Remembering David Hawkes
Hawkes certainly fulfilled his aim. His mastery of classical Chinese and superb rhetorical skills in the English language, alongside his tireless effort, made it possible for him to carry this masterpiece across cultural boundaries and present it to British eyes and minds in its original flavour. To me, his English version is a joy to read; I particularly admire his translation of the opening poem, which carries the central theme of the novel. The full meaning of the poem is revealed only at the end of the story when the pampered young man is reduced from nobility to a poor and lonely outcast, and comes to realize that good times in life are but a fleeting dream. Hawkes tackled this poem beautifully. Let me quote a few lines:
"Men all know that salvation should be won,
But with ambition won't have done, have done."
"Where are the famous ones of days gone by?
In grassy graves they lie now, every one."
attached to: David Hawkes