I suppose a few notes would be order. This is not a biography but an anthology of poems grouped in chronological order with a brief paragraph to introduce each new “chapter” of the poet’s life, and minimal explanatory notes placed conveniently yet unobtrusively at the end of each poem. A map at the front of the book places the poems in geographical context as well.
Obviously I liked Young’s decision to render each line of Chinese verse as a free-verse couplet, though the tendency of a five-syllable line in Classical Chinese to turn into a five-stressed line in modern English is still evident. I agree with him that any more exact attempt to imitate the formal complexities of Du Fu’s poems wouldn’t be worth the price in distorted meanings.
I don’t think this is the definitive English translation of Du Fu for our generation — this isn’t like Edward Snow’s Rilke translations, for example — but I still found it a very admirable and highly readable survey, better than anything that’s come before. Not surprisingly, I disagreed with many of his word choices in those poems I’ve spent some time with myself. But for the first time I felt as if I understood Du Fu’s life and the contradictory impulses that motivated him, and moreover, understood why most Chinese regard him as slightly greater than his friend Li Bai/Li Po. If you have any interest in Chinese poetry at all — or even just like good travel literature — get this book.