Across China: American writer salutes Chinese poetry with whiskey

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BEIJING, Sept. 16 (Xinhua) -- During the recent Mid-Autumn Festival, 79-year-old Bill Porter grabbed a glass of whiskey while enjoying the full moon, and recited an ancient Chinese poem outside his house in the United States.

"How rare the moon, so round and clear! With cup in hand, I ask of the blue sky," Porter read the lines from "Prelude to Water Melody," an ancient Chinese poem written by Su Shi, a famous poet of the Song Dynasty (960-1279).

With a profound love for Chinese poetry, Porter has translated some 2,000 Chinese poems into English and published a series of books related to Chinese poetry and philosophy in the past decades.

"To me, the beauty about ancient Chinese poems is that the lines of poetry are usually short, with five or seven Chinese characters," he said. "Because they are short, they are ambiguous. You have to read it many times before you can discover its meaning. It's like an adventure."

"Moreover, many ancient Chinese poems are in-depth and connected to the heart," he added.

Porter has also forged a close bond with the ancient Chinese poets.

"I don't just like the poems on the page. I like these poets. I like who they were, what they did with their lives, and how they used poetry as part of their lives," Porter said.

Among Porter's favorite poets were Su Shi, reputed for his optimism and open-mindedness in the face of life's setbacks, and Tao Yuanming, an Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420) poet famous for his pursuit of free spirit and an idyllic lifestyle.

Seeing the Chinese poets as his dear friends, Porter once traveled across China to visit their former residences, birthplaces and graves. He brought bottles of bourbon and rye whiskey with him, for he knew that many of the poets were drinkers.

Porter recalled that when he was seeking the grave of Tang Dynasty (618-907) poet Du Mu in Xi'an, northwest China's Shaanxi Province, a farmer took him to the grave, and then he was joined by the locals.

"About seven or eight farmers were standing around me when I was pouring whiskey and then reading Du's poems," Porter said. "The farmers also knew the poems and joined me chanting them."

"I visited around 40 poets in 2012 and 2013," he said. "They were writing from their heart. I love them, so I have to pay my respects."

Currently, Porter is translating more poems by Tao Yuanming, and his translation work "Poems of the Masters" will be released in China soon.

Porter said people in his country are becoming more interested in the Chinese language and culture, and he will continue working to introduce the beauty of the traditional Chinese culture to Westerners.

"The traditional Chinese culture is like a treasure chest," he said. "I would like to share the treasure I found with others." ■

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