Christian culture 基督教文化学刊

Poetic Desire and the Laws of Heaven: James Legge's Shi-jing and the Translation of Consciousness

Author: David Lyle JEFFREY, Professor, Baylor University, USA



James Legge, the extraordinary philologist, translator and editor of Chinese Classics, achieved a level of understanding of the poetic diction and intrinsic cultural consciousness of the Shi-jing sufficiently superior that his work continues to be foundational for contemporary scholars. By treating many of the ancient odes as, in effect, scripture, Legge was able to observe resonances of their ethos that had remained obscure to others. Unfortunately, Legge left us no ordered and explicit account of his cultural translation theory. The method of this article is to employ the philological theories of Owen Barfield as a mirror by means of which to reconstruct something of Legge’s tacit working principles. This provisional reconstruction is tested with reference to Legge’s training in the translation of Hebrew poetry which was composed about the same time as the Odes, and some comparative analysis of the poems themselves. It becomes clear that Legge evolved an approach to his work on the Shi-jing enriched by insights into the evolution of consciousness acquired during his intensive translation of poetry from Hebrew and Latin, and that he undertook his Chinese philological work with unusual cultural attunement to the ethos of ancient literatures accordingly.



Shi-jing, poetic diction, Owen Barfield, translation theory, evolution of consciousness/ meaning, the Term Question


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