Guest poem sent in by Raj Bandyopadhyay
(Poem #1159) A Night Abroad
A light wind is rippling at the grassy shore.... Through the night, to my motionless tall mast, The stars lean down from open space, And the moon comes running up the river. ..If only my art might bring me fame And free my sick old age from office! -- Flitting, flitting, what am I like But a sand-snipe in the wide, wide world!
(Translated by Witter Bynner, 1929) Here's another translation of the same poem, by Vikram Seth "Thoughts While Travelling at Night" (Translated by Vikram Seth, 1992) Light breeze on the fine grass I stand alone at the mast. Stars lean on the vast wild plain Moon bobs in the great river's spate. Letters have brought no fame Office? Too old to obtain. Drifting, what am I like? A gull between the earth and sky. --------------------------------- I finally received a copy of Vikram Seth's 'Three Chinese poets' after a long wait, and had to send out a nice one!!! Du Fu (712-770 AD), one of the most well known Tang Dynasty Chinese poets, along with Li Bai and Wang Wei. This dynasty (618-907 AD) is considered the golden period of Chinese poetry, probably well-known to westerners through the collection : 300 Tang Dynasty poems. This collection is a must-read for every Chinese schoolkid. Both the originals and translations are online at an excellent archive at http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/chinese/frame.htm I personally find this kind of poetry appealing, even in translation, because of the simplicity and universal appeal of the ideas. Chinese poetry loses most of the lyrical beauty in translation, hence different translations have really different degrees of impact: a point I want to make here. Traditional translations in the 19th and early 20th centuries try to translate in a way which results in 'English poetry', sometimes taking undue (IMHO) liberties with language or concepts. Modern translations such as those of Seth (not many people know of his expertise in Chinese literature!) keep the English language simple, maintain the sentence structure and attempt to get the elegance of the ideas across. Some people consider Seth's style inferior. I will reserve final judgement until I can understand these poems in the original. Meanwhile, other opinions are welcome! So here goes! The poem itself I chose because I sometimes strongly identify with the feelings of aimlessness and smallness described. I personally feel the Bynner translation as more descriptive, but the Seth translation more emotionally appealing and overall, understandable. I might just be stupid... :-) References: 1) Witter Bynner: The Jade Mountain (1929), also at the UVA website above 2) Vikram Seth: Three Chinese Poets (1992)