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The Poetic Garden of Liu Zongyuan

The Poetic Garden of Liu Zongyuan

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By Liu Zongyuan

With a preface by Robert Hass

Translated by Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton & Yu Yuanyuan

Liu Zongyuan's remarkable poetry reflects the complex experience of political exile and observes the natural world of his new home in South China with a caring eye.

Publication Date: August 29, 2023

Paperback: 9781646052172
eBook: 9781646052431


The Poetic Garden of Liu Zongyuan presents poems by the Tang Dynasty cofounder of the Classical Prose Movement written on the Chinese empire’s southern margins. In these remarkable pieces, Liu intertwines South China’s landscapes and plants—such as scarlet canna, banyan, and white myoga ginger—with reflections on honor, duty, banishment, and belonging in ways unique in the history of Chinese poetry. The two translators, Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton and Yu Yuanyuan, one American and one Chinese, preserve and showcase the singular beauty of Liu's poetic garden for the English-speaking world.

Biographical Note

Liu Zongyuan (773 – 28 November 819) was a Chinese philosopher, poet, and politician who lived during the Tang Dynasty. Liu was born in present-day Yongji, Shanxi. Along with Han Yu, he was a founder of the Classical Prose Movement.

Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton is a recent graduate of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, where he was a Marshall Scholar. His writings are published or forthcoming in Tin HouseOrionVallumGriffith ReviewGulf Coast, Sugar House ReviewLake EffectMagma PoetrySixth FinchPoetry Salzburg ReviewSalamanderSycamore ReviewTABThe AccountConstellationsTipton Poetry JournalRaritan, and other publications.

Yu Yuanyuan is Associate Professor in the School of Foreign Studies at Anhui University, academic visitor in the Faculty of English at the University of Cambridge (2018-2019), and translator. Her recent poetry translation appears in Poetry Hall, The World Poets Quarterly, etc. Her translations have appeared in Modern Poetry in Translation, “the only truly international journal in Britain” (James Kirkup), Poetry Hall, The World Poets Quarterly, and Translating China among other publications.


“These new translations by Nathaniel Dolton-Thornton and Yu Yuanyuan are wonderfully redolent, and yet stripped-back with an almost concrete quality. They gain in emotional weight by being quite deliberately kept to their bare bones. The melancholy of Liu Zongyuan’s sustained and powerful work rings true.”  —Sasha Dugdale, author of Joy and translator of Maria Stepanova’s In Memory of Memory

“‘Thinking of home, my grief sharpens,’ Liu writes. But far from home, Liu’s eye also sharpened, taking in his unfamiliar surroundings and their particular flora. In their translations and accompanying notes, Dolton-Thornton and Yu capture with clarity and sensitivity Liu's complex emotional and material experience of exile.” —Adriana Jacobs, translator of The Truffle Eye 

“Dolton-Thornton and Yu’s discerning selections, lucid rendition, and scholarly annotations effectively bring home to us not only Liu’s lyrical world but a refreshing vision from afar of our Anthropocene epoch.” —Ling Hon Lam, author of The Spatiality of Emotion in Early Modern China: From Dreamscapes to Theatricality

“Like the mystical poems of Wang Wei and the saddest poems of Li Bai in exile, the work of Liu Zongyuan confronts mortality and transience in nature—a nature wholly lived in and truly seen with the sharp eye of a naturalist . . . Through these quietly shining poems, Liu is revealed as a lost jewel of Chinese poetry and is restored to the crown where he belongs.” —Tony Barnstone, translator with Chou Ping of The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry