On Translating a Poem from the Chinese

On Translating a Poem from the Chinese

First you find a quiet place in the forest near a mountain. You set about clearing a small patch of land, building a house, moving a family in from the other side of the world, naturally they are confused at first, until you show them that everything is where it should be, including the dragon behind the falling water and beneath the icy pool and the distant dragon in the mountain and the fox behind the tombstone they cannot read and the toad on the moon and the orioles in the tree, and you set about showing them you have built the house where a breeze from the south protects against the red dust of the paths which led them here, and then you set about taking in the family’s exiles, who naturally drink more wine than anyone else yet seem not to have the same sense of vertigo upon arrival, because the moon is the same and has always been the same moon and one day when you are out looking for one of them who did not come home last night you find a plant growing on the dusty path and take it home, and when you get there the exiles are waiting wondering where you were and if there is any more wine, and then you set about placing the perfect plant in a window on the top floor that the family loves and the forest around it loves and that sounds as the last needle of sun skims the canopy of trees and glances off the window like the sound like rain on bamboo. And in the leaves of that plant the past of each of the house’s denizens has to be taken into account, and in every flower a future extending a thousand years. And then you turn your back on it as you turn your back on a dream upon waking, it has to melt back into the earth, artificial as it is, without causing harm. And the fox comes around looking for the garbage and in the middle of a clearing is the poem.

9 thoughts on “On Translating a Poem from the Chinese

  1. Jeff Schwaner Post author

    Thanks Leonard! Just discovered yet another great poet from the late T’ang, Yu Hsuan-Chi. Don’t know if I have it in me to try a translation of a poem of hers, though.

  2. Pingback: [readings] Thank you, Li Ho (and Edward Scott) | Translations from the English

  3. Pingback: Bridgewater International Poetry Festival: Day One | Translations from the English

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