This semester I took a Chinese literature class, which was really fascinating – I got to read a lot of translated works that I’d never even heard of before. Occasionally we also read works by Chinese poets, which was especially interesting for me. Towards the end of the semester, my professor challenged us to create our own translations of Chinese poems. Most recently, we each translated a poem by Bei Dao, one of the most famous of the “Misty Poets,” so called because his imagistic, politically-charged poems can be very hard to decipher. I translated his poem “An Advertisement”. Even though I’m not positive what all of his images mean, I love some of his lines! The biggest difficulty I’ve had with Chinese translations is deciding what is modifying what, and where sentences and ideas break. Bei Dao was especially hard, because he doesn’t use punctuation!
by Bei Dao
The light of dawn will be lilac,
its silk cloth draped over stomping
pigeons reciting the dreams of humanity:
huge price reductions, a climate in which
we heard golden thunder.
Freedom, step by step, consolidates its victories.
Night is pain, one cat’s eye made bigger
and bigger, becoming huge tires.
The shadow of marriage hurriedly turns
from the newspapers. Choose a new dictatorship.
The city splits to wave hello,
to beg war’s smoke to climb to the height of the sun.
This is a flower shop, the doors open for business.