It's a treatise both on the perils of attempting to translate poetry from another language and also on criticism of poetry. That the author more or less hated the vast majority of the "ways" made the read a little depressing, but the few translations that passed muster were quite beautiful. Incidentally, the author's assertion that one cannot "translate poetry out of one's native language" struck me as interesting and is something I will take away ...more
Sep 18, 2009 Allie rated it really liked it
I read this for poetry class last year and revisited it recently. Eliot Weinberger is cool; even though he was n00b at Chinese at the time that he wrote this book, he is pro with language & its nuances and shares a lot of precise insights into both the art of translation and poetry itself, often with a sense of humor. I like the way he reads. I also definitely enjoyed Octavio Paz's commentary and approach to translating. He is wonderful too.

Overall, great poets and an interesting focused dis
Rachel Hearn
Mar 21, 2017 Rachel Hearn rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-harder-2017
This was a really cool little book of poetry. It's one ancient Chinese poem, translated 19 times by different people. And it was so interesting to see the differences in the translations and how different poets gave it different meanings and tones and feelings. I was so glad that the editor put in notes about each translation, because I am a poetry dumb-dumb. I probably would have found them all the same without his guidance. It definitely made me want to try some more poetry!
Jun 11, 2008 Kadiatu rated it really liked it
Highly interesting to read different interpretations of the original Chinese poem by Wei. I especially loved reading the French translation, since it became a completely different poem in a sense. One thing you will learn about Chinese poetry is that it is best when it is simple. Less is more. One word can have a variety of meanings, so just imagine what a sentence can do.
John Hicks
Jan 06, 2017 John Hicks rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An excellent small book about translation. Weinberger focuses on a single poem by Wang Wei, delving into the difficulties of translating poetry and particularly Chinese poems. He lists and analyzes all of the attempts to render this poem into English.
Jan 24, 2015 Dusty rated it it was amazing
An irreverent, sometimes even caustic, unpacking of the difficulty of good literary translation. And how could you do better than this response to an angry reader's own translation of lu zhai, "To me it sounds like Gerard Manley Hopkins on LSD..."
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Eliot Weinberger is a contemporary American writer, essayist, editor, and translator. His work regularly appears in translation and has been published in some thirty languages.
Weinberger first gained recognition for his translations of the Nobel Prize winning writer and poet Octavio Paz. His many translations of the work of Paz include the Collected Poems 1957-1987, In Light of India, and Sunston
More about Eliot Weinberger...

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