China's tradition of "rivers-and-mountains" poetry stretches across millennia, representing the earliest and most extensive literary engagement with wilderness in human history. It is a plain-spoken poetry of immediate day-to-day experience, and yet seems most akin to China's grand landscape paintings. Although its wisdom is ancient, rooted in Taoist and Ch'an (Zen) thought, this work feels utterly contemporary, especially as rendered here in David Hinton's wonderful and accessible translations.
The rivers-and-mountains tradition embraces a remarkable range of topics: comic domestic scenes, social protest, travelogue, and sage recluses shaping mountain landscapes into forms of enlightenment. But throughout that range, these poems articulate the experience of living as an organic part of the natural world. And in an age of global ecological disruption and mass extinction, this tradition grows more urgently and universally important by the day.
Mountain Home begins with an introduction, which explains China's vision of wilderness as the fundamental cosmological model of reality. The poems follow the rivers-and-mountains tradition from its origins in the 5th century C.E. through the Sung Dynasty (13th century), the period during which it opened all of its possibilities. The development of this tradition is traced in concise introductions to each of the nineteen poets translated. As wilderness is the heart of Chinese poetry, this group includes virtually all of ancient China's greatest poets. Indeed, this may well be the finest general collection of ancient Chinese poetry available in English. These breathtaking translations offer a new poetry that will charm and inform not just readers of poetry, but also the large communities interested in environmental awareness or Chinese spirituality.