This semester I’m taking a Chinese literature class, which has been a lot of fun – I’ve gotten to read a lot of translated works that I’d never even heard of before. Occasionally we’ve read works by Chinese poets as well, which has been especially interesting for me. Now that we’re nearing the end of the semester, my professor has challenged us to create our own translations of Chinese poems. Most recently, we each translated Wang Yoon-Wah’s “Rubber Tree,” a beautiful poem that uses nature to speak about the horrors suffered by colonial era rubber workers. I especially like that Wang sees beauty even in the tortured tree, because it is still standing tall.
My translation is less literal than some of the others created by the class. I wanted to carry the beauty of Wang’s language over into my translation.
by Wang Yoon-Wah
The rubber tree dreads the coming of the heat,
the changing of the season.Yet it is not ashamed.
From the beginning of the Chinese New Year
the tree takes off its clothing, piece by piece.
It takes it off completely,
until it is wearing nothing,
standing on the hillside, naked.
It’s body is not sexual –
The tree is bony and jagged,
and its trunk is scarred by countless knives.
I know it is hoping for the rain
to return to the forests of the equator,
when it will put on its bright green dress,
and small yellow flowers…