Arthur David Waley, original name Arthur David Schloss (August 19, 1889 – June 27, 1966), was a noted English Orientalist and Sinologist, and is still considered one of the world's great Asian scholars. During the first half of the twentieth century, his translations introduced the best of Chinese and Japanese literature and poetry to English-reading audiences. His many translations include A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (1918), Japanese Poetry: The Uta (1919), The Tale of Genji (published in six volumes from 1921-33), The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (1928), and Monkey (1942, an abridged version of Journey to the West).
Waley was self-taught in both Chinese and Japanese and achieved a remarkable degree of fluency and erudition. He never visited Asia. His translations of Chinese and Japanese literary classics into English had a profound effect on such modern poets as W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound. His translations of the classics, the Analects of Confucius and The Way and its Power (Tao Te Ching) introduced Asian philosophical concepts to European and American thinkers. Waley’s scholarship was recognized with an Honorary Fellowship at King's College, Cambridge, 1945, and an Honorary Lectureship in Chinese Poetry at the School of Oriental Studies (London, 1948). He received the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1952, the Queen's Medal for Poetry in 1953, and in 1956, the Order of the Companions of Honour. The Japanese government awarded him the Order of Merit of the Second Treasure for his services in making Japanese literature known and appreciated in the Western world.
Arthur Waley was born August 18, 1889, in Tunbridge Wells, Kent England, as Arthur David Schloss, the second son of the economist David Frederick Schloss. Another brother, Hubert, was born in 1891. Their mother, Rachel encouraged their interest in writing and art.
Of Jewish heritage, he changed his surname to his paternal grandmother's maiden name, Waley, in 1914. He was educated at Rugby School, and entered King's College, Cambridge in 1907, where he studied Classics, and was awarded a bachelor's degree in 1910.
In 1913, Waley was appointed Assistant Keeper of Oriental Prints and Manuscripts at the British Museum in 1913. During this time he taught himself Chinese and Japanese, partly to help catalog the paintings in the Museum's collection. He quit in 1929, ostensibly to avoid working on the Museum painting catalog, but actually in order to devote himself fully to his literary and cultural interests. He continued to lecture in the School of Oriental and African Studies, London. In 1918, he met Beryl de Zoete, a dance critic and writer; they lived together until her death in 1962. In 1966, Arthur Waley married Alison Robinson, whom he had first met in 1929. They lived in Highgate in London, and she became a familiar figure in later years, living beyond the age of 100.
Waley lived in Bloomsbury and had a number of friends among the Bloomsbury Group, many of whom he had met as an undergraduate. He was one of the earliest to recognize Ronald Firbank as an accomplished author, and together with Osbert Sitwell provided an introduction to Firbank's first collected edition. Noted American poet Ezra Pound was instrumental in getting Waley's first translations into print in The Little Review. His view of Waley's early work was mixed, however. As he wrote to Margaret Anderson, the Review's editor, in a letter of July 2, 1917, "Have at last got hold of Waley's translations from Po chu I. Some of the poems are magnificent. Nearly all the translations marred by his bungling English and defective rhythm... I shall try to buy the best ones, and to get him to remove some of the botched places. (He is stubborn as a jackass, or a scholar.)" Waley, in the Introduction to his translation of The Way and its Power, explains that he was careful to put meaning above style in translations where meaning would be reasonably considered of more importance to the modern Western reader.
During World War II, as one of the few people in England who could read Japanese, Arthur Waley was called to work as a censor for the British Ministry of Information. He would sometimes scold the Japanese businessmen whose cables he was assigned to review, for their bad grammar or their bad handwriting. After World War II, Waley’s scholarship was recognized with an Honorary Fellowship at King's College, Cambridge, 1945, and an Honorary Lectureship in Chinese Poetry at the School of Oriental Studies (London, 1948). He received the Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in 1952, the Queen's Medal for Poetry in 1953, and in 1956, the Order of the Companions of Honour (CH), founded by King George V in June 1917, as a reward for outstanding achievements in the arts, literature, music, science, politics, industry, or religion.
In 1956, he published a book on the late Chinese poet, Ywaen Mei. In 1957, Beryl de Zoete published a work on dance in Sri Lanka. In 1958, Waley produced his first history book that was not based on a translation of poems, an anti-imperialistic account of the Opium War entitled, “Through Chinese Eyes.” After this publication, he received no further recognition from the British government. The Japanese government, however, awarded him the Order of Merit of the Second Treasure for his services in making Japanese literature known and appreciated in the Western world.
He died in London on June 27, 1966, and is buried in the renowned Highgate Cemetery.
Arthur Waley is considered one of the world's great Asian scholars. He was an ambassador from East to West during the first half of the twentieth century, transmitting the best of Chinese and Japanese literature to the English-reading public. He was self-taught in both languages and achieved a remarkable degree of fluency and erudition. In his preface to The Secret History of the Mongols, he wrote that he was not a master of many languages, but claimed to know Chinese and Japanese fairly well, a good deal of Ainu and Mongolian, and some Hebrew and Syriac.
In spite of his great interest in Asian culture, Arthur Waley never traveled to Asia. He gave as his reason that he did not want his concepts and his fantasies about China and Japan to be in any way altered by the reality. The real reason was probably that he dreaded long voyages.
His many translations include A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems (1918), Japanese Poetry: The Uta (1919), The No Plays of Japan (1921), The Tale of Genji (published in six volumes from 1921-33), The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon (1928), Monkey (1942, an abridged version of Journey to the West), The Poetry and Career of Li Po (1959) and The Secret History of the Mongols and Other Pieces (1964). Waley received the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his translation of Monkey, and his translations of the classics, the Analects of Confucius and The Way and its Power (Tao Te Ching), are still regarded highly by his peers. Dutch poet J. Slauerhoff used poems from A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems and More Translations from the Chinese to write his 1929 adaptation of Chinese poetry, Yoeng Poe Tsjoeng. Waley's other works include Introduction to the Study of Chinese Painting (1923), The Opium War Through Chinese Eyes (1958), and The Ballads and Stories from Tun-huang (1960). He also wrote on Oriental philosophy.
His translations are widely regarded as poems in their own right, and have been included in many anthologies such as the Oxford Book of Modern Verse 1892-1935, Oxford Book of Twentieth Century English Verse and Penguin Book of Contemporary Verse (1918-1960) under Waley's name. Waley’s translations of Chinese and Japanese literary classics into English had a profound effect on such modern poets as W.B. Yeats and Ezra Pound. His translations of the classics, the Analects of Confucius and The Way and its Power (Tao Te Ching) introduced Asian philosophical concepts to European and American thinkers. His work also initiated a tradition of Asian literary scholarship and translation.
- A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, 1918
- More Translations from the Chinese (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1919).
- Japanese Poetry: The Uta, 1919
- The Nō Plays of Japan, 1921
- The Tale of Genji, by Lady Murasaki, 1921-1933
- The Temple and Other Poems, 1923
- Introduction to the Study of Chinese Painting, 1923
- The Pillow Book of Sei Shōnagon, 1928
- The Way and its Power: A Study of the Tao Te Ching and its Place in Chinese Thought, 1934
- The Book of Songs (Shih Ching), 1937
- The Analects of Confucius, 1938
- Three Ways of Thought in Ancient China, 1939
- Translations from the Chinese, a compilation, 1941
- Monkey, 1942
- Chinese Poems, 1946
- The Life and Times of Po Chü-I, 1949
- The Real Tripitaka and Other Pieces, 1952
- The Nine Songs: A Study of Shamanism in Ancient China, 1955
- Yuan Mei: Eighteenth Century Chinese Poet, 1956
- The Opium War through Chinese Eyes, 1958
- The Poetry and Career of Li Po, 1959
- Ballads and Stories from Tun-Huang, 1960
- The Secret History of the Mongols, 1963
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- de Gruchy, John Walter. 2003. Orienting Arthur Waley: Japonism, Orientalism, and the Creation of Japanese Literature in English. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press. ISBN 0-8248-2567-5
- Johns, Francis A. 1968. A bibliography of Arthur Waley. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press.
- Laozi, and Arthur Waley. 1958. The way and its power; a study of the Tao tê ching and its place in Chinese thought. UNESCO collection of representative works. New York: Grove Press.
- Morris, Ivan I. 1970. Madly Singing in the Mountains: An Appreciation and Anthology of Arthur Waley. London,: Allen & Unwin.
- Schindler, Bruno. 1959. Arthur Waley anniversary volume. London: P. Lund, Humphries.
- Waley, Alison. 1983. A half of two lives. New York: McGraw-Hill. ISBN 0070678073
- Waley, Arthur, and Oswald Sickert. 1957. The nō plays of Japan. New York: Grove Press.
- Waley, Arthur, Mencius Chuang-tzu, and Fei Han. 1956. Three ways of thought in ancient China. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday.
- Waley, Arthur. 1941. Translations from the Chinese. New York: A.A. Knopf.
- Waley, Arthur. 1956. Yuan Mei, eighteenth century Chinese poet. London: G. Allen and Unwin.
- Waley, Arthur. 1958. An introduction to the study of Chinese painting. New York: Grove Press.
- Waley, Arthur. 1958. The Opium War through Chinese eyes. London: Allen & Unwin.
- Waley, Arthur. 2005. Arthur waley collected writings on china. Richmond, Uk: Routledgecurzon. ISBN 0415362598
All links retrieved August 16, 2023.
- Works by Arthur Waley. Project Gutenberg
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