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Ian Haight

Translator’s Note: Ch’oŭi

This translated literature is from the manuscript A Homage to Green Tea. Homage is a translation of “A Poem for Green Tea” and “The Divine Life of Tea” by the Korean monk, Ch’oŭi (1786-1866). The source texts were written in hanmun, which is classical Chinese used by Korean scholars of the 19th century to write literature.


Ch’oŭi’s hanmun prose is sometimes non-sequential in its flow of information. Words and ideas can appear haphazard and, to a Western reader, almost random. One of the translation challenges with regard to the creation of Homage to Green Tea, in addition to the potential haphazardness of the hanmun to a Western reader, is the hybridity of the text.

“A Poem for Green Tea” is a long poem with commentary, much of which involves super-short (micro) stories, anecdotes, quoted excerpts from non-fiction texts, other poems, or stated opinions. Occasionally, the poetry reads as if it were prose, while the prose sometimes has a highly lyrical quality, making it seem as if it could be poetry. I noticed, as a literary device-practice related to theme, sometimes there might also be metaphorical insinuations about religious or spiritual experience layered in with means of preparing and experiencing green tea. A manuscript on green tea preparation by a Buddhist monk seems to inherently play with this idea, given that in Korean Buddhism, the serving or enjoyment of tea is a metaphor for meditation. I was intrigued by the workings of Ch’oŭi’s hybridity at the outset of the translation process, and this became part of the translation challenge: how to find semantic cohesiveness in all the genre hybridity.

This selection appearing in Copihue is a demonstration of the fluidity of the hanmun, both from the source text and the translation, as well as that of the textual hybridity. The excerpt here, though I believe it reads as a unified piece, is taken from six different pages within a seventeen-page section of the translated manuscript. Yet, it does seem the varied locations the pieces are excerpted from coalesce to provide a unified reading for a Western reader.



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