Chinese Rhyme Prose

Fu, or rhyme-prose, is a major poetic form in Chinese literature circa 2nd century BC – 6th century AD, a “[h]ybrid of prose and rhymed verse…verging on what might be called the whitmanesque.”

This book includes 13 long poems: “descriptions and meditations on such subjects as mountains and abandoned cities, the sea and the wind, owls and goddesses, partings and the idle life”, as well as an introduction, and contemporary commentary, on the development and characteristics of the fu form.

The translator of this new edition, Burton Watson, is regarded as the best contemporary English translator of classical Chinese and Japanese literature. Translation between Chinese and English is notoriously challenging; I find this volume interesting both for the unique prose poetry form and the feat of translation that enables me to read it.

The introduction contains interesting history and close reading; there are also helpful introductions provided for each poem, plus further appendix excerpts. One thing noted is there’s an “[e]xuberance and wildness of language” in ancient Chinese, manifested here; I’m eager to see how Watson renders this language.

I love the idea of exploring the middle ground between prose and poetry: there are so many interesting ways such writing can manifest! Here, the two seem interspersed and interwoven. This seems a great example of how different shadings of language can meaningfully affect creative output.

Additional information:

  • ISBN: 978-9629965631
  • Publisher: New York Review Books

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