Burton Watson, noted translator, remembered

Burton Watson, the foremost translator of Chinese classics and poetry into English and my co-translator of the anthology of Japanese poetry “From the Country of Eight Islands” (1981), died on April 1 in a hospital in Chiba. He was 91 years old.

I knew Watson since the early 1970s, so allow me to call him Burt.

I came to know Burt because the publisher of my “Spring & Asura: Poems of Kenji Miyazawa” turned to him for an introduction. Andrea Miller, of the Asia Society of New York, had sent a batch of my translations of modern Japanese poetry to Chicago Review, and its student editor and poetry editor, Alexander Besher and Curt Matthews, decided to devote one issue to my translations. Then they started a publishing house, calling it Chicago Review Press, with the idea of doing a series of Japanese poets in my translation. “Spring & Asura” was the first.

The evening Burt invited me to his apartment to go over my translations remains vivid. Before we started work on the list he’d made on a yellow pad, he offered beer. Thereafter, every time we finished our cans, he’d ask, with a twinkle in his eyes, “Another?” And each time I nodded, he would unfold his long legs to get up from the low table and fetch two cans of beer from a refrigerator at the other end of a spacious, bare room. In the few years after arriving in New York City, I had come to fancy myself to be a good imbiber not to get drunk on mere beer, but I found I was wrong that evening.

Read more: The Japan Times

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

thirteen − 13 =