Monday, May 3, 2010

Lines Written on a Wall of Dongliu Village - Xin Qiji

Xin Qiji (1140-1207) was a soldier-statesman-poet during the southern Song Dynasty, when "China" was still beset by "barbarian" tribes from the north.  According to accounts, he gained and lost the emperor's favor several times as a strong proponent (and leader in the field) of military actions vs. appeasement of the invadersHe is considered one of the leading poets of the Song Dynasty.  (For more of his poems translated into English by various people, click here.)  The translator of this one is someone VERY interesting in his own right: a Chinese professor at Washington University in St. Louis who writes critically-acclaimed police-procedural novels - in English! - set in contemporary Chinahas translated English-language poets into Chinese, and writes poetry in both languages.  I've read some of his books and HIGHLY recommend them as being both good mystery stories and providing accurate insights into the conflicting forces in modern Chinese society.  (Click on his name below to go to his website.This poem's use of nature to set the stage for the back-story and that quality of longing and melancholy for something past that is (to me) very typical of Chinese love poetryJust the line about plucking a flower from the mirror as a simile for impossibility is worth the whole poem.  The poem would have been sung.  (Qingming Festival is in April and it's both a celebration of the beginning of Spring and the day for remembering the dead. Click on the name for a more detailed reading about the festival.)
Lines Written on a Wall of Dongliu Village

                                                                                transl. from Chinese by Qiu Xiaolong

Wild pear blossoms start falling again,
so soon, the Qingming festival over.
The cruel eastern wind, for no reason,
interrupts a traveler’s dream.
I awake, the brocade curtain
devastatingly cold. Once,
she held the drink to me
on the winding river bank,
and we bade farewell to each other
under a weeping willow tree
with my horse tethered to it.
Now, the pavilion deserted,
there is no trace of her,
only the swallows twittering about bygones.

She’s been seen, people say,
east of the bustling thoroughfare,
behind the curtain, still as graceful
as the new moon. Old regrets
run like the endless spring water. New griefs
pile up like the clouds over the mountains.
If we were going to meet again,
at a banquet, to tell her all this
would be impossible
as to pluck the flower from a mirror.
She would say, perhaps,
"How white your hair has grown!"
                                                                                              Xin Qiji - Chinese

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