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A Cold December Night by Mu Dan

April 13, 2011 3 comments

translated by Huiwen (Helen) Zhang

 

在寒冷的腊月的夜里

 

在寒冷的腊月的夜里,风扫着北方的平原,
北方的田野是枯干的,大麦和谷子已经推进了村庄,
岁月尽竭了,牲口憩息了,村外的小河冻结了,
在古老的路上,在田野的纵横里闪着一盏灯光,
一副厚重的,多纹的脸,
他想什么?他做什么?
在这亲切的,为吱哑的轮子压死的路上。

 

风向东吹,风向南吹,风在低矮的小街上旋转,
木格的窗子堆着沙土,我们在泥草的屋顶下安眠,
谁家的儿郎吓哭了,哇——呜——呜——从屋顶传过屋顶,
他就要长大了渐渐和我们一样地躺下,一样地打鼾,
从屋顶传过屋顶,风
这样大岁月这样悠久,
我们不能够听见,我们不能够听见。

 

火熄了么?红的炭火拨灭了么?一个声音说,
我们的祖先是已经睡了,睡在离我们不远的地方,
所有的故事已经讲完了,只剩下了灰烬的遗留,
在我们没有安慰的梦里,在他们走来又走去以后,
在门口,那些用旧了的镰刀,
锄头,牛轭,石磨,大车,
静静地,正承接着雪花的飘落。

*

A Cold December Night

A cold December night, the wind sweeps the northern plains,
The northern fields wither; wheat and corn are wheeled into the village,
Months and years end, mules and oxen fall asleep, the river outside the village freezes,
On the ancient road, amid the field’s crossing patterns, a lamp sparkles,
A thick, wrinkled face,
Thinking what? Doing what?
On this trusted road, pressed to death under the groaning wheels.

The wind blows to the east, the wind blows to the south, the wind swirls over the sunken narrow streets, 
The paper pane of the wooden lattice window piled with sand, we sleep calmly under the muddy grass roof,  
Whose boy is crying out in fear? wa—wu—wu—, roof to roof,
He is about to grow up and, with time, just like us, lie down, just like us, snore
Roof to roof, the wind
So wide and months and years so long,
We cannot hear, we cannot hear.

Is the fire out? Is the red coal flame quenched? A voice:
Our ancestors are already asleep, somewhere close to us,
All the stories are already told, only ashes left behind,
In our disconsolate dreams, once they’ve come and gone, 
At the gate those tired-out scythes,
Hoes, yokes, millstones, and carts
Quiet, treasuring snowflowers as they fall.

1941


Download the podcast
(thanks to Vic Udwin for the English reading)

Mu Dan 穆旦(1918-1977) is widely considered one of the most significant Chinese poets of the 20th century. He was driven by a passion and a talent for poetry since the age of 13; compelled by the Cultural Revolution to cease at 40, he was reborn as a poet at 57. During the war, he walked a circuitous 3000 miles from Peking to Kunming to attend the provisional wartime university, and joined the Chinese Expedition Army to Burman (now Myanmar). T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden were strong influences on his early work. He translated poetry from Russian and English, developing a Chinese voice for Pushkin, Blake, Byron, Keats, and Shelley.

Huiwen (Helen) Zhang 张慧文 (website, blog) is a curious mind wandering in search of every possible experience and adventure from China through Germany to the United States; a limber voice rendering Chinese, German, and English into one another in quest of the seemingly unattainable congenial; an unyielding spirit striving in the wilderness of philosophy and poetry; and a faithful soul writing under the sign of blue flower and red coral. This translation is a companion to her earlier piece in the issue, “Meditation on the Road: Chinese Wartime Sonnets by Feng Zhi,” which were also written in 1941.

Meditation on the Road: Chinese Wartime Sonnets by Feng Zhi

February 18, 2011 6 comments

translated by Huiwen (Helen) Zhang

冯至:十四行集(二十七首)

十五

看这一队队的驮马
驮来了远方的货物,
水也会冲来一些泥沙
从些不知名的远处,

风从千万里外也会
掠来些他乡的叹息:
我们走过无数的山水,
随时占有,随时又放弃,

仿佛鸟飞翔在空中,
它随时都管领太空,
随时都感到一无所有。

什么是我们的实在?
从远方什么也带不来,
从面前什么也带不走。

from the Collection of 27 Sonnets (1941)

No. 15

Look at the horde of loaded horses
Bringing goods from far-off places;
Water also brings in sands
From distant nameless lands;

Wind from a thousand miles away
Brings sighs of foreign towns:
We’ve wandered hills and streams,
Now owning them, now giving them up.

Like a bird flying in the sky,
Now ruling the cosmos,
Now feeling its utter lack.

In what consists our being?
From afar nothing can we bring,
From here nothing can we take.

* * *

什么能从我们身上脱落,
我们都让它化作尘埃:
我们安排我们在这时代
像秋日的树木,一棵棵

把树叶和些过迟的花朵
都交给秋风,好舒开树身
伸入严冬;我们安排我们
在自然里,像蜕化的蝉蛾

把残壳都丢在泥里土里;
我们把我们安排给那个
未来的死亡,象一段歌曲,

歌声从音乐的身上脱落,
归终剩下了音乐的身躯
化作一脉的青山默默。

No. 2

What might fall from our bodies,
Let it all turn into dust:
In our time we arrange ourselves
Like autumn trees, one by one

Handing leaves and late blossoms
All to the autumn wind, freeing the trunk to stretch
Into harsh winter; we arrange ourselves
In nature, as cicadas and moths

Cast all old skins into the mud;
We arrange ourselves for that
Death to come, like the stanza of a song.

From the body of the music the sound falls.
What remains in the end is the music’s body:
Green hills ranged in silence.


Download the podcast
(thanks to Vic Udwin for the English reading)

Feng Zhi 冯至 (1905-1993) was a modernist poet and the founder of German Studies at Peking University. During his wartime exile, he perceived and approached the exceptional situation of 1940s China from a reflective and introspective distance. His poetry not only conveys his curiosity and concern about each individual being’s existence at a critical moment, but also exemplifies the uncanny sense of hope and despair, bewilderment and determination characteristic of the Chinese “lost generation” of intellectuals.

Huiwen (Helen) Zhang 张慧文 (website, blog) is a curious mind wandering in search of every possible experience and adventure from China through Germany to the United States; a limber voice rendering Chinese, German, and English into one another in quest of the seemingly unattainable congenial; an unyielding spirit striving in the wilderness of philosophy and poetry; and a faithful soul writing under the sign of blue flower and red coral. Her translation series, “Meditation on the Road,” concentrates on Feng Zhi’s Collection of 27 Sonnets (Shisihang Ji, 1941).

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