December 2015 Poetry Feature

We are pleased to present the second installment of our two-part feature on New Poetry from China, translated by Stephen Haven and Li Yongyi. Click on the titles below to view bilingual editions of new poetry by Yang Jian, Mo Fei, and Li Yongyi.

YANG JIAN was born in Anhui Province in 1967. He worked as a factory laborer for 13 years. A practicing Buddhist and scholar of Chinese traditional culture, he began writing poetry during the mid-80s. He is the recipient of many national poetry awards, among them the prestigious Chinese Media Literature Award (2008). His books of poetry include Dusk (2003), Old Bridge (2007) and Remorse (2009). Yang Jian is also an accomplished artist in traditional Chinese painting.

 

A Gift

The leaf, not resisting, falls,
And when the wind
Spins it around again,
It rustles, without resisting.
In its tiny wizened body, love breathes
More passionately than when on the tree.
Yes, I will not die,

A gift from these leaves.


馈赠
树叶没有经过任何抵抗就落下了,
风,
又把它吹起,
它也是没有任何抵抗地“沙沙”作响。
在它瘦小,干枯的身体上,
爱,似乎比它在树干上的时候还要强烈。
是的,我是不死的,

也一定是这些树叶所赠。

 

This Couple in Silence

 

The two sit in total silence,
Their hug as rigid as the rocks on the bank.
The shriek of birds in the woods
Shivers their hearts.
Under the willows
What sorry ideas of love!
Suddenly, he recalls the gray hair he dreamed last night,
The price paid for sleeping with her after dark.
This impulse to weep, this utter confusion:
He looks at the lake,
At the woman on his shoulder.
Nearby a child, a toddler,
An old man who can no longer walk,
A pregnant woman picking flowers by the shore,
Her husband standing by, blank eyes gazing nowhere.

两个人静静的坐着
两个人静静地坐着
拥抱使他们像岸边的石块一样僵硬。
小鸟在树林里尖叫着,
使他们的心儿紧缩。
在有柳树的水边上,
他们有着多么可怜的相爱的念头!
他忽然记起昨晚梦见的白发,
他想,一辈子为吃忙,
为了等到晚上跟她睡在一起,
他有了哭泣的念头。
他困惑地望着湖水,
望着靠在肩上的女人。
他们的身边是一个刚刚学会用腿走路的小孩,
和一个已经不会用腿走路的老人。
有个孕妇去摘水边的野花,

她的身旁,站着两眼茫然的丈夫。

 

Antiquity

 

All my fast thoughts vanish in a thatch house
Where the floor is made of earth and mud.
Over the log fire in the huge stove
White rice steaming from a wok.
Deep in a bowl slices of tofu
Covered by some rotten Chinese cabbage.
This sweet stench of baicai, old as China,
Stews even my sunk thoughts.

古老
我所有活不长远的念头在一间草屋里消散一空,
那儿的地面由泥巴所做。
柴火烧的大灶上,
煮着一锅白米饭。
两块豆腐在碗底,
烂掉的白菜盖在上面。
那臭烘烘又香喷喷的白菜似乎就是古老的中国,

我所有活不长远的念头在这又矛盾又统一的气味里消散一空。

 

1967

 

They said:
“Tear off the erhu strings,
Smash its body.”
We ended up without music.
They said:
“Chop this big old tree
Down to the stump.”
We ended up without shade.
They said:
“Kill this stonemason,
That carpenter, right now.”
We ended up without bridges;
Without pretty houses.
They said:
“Burn the ancient books,
Demolish the Confucian shrines,
Send the monks home to their mothers.”
We ended up without a moral sense,
We ended up without conscience.
I was born in 1967, an apocalyptic year,
Destined to look at things with a destructive eye,
Sick soon after I entered the world,
Destined to look at things as a morbid man.
Seeing that you all are dying
I’m given to a life that cannot die.
My word on the ruins, sealed in dust,

The iron gate shoved open.


1967
他们说:
“这把二胡的弦要扯断,
琴身要砸碎。”
我们就没有了琴声。
他们说:
“这棵大树要锯断,
主要是古树,全部要锯掉。“
我们就没有了阴凉。
他们说:
“这个石匠要除掉,
那个木匠也要除掉,要立即执行。”
我们就没有了好看的石桥,
我们就没有了好看的房子。
他们说:
“这些圣贤的书要烧掉,
这些文庙要毁掉,
这些出家人要赶回家。”
我们就没有了道德,
我们就没有了良知。
我生于崩溃的1967年,
我注定了要以毁灭的眼光来看待一切,
我生下来不久就生病了,
我注定了要以生病的眼光来看待一切。
看着你们都在死去,
我注定了不能死去,
我注定了要在废墟上开口说话,

我注定了要推开尘封的铁门。
Translated from the Chinese by Stephen Haven and Li Yongyi

 

Yang Jian’s books of poetry include Dusk (2003), Old Bridge (2007) and Remorse (2009).

 

MO FEI was born in Beijing in 1960. He is a poet, photographer, gardener, and naturalist. He published his poetry collection Words and Things in 1997 andSelected Poems of Mo Fei in 2011. He represents a mildly anti-establishment brand of contemporary Chinese poetry, neither nostalgic of native grassroots traditions nor overwhelmed by Western intellectual influences—the so-called Third Road.

 

The Man Trapped in the Room 

 

The man trapped in the room
Weighed down by terror of the desk,
Words, yawning holes big and small
He doesn’t know how to fill—
A white clean sheet is much better.
Utterly resigned to it
Always the drip of the wall-clock’s ticks:
Stopped, it would be more accurate.
Some unnamed fear rocks his head,
He can hardly hear anything.
Thunder and rain petrify armies of trees
Please a vicious dream.
Dawn comes all of a sudden
After his writhing, endless night.
A blaze, descending from nowhere

Illuminates his books.


固定在房间里的人
固定在房间里的人
对那张桌子充满恐惧
文字是大大小小的漏洞
他不知道怎样修补
还不如一页白纸活得干净
完全习惯了
他一直挂念墙上的钟表
能停下来就会更准
预感从太阳穴这边乱跳
他什么也听不清
雷雨惊呆了成片的树木
为着一个恶毒的梦
天说亮就亮了
他彻夜翻滚
是一场毫无依据的大火

使得他在书堆上得救
Coins Tossed in All Directions

Coins tossed in all directions,
The sky pure as after an oath,
You note threads of dark fate,
Tassels stitched to words.
The messenger comes to change dates,
Already sets off from his home,
The heavy leaves, parasols of trees,
Overabundant, a plenty of rain.
Cascading deep in their dreams
Shrubs frisk like birds.
Worrying about the fall of night
Is like running for someone else’s life.
The disruption of her sweet meeting
Lingers in your memory:
The naiveté of an ear
Silent, cold.

硬币抛向四方
硬币抛向四方
天空像发过誓一样清澈
你从不幸的意义上认出
那些缀在词后边的东西
更正日期的使者
离开了自己的家
梧桐树厚重的叶子
夸大了一场雨的分量
从熟睡中不断跌落
灌木的末梢一阵雀跃
为黑夜的来临操心
简直就是在替别人逃命
美好的一课被搅乱
你还能记住她
无知的耳朵在两边
一样寂静一样冷漠

 

Silence, Just Dust on the Surface

 

Silence, just dust on the surface:
Plane trees shaking with fear,
All leaves bound in that embrace,
Grant us the secret gift of withering.
Things worthy of celebration
Are even more worthy of weeping.
Nothing brings no worries yet.
He cannot vacate his room
To hide books conscripted by death.
The last fruit bunch endures
Autumn’s impact, within and without.
He braves rumors—how can he help it?—
Rising from time’s rebukes.
Leave the rooms of the brain empty,
Let screaming in the word bogs

Wear life down to a husky voice.


寂静仅仅是表面上的灰尘
寂静仅仅是表面上的灰尘
悬铃木在惧怕中摇晃
所有抱到一起的叶子
让人领受无知的衰老
值得赞美的事物
更值得为它哭泣
没有准备的一切没有牵挂
他腾不出自己的房间
藏匿被死亡征用的书目
最后一批果实在忍耐
秋天的碰撞,里外的剥削
他只能应对种种的猜想
来自时间的驳斥声
让我们的头脑四壁空空
在语言的泥淖中呼喊
从此注定他嘶哑的一生
Hidden Grains Glisten in Winter

 

Hidden grains glisten in winter,
Dark dung quickens roots and buds.
How unreal the hot vapor from the stable!
Pressed to the door by death, a face of tears.
Fields green again, home at its tenderest,
Seeds sown, the world can hardly keep calm.
Great spirit, weighed down by sudden spring,
Reaches the years for shouldering things.
I have to submit to birds’noise closing in.
Washed shores bare clear pebbles.
The peach tree in full bloom stops no one,
No one knows its hidden pride.
Staying true to promises, your lonely days.
Insects’eyes hurt the green leaves.
Inevitable, this pendulum swinging down,

Casting shadows on stopped carts.


藏匿在冬天的粮食闪闪发亮
藏匿在冬天的粮食闪闪发亮
漆黑的肥料催动树木的根芽
从马厩里冒出的热气多么虚幻
被死亡逼到门口的人泪流满面
田野返青时的家园无比温暖
埋下种子的世界难以平静
伟大的精神经不起突来的春天
这就到了分担一些事物的年龄
我只能听从群鸟逼近的声音
刷新的河岸裸露清澈的卵石
桃花在开放的季节没有人留步
充满内心的骄傲没有人知道
信守诺言的日子你是多么孤单
昆虫的眼睛触怒绿树的枝叶
挂钟的摆顺势而下不可遏止

为停顿的车辆投上无端的阴影
Translated from the Chinese by Stephen Haven and Li Yongyi

Mo Fei published his poetry collection Words and Things in 1997 and Selected Poems of Mo Fei in 2011.

 

LI YONGYI is Professor of English at Chongqing University, in Chongqing, China. He was a 2012–2013 Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the University of Washington. His major fields of scholarship include Anglo-American modern poetry, classical Roman poetry, and classical Chinese poetry. He has translated 14 books into Chinese from English, French, and Latin. His translation of Carminawas the first Chinese translation of the entire body of Catullus’s poetry. He is the author on one collection of his own poems, Swordsman Poet Phantom.

 

Destinies (a poem in six parts)

 

I. Israel
This hatred of you, an art, a philosophy
A ghastly perennial assembly line: gossip,
Oratory, monographs, festival shows,
Crosses, gyres, gas chambers, pits.
For you, older than Athens and Rome,
Trampled, crushed like moldy bread,
War, a gaping curse, whoever fights.
In peace, you’re still steeped in gore.
Jesus your gift, Judas your heritage.
Ideas, beliefs, the gift of your theorems;
Debris, ghettos you get in return.
You endure, endure; they err and err.
Restored, your country almost lost
Again. God chose you, but not for peace.
In fire eternal Jerusalem seeks
That first promise of milk and honey.

 

II. Deutsch
You blitzed literature, took philosophy
In a whirlwind. Casts of iron and blood
Forged a new empire, your smile lit up
Summits of industry. Civilized eyes
Astounded, ablaze, sulfurous flames
Burst out their lips: Prussians, Huns,
Barbaric Boche, the Anti-Christ….
Besieging your dreams, flags darkening the sun.
Your hard logic stood and harder prejudice.
Luther provoked Pope, cursed the Jews.
Kant’s stars ordered to the colors of the skin,
Hegel buried Chinese in pre-historic gloom.
In World War I you fought Europe, and in II
You fought the world. Millions of young bodies
Bulldozed into pulp by an ever-churning Idea
Until Auschwitz paralyzed your mind.
The genes of your Germanic fathers ebbed.
The Berlin walls excluded the centuries
Before the mayhem, cinders of volumes
Burned by the Nazis blowing above the Rhine.
III. The USA
Spiritual territory divided by Israel and Rome,
Capitol, the eagle and the military
Turned English into Latin, your ark of covenant
Lurking in “Old Europe” and exceptionalism.
The future of the New World, like the formed past,
Stands unalterable. To glorify a Calvinist God
In plantations, stock exchanges, gold valleys,
You pursue wealth, salvation, the American comedy.
Witch ashes taught you to sever law from religion,
Taxes from the Crown inspired your Constitution,
Procedural justice drove Indians West,
And slaves’ liberty brought new value to industry.
Moved by your own virtue, embarrassed
At your profit, you embrace all who suffered,
Yourself an aporia of suffering.
The world needs you in the absence of a better judge.
IV. Russia
Your sheer size imbues enemies with desire, despair.
No costs insufferable to you, villages destroyed,
Livestock wiped out, lands coated with corpses,
Survivors defeat physical and psychological laws.
Deep as Lake Baikal your pain, your power secretive
As a Siberian tiger. Colossal mountains and rivers
Impede communications, but bone and ghosts, obstinate,
Learned to sing in chorus in Petersberg’s swamps.
Bullied by the Mongols, you yearned to be Third Rome,
Adopting a Greek-styled alphabet and Byzantium blood.
Thirsting for freedom, you more often embraced despotism,
Empire being your true totem and tenet.
Yet you always stand higher than politics, thoughts
Make you a giant. Locked securely away,
Your honest sages, enduring exiles and penitents,
Will store food for the world in endless winter.

 

V. Carthage
Europa’s offspring, forefather of Europe,
You too used to control the Mediterranean waves,
But now a mere stroke of smoke in the desert,
A ghostly mirror in history and myth.
That amorous queen truly gave her heart
To a vagabond Aeneas? Or more likely
A middle-aged fantasy of triumphant Latin
Adds a veneer of decadence to a blood lake.
Gloomy Hannibal, bound in vain by an oath
To a life of killing. Did bewildered elephants,
Half-buried in Alpine snow, ask him where
He would go if there had been no Rome?
A lonely army, wrapped by its enemy, nearly
Annihilated a nation. Under the carnal mountain
Erupted an empire, flames would consume
The skeleton of its rivaling civilization.

 

VI. Sparta
I won’t sing Athens, your ghost more powerful
Than the memory of that eternal enemy,
Undeterred by the rooster, unsinkable by dawn,
Silent spell confining any sober mind.
The beauty of the three hundred startles,
Each dead a child that had survived,
Property of the polis, parents unknown,
Taught to love hate in a soldier’s camp.
In the dark, an unseen shadow left behind
The body of a surprised slave.
Next morning, the elders warned him,
Solemnly, of the recurring initiation.
Ruins after the civil war ushered in
Macedonia, but you’ve never gone rotten.
Even Plato dreams of you in his heaven,

Even liberals enthrall to your order.

 


天 命
(一):以色列
仇恨你成了一门艺术,一种哲学
一套千年不断的生产线:谣言
演说,专著,节日的戏剧表演
十字架,火刑台,毒气室,坑穴
比雅典和罗马更古老,但你却
任人践踏,仿佛布满霉斑的馒头
无论敌我,战争总是你的诅咒
他们握手言欢,你仍一汪血泊
你贡献了耶稣,世界却只记得
犹大,你创造思想、宗教和科技
世界却还给你废墟、流浪和隔离
你一忍再忍,世界却一错再错
甚至复国都几乎让你再次丧国
上帝拣选了你,却拒绝拣选和平
漩涡的中心,永恒的耶路撒冷

在梦中追问当初蜜和奶的承诺

(二):德意志
闪电般你攻陷了文学,狂飙中
将哲学纳入版图,铁血的车间
铸造新的帝国,工业的峰巅
你的笑容璀璨。文明人的瞳孔
被惊愕点燃,硫磺火从嘴唇里
倾巢而出:下贱的普鲁士,匈奴
野蛮的德国鬼,邪恶的敌基督……
围攻梦想,蔑视的旗遮天蔽日
坚定的逻辑,和更坚定的偏见
路德挑衅教皇,更挑衅犹太族
康德的星空按肤色排列着光谱
黑格尔把汉语埋入史前的悬棺
一战你对抗欧洲,二战你对抗
整个世界,千万具青春的躯体
被运转不息的观念碾压成血泥
直到奥斯威辛休克了你的思想
日尔曼先祖的基因停止了喧嚣
柏林墙隔开了劫灰之前的年月
纳粹未曾焚尽的那些画卷和书页

在莱茵河的暮色中无言地飘……

(三):美利坚
精神的国土,被以色列和罗马
一分为二:国会山、鹰徽和军队
把英语变成了拉丁,而你的约柜
藏在旧欧洲和例外论的言辞下
新大陆和未来,如同成型的过去
不可更改,为了加尔文的上帝
你在种植园、交易所和淘金地
追逐财富、救赎和美国梦的喜剧
女巫的骨灰中,你学会政教分离
英王的税,启示了宪法的条文
程序正义赶走了东部的印第安人
奴隶的自由为工业创造了价值
感动于自己的道德,你却屡番
尴尬于利益,欢迎一切苦难者
你却时常成了苦难的不可解结

世界需要你,只因没更好的法官?

(四):俄罗斯
你的广袤令敌人垂涎,继而绝望
一切牺牲都可忍受,村庄焚灭
牛羊屠尽,死者遍地堆积如草芥
生者让生理学崩溃,心理学投降
你的苦难深沉如贝加尔湖,力量
隐秘如西伯利亚虎,雄浑的山水
隔绝了交通,执拗的枯骨与鬼魅
却在彼得堡的泥沼里学会合唱
金帐国的欺凌,第三罗马的梦想
希腊式的字母,拜占庭的血脉
你渴慕自由,却时常拥抱独裁
帝国才是你真正的图腾和信仰
但你永远高于浅薄的政治,思想
让你成为巨人,你有诚实的圣哲
坚忍的流放犯和灵魂的拷问者

在漫长的冬天为世界积攒食粮

(五):迦太基
欧罗巴的后代,欧洲的祖先
你也曾主宰地中海的阴晴
现在,你只是大漠的一缕烟
一面神话和历史中的妖镜
多情的女王,真的曾经爱上
仓皇的埃涅阿斯?抑或是
拉丁语凯旋后的中年臆想
为血湖添上些柔靡的涟漪
阴郁的汉尼拔,徒然被毒誓
禁锢了一生,迷惑的大象
在阿尔卑斯的雪中可曾问你
如果没有罗马,你去何方?
深陷敌阵的孤军,几乎灭掉
整个民族,坎奈的尸山下
隆起一个帝国,他的燃烧

将熔尽另一个文明的骨架

(六):斯巴达
不歌咏雅典,因你的鬼魂
比宿敌的记忆更强大,鸡鸣
不能惊吓,晓色不能隐沦
无声的咒语囚禁意志的清明
三百勇士的壮美,动魄惊心
每位死者都曾是幸存的婴孩
城邦的共产,陌生的双亲
军营灌注他们,对仇恨的爱
夜幕下,无人窥见的身影
留下一具奴隶愕然的尸体
翌日,长老们严肃的神情
告诫他,成人礼仅仅是开始
内战的废墟迎来了马其顿
但你从未朽烂,甚至柏拉图
都梦想在他的天国旧梦重温

甚至自由者都迷恋你的肃穆

Translated from the Chinese by the author

Li Yongyi has translated 14 books into Chinese from English, French, and Latin. He is the author on one collection of his own poems, Swordsman Poet Phantom.

Part 3 (III. The USA) of this poem first appeared in Issue 10 of The CommonClick here to purchase.

 

About the Translators: 

 

Stephen Haven is the author of The Last Sacred Place in North America (2012, winner of the New American Press Poetry Prize). He has published two previous collections of poetry, Dust and Bread (2008, for which he was named Ohio Poet of the Year), and The Long Silence of the Mohawk Carpet Smokestack (2004). He directs the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Ashland University, in Ohio. He was twice a Fulbright Professor of American literature at universities in Beijing.
Li Yongyi is Professor of English at Chongqing University, in Chongqing, China. He was a 2012–2013 Fulbright Scholar in Residence at the University of Washington. His major fields of scholarship include Anglo-American modern poetry, classical Roman poetry, and classical Chinese poetry. He has translated fourteen books into Chinese from English, French and Latin. His translation of Carmina was the first Chinese translation of the entire body of Catullus’s poetry. He is the author on one collection of his own poems, Swordsman Poet Phantom.
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Poems From The Life Assignment

RICARDO ALBERTO MALDONADO
I feel from dignity and calm. I, / anxiety grabbed me // with sciatica, although I recited poems / at a stone’s throw, inside the machine // elevator. The clattering of the empire / its capital / an arsenal of pain, it made for a rough // odor. Now can you see the monument?