Tuesday, May 19, 2015

An Ode to Chinese

The only language river flows nonstop from extreme antiquity to modern days.

By X. Z. Shao  

To translate
a traditional Chinese poem
into any other language
is to smear it,
to reduce a swan into a duck.
If you care about
how my ancients did
their language acrobats,
I will show you
how each character
find its way from the wild
to a turtle or a bison bone,
to a cast bronze,
to a bamboo or a wooden slip
then to a piece of silk or paper,
its forms, from crude cuts
traced back four millennia plus,
to the script of Chin
with smooth lines
dancing like court girls
unfurling their long sleeves,
to Han’s official style
of willowy charm,
not to mention the regular script
with strength and pride
on which modern print Chinese bases,
and to the cursive style,
to give you a hint of its power,
Jackson Pollack may know a little.
With image characters
combined with vivid verbs
without much use of pronouns,
with prepositions out the picture,
adverbs and adjectives’ functions
derived from picturesque nouns,
never with such things as
definite and indefinite articles, 
singular, plural and tenses,
a cluster of a few lines
will give you the wonder
of Milton’s lofty mind,
Shakespeare’s skill to enslave words,
and a Romanticist being tortured
by the Beauty and his mental storms.
In Li Bai,
you will experience
the sky and earth linked
via the mountains he trekked.
you will see flowers, birds,
clouds, rivers, the sun and moon…
explode into wonders and his lament,
and his voice can be so fine tuned,
his negative capacity is such
that he imagines himself
to be his wife answering his own letter,
which makes you swooned by the tender love,
and his sympathy to a court beauty’s
marriage to a nomadic tribal head
perpetuates her sorrow
that cuts and bites deep into your flesh.
And his is only the extreme tip of an iceberg,
literally, of the whole body of Chinese verses.  
Don’t expect narrative scenes
similar to Homeric wars,
or a long discursive rendering,
for how you can
set your wildest horse run
forever on earth and in the sky
without its slacking or dropping dead.

To Chinese eyes,
lines without imageries are unpoetic.

We have only lyrics
that make your heart strings coil and loose,
and you are forced to bounce,
and find it hard to keep your hands still. 


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