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The fu, or rhyme-prose, is a major poetic form in Chinese literature, most popular between the second century BCE and the sixth century CE. Unlike what is usually considered Chinese poetry, it is a hybrid of prose and rhymed verse, more expansive than the condensed lyrics, verging on what would be called Whitmanesque. The thirteen long poems included here are descriptions of and meditations on such subjects as mountains and abandoned cities, the sea and the wind, owls and goddesses, partings and the idle life.

Burton Watson is universally considered the foremost English-language translator of classical Chinese literature of the past five decades. His graceful translations are accompanied by a comprehensive introduction to the development and characteristics of the fu form, as well as excerpts from contemporary commentary on the genre. A pathbreaking study of premodern Chinese literature, Chinese Rhyme-Prose was selected as one of sixty-five masterpieces for the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works. First published in 1971, it has been out of print for decades.


"Burton Watson’s lifelong dedication to Chinese literature [is] a gift to us all." —Gary Snyder "His erudition, his deep familiarity with and his evident love of the source, and the delicacy and precision of his own English have given us an invaluable body of renderings from the vast tradition of Chinese poetry." —W.S. Merwin "Burton Watson is a superb translator because he knows what literature is." —Robert Aitken

Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    January 15, 2015

    NY Review Books

    170 pages

    RRP $27.99

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