Refreshing Culture.

A Little Primer of Tu Fu

Hawkes, David. A Little Primer of Tu Fu. Revised ed. The Chinese University of Hong Kong, 2016.

David Hawkes’ 1967 volume A Little Primer of Tu Fu is a short book, as the title suggests. However, it remains an extraordinarily useful and stimulating guide for readers with little or no Chinese who want to get a sense, in Hawkes’ words, of “what Chinese poetry is really like and how it works.” Du Fu (“Tu Fu” in the Wade-Giles system of transliteration used in Hawkes’ title), who lived from 712 to 770, is widely considered to be the greatest Chinese poet. Hawkes’ method was to present the Chinese texts of all thirty-five of the Du Fu poems included the famous anthology Three Hundred Tang Poems, together with pinyin transliterations, character-by-character glosses,  a short discussion of each poem’s formal characteristics and historical background, and spare but illuminating prose translations. Hawkes’ analyses are a joy to read, and his book belongs on the shelf of every non-Chinese reader who wants to learn “what Chinese poetry is really like.”