Night [after and for Mei Yao-ch’en]


日從東溟轉, 夜向西海沉.

The unhurried day drizzles, turns
westward and sinks beneath the sea.

羣物各已息, 衆星燦然森.

All things hold their breath, the stars
just right, glorious like the forest.

蝦蟇將食月, 魑魅爭出陰.

The toad on the moon eats,
the demons strive to come out of the clouds.

阮籍獨不寐, 徘徊起彈琴.

The city dozed fitfully, alone, hesitated,
then rose and picked up its instrument.



[Note: This is a first draft of a work based on a poem of Mei Yao-ch’en (1002-1060), about whom I have written many poems on this blog. As with the previous poem I shared, this will likely change greatly from its current state to a final accurate version more worthy of being called a translation. The method I’m following is unusual but feels most natural for me — To write an impression of the poem gathered into my own poem in English, and then to continue to write a poem in English, and another, with the hope that each one gets closer and closer to my friend Sheng-yu’s poem in its traditional Chinese characters, till they are at least close enough to nod at each other or share a bottle of wine.  Chen Zhang, who is busy at Harvard finishing her dissertation while teaching as the Chinese Literary Preceptor up there in Cambridge, furnished me with the traditional characters for Mei’s  poem. I will keep you updated on any new versions. ]

13 thoughts on “Night [after and for Mei Yao-ch’en]

  1. Ron

    Jeff, I never quite know what to say after reading one of your inimitable translations. I will take that as meaning I’ve said enough already.

    Ron 🙂

    1. Jeff Schwaner Post author

      Be careful there, sir. One day I may have to take it upon myself to translate your haiku into terza rima. Then you’ll get a feeling for what Mei’s poem is probably going through! In all seriousness, I do like this poem but it’s got a ways to go, probably a couple more iterations, before it gets near enough to the original for me to call it a translation. Though I will gladly take the adjective “inimitable” as applies to this poem…it’s certainly a strange method (and roundabout) for approaching the original. Now stop reading and go back to writing!

      1. Ron

        Yes sir, Sir! Will do! Now, Sir!

        (**Still laffing about that “Terza rima”! I wrote one once that was so BAD it sucked the chrome off every trailer hitch in north Arkansas…and that’s a LOT of trailer hitches! *hehe*)

  2. zdunno03

    An interestring approach, Jeff. And surely, I think, you will meet each other somewhere in that middle ground we all venture to for true understanding.

  3. Sunshine Jansen

    That’s what I do when I doze fitfully too. 🙂 That was a hell of a last line to translate, too, yet you found a way to make it universal. I like it!

    1. Jeff Schwaner Post author

      Thanks! I’ve had some great discussions via email with Chen Yhang about the Mei poem that inspired this particular poem, and look forward to posting another version soon that is closer to a true translation. Working it out this way seems to be a truer way to approach some actual English-language realization of Mei’s poem–and it’s a lot more fun, as well.

  4. Pingback: Night (for Ruan Ji) [after and for Mei Yao-ch’en] | Translations from the English

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