Chinese scholar David Hinton intrigues with his translations


Chinese translator David Hinton reads to students from one his books of Chinese poetry..

Chinese translator David Hinton reads to students from one his books of Chinese poetry..

On Oct. 2nd, the Norwich University College of Liberal Arts kicked off the 2013 Writer Series with guest speaker and acclaimed Chinese translator, David Hinton. 

Hinton, a Vermonter from East Calais, is a nationally recognized ancient Chinese poetry translator.  For approximately 25 years, he has “translated several volumes of poetry and multiple Chinese philosophy texts” into English.

Hinton started his intensive journey into the realm of translation when he discovered that he was capable of “looking at older volumes of translated Chinese poetry and seeing how the already translated words could be made even clearer if someone looked at them closer.”

Over the years, Hinton’s translations have earned numerous awards, such as the Guggenheim Fellowship to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Landon Translation Award from the Academy of American Poets.

While on campus, Hinton gave several lectures before various English classes in addition to his main speech, which was open to the general student body.

James Darney, a 19-year-old sophomore studies of war and peace major from Monroe, Conn., says that Hinton’s work is “unique” and “accessible.” These are both features that “are appreciated by students who are studying a text that is outside the realm of commonly taught literature,” Darney said.

Darney, who attended both Hinton’s main lecture to the general NU campus and his visit to English Professor Sean Prentiss’ environmental writing class, found Hinton’s speeches to be interesting, but noted that they were not as accessible as his translations.

“Hinton is such an intellectual that it seemed to be hard for him to break his thoughts down into a level of speech that (the students) could follow and understand,” Darney said. “Even so, I thought that the way his ideas are based off of how Eastern thinking is different from Western thinking made a great point to the students about how it’s okay to look at the world differently.”

In addition to Darney, Sean Prentiss, an NU professor of English, said that some of the pieces of Hinton’s speech were a bit hard to follow. “It was a highly intellectual process that Hinton was taking us through,” Prentiss said, “and he was really forcing everyone to stretch themselves, including myself. Even when we couldn’t follow along for every part of it I grasped on to what I could and held onto it.”

He went on to add that thinking about Hinton’s words afterwards was a helpful way to process all of the layers of thought that Hinton gave to the audience.

Prentiss, who is one of two professors responsible for getting Hinton to come to campus, said that his motivation came from how Hinton had inspired him. “When I started reading his translations I was amazed at how powerful they are,” said Prentiss. “I’ve read a variety of translations of classic Chinese poetry, but Hinton’s are my favorite because they are the clearest and most powerful, as well as the best organized.”

The other reason that Prentiss appreciates Hinton’s work, he says, is that there is a large variety of subjects and formats, such as “single works, wilderness pieces, anthologies and essays.” The variety allows readers to pick and choose what they want to work with for use both in and out of the classroom, Prentiss says.

“We read Hinton’s translated book The Selected Poems of T’ao Ch’ien in my environmental writing class, and it was a nice change of pace from what we normally read,” Darney said, comparing Hinton’s translated works to the normal class curriculum.

Darney says that after reading Ch’ien’s work and listening to Hinton’s lecture he has found that his abilities as a writer have improved. “Listening to Hinton and reading the book has really helped my writing develop. When (Hinton) talked about nature he spoke about how it affects him instead of him affecting it, and that idea has transferred into my writing,” he said. “I also try to take Ch’ien’s clear, concise way of saying things and applying (that style) to my work.”

Prentiss says that others, even “non-poetry readers” as should read some of Hinton’s translations. “I teach Hinton in a variety of classes because he’s so accessible (to the average reader) and a lot of my students and a lot of non-poetry readers can really get brought into poetry (though the beauty and power) of some of those translations.”

Darney says that more young adults, like himself, should try the ancient literature and poetry. “Even people, especially people closer to my age, who don’t care much for poetry or this type of reading should give Hinton’s work a shot because the ideas about nature from both authors can be a great source of inspiration for anyone in many different ways.”

For more information about Hinton his personal webpage can be found at


Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.