Gary Young (with Yanwen Xu)
A Pleasing Rain on a Spring Night
The spring rain came last night
As if it knew when to arrive,
Sneaking in with the wind to dampen
And nourish everything without a sound.
The trails now are dark under the black clouds,
But sparks rise from boats on the river.
This morning, the flowers and plants
Are all bent in Jinguan City.
— Du Fu (Tang)
The countryside is lovely in late spring.
The scent of fragrant blossoms drifts on the breeze.
Swallows gather mud to build their nests,
And ducks sleep side-by-side on the warm sand.
— Du Fu (Tang)
Gazing at Dongting Lake
The surface of the lake harmonizes with autumn moonlight
And becomes a fogged mirror of bronze.
A hill rises from the center of Dongting Lake
Like a small green snail on a silver plate.
— Liu Yuxi (Tang)
The poems that appear in this issue were taken from the Jiangsu Elementary School Chinese Textbook, an anthology of 70 poems given to Chinese schoolchildren to aid their instruction in Standard Chinese. The poems are also meant to also introduce them to China’s rich literary history.
The study of these poems subtly guides students toward an appreciation of traditional Chinese virtues, culture, historical events and social etiquette. The poems are memorized by most Chinese students, and by the end of their course of study, Chinese children will have absorbed a storehouse of Chinese characters and been steeped in a cultural tradition that spans more than two thousand years. Most of the poems are considered to be classics, representative of poetry’s highest achievement.
These translations are not literal, as no literal translation from Chinese into American English is possible. But in the poems we have translated thus far, we have strived to mirror the emotional state and musical values of the originals. We have chosen to translate line by line and have eschewed jumbling lines within the poem. We have also aimed for the concision of the originals. Chinese is such an allusive language, we could never achieve the same concision in English, but we have tried to ring the appropriate bells, to give agency and to privilege certain characters with English equivalents.
Our primary motive has been to create moving poems in American English that capture as much of the original Chinese—in mood, texture and spirit—as possible.
— Gary Young and Yanwen Xu