We may have heard of, or even read, Sunzi's Art of War, but this anthology is the first opportunity that the majority of English-language readers will have to read first-hand accounts from those involved, one way or another, in the on-going conflicts in ancient China. The bleak and barren terrain, the inclement weather - icy blasts of wind, snow-blizzards one moment and sandstorms the next - the music of the steppes, reed-pipes sounding strange melodies across the frozen wasteland, troops setting out from some barracks on the Wall, never to return, the whitened piles of bones they leave behind after their deaths in battle, the widows and orphans pining for them thousands of miles away... these are recurring themes in this anthology which spans more than sixteen centuries and includes the work of 50 poets. Conventional 'border poems' (poems about heroism and the lot of the common soldier thousands of miles away from home) sit side by side with eyewitness accounts, and the majority of these poems are translated into English for the first time, which is what makes this anthology so important. The anthology's title is inspired by a famous painting of a poet who fashioned a sweet-sounding flute from an iron sword. As the translator, Kevin Maynard, says: "Out of the discord of war we humans can still conjure up sweet music."
Published August 2019