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Thread: ARTS: Book Review—Finding Them Gone: Visiting China’s Poets of the Past

  1. #1
    Member Seikan's Avatar
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    Apr 2020
    Massachusetts, United States

    ARTS: Book Review—Finding Them Gone: Visiting China’s Poets of the Past

    I just finished reading this wonderful book by Bill Porter/Red Pine and was thinking that other poetry fans here at Treeleaf may be interested in learning a bit more about it. Just to clarify, I am not affiliated with the author or the book in any way whatsoever. I’m simply sharing my thoughts on a book that I believe other Treeleaf members may find of interest based on past poetry discussions/threads.

    Many folks here are certainly familiar with Red Pine’s many wonderful translations of both Chinese poetry as well as key Buddhist texts (e.g., The Heart Sutra). However, when not translating ancient poets and other texts, he writes under his given name of Bill Porter. Many folks here are likely familiar with Porter’s book Road to Heaven: Encounters with Chinese Hermits, which is the book that the film Amongst White Clouds was based upon. Finding them Gone: Visiting China’s Poets of the Past is attributed to both names as it is a travelogue that is equally filled with his original translations of well- and lesser-known ancient Chinese poets.

    In the book, the author details how he spent 30 days traveling throughout China to visit the graves and dwelling places associated with many of China’s most beloved poets. Each chapter is dedicated to a single day of his month-long adventure. He balances his original poetry translations with often humorous stories related to his travel experiences (including transportation challenges, unexpected confrontations with military officials, and even a medical emergency that puts his trip on hold for several months while he has to convalesce back in the U.S.). Along the way, we also learn fascinating anecdotes about local Chinese cultural and political history.

    The author notes, "The graves of the poets I'd been visiting were so different. Some were simple, some palatial, some had been plowed under by farmers, and others had been reduced to trash pits. Their poems, though, had survived... Poetry is transcendent. We carry it in our hearts and find it there when we have forgotten everything else."

    As many of the poets were associated with multiple locations throughout China, they (and their poems) appear in more than one chapter of the book. Some of the more popular and well-known poets whom he pays tribute to in this book include Li Pai (also known as Li Po), Tu Fu, Wang Wei, Shih-wu (Stonehouse), and Han-shan (Cold Mountain). At each grave, the author would often dedicate a shot of bourbon to the poet (often “sharing” it with the poet by pouring it onto the ground/water by the grave) as well as read aloud one or more of his favorite poems by that poet.

    His stories of the various people that he meets and interacts with through the book (taxi drivers, local farmers, grave/shrine caretakers, Buddhist monks, etc.) offer a diverse and inspiring portrait of the people of contemporary China. In particular, there is an eye-opening story about a military officer who once helped the author reach the remains of Stonehouse’s hut, which was located on a military installation at the time, by single-handedly blazing a trail through dense brush with a machete.

    I could go on for hours about this book as it was simultaneously entertaining, insightful, and chock-full of amazing poems (as well as dozens of the author’s photos from his travels). If you are interested in classic Chinese poetry, this book will provide you with access to dozens of original translations that you may not have seen elsewhere. Additionally, the book provides a wonderful, albeit quick, tour through many parts of China that are not often found on travel itineraries.

    If you’ve read the book yourself, please feel free to share your thoughts here as well. If any of this inspires you to pick up a copy, please let us know what you think after you have read it.

    Happy Reading!


    Last edited by Seikan; 05-25-2021 at 01:14 AM.
    聖簡 Seikan (Sacred Simplicity)

  2. #2
    Great review, Seikan! Thank you!

    Finding Them Gone has been on my to-read list for a long time and, as I am sure many people here will know, almost anything written by Red Pine/Bill Porter is a worthwhile read in terms of understanding Zen/Ch'an and the cultures they come from.

    Feel free to message me if you wish to talk about issues around practicing with physical limitations. This is something I have been sitting with for a fair while and am happy to help with suggestions or just offer a listening ear.

  3. #3
    Thank you for this review, Seikan. This sounds really wonderful.
    st lah

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