Valerie's Reviews > The August Sleepwalker

The August Sleepwalker by Bei Dao
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's review
Mar 21, 2012

it was amazing
bookshelves: around-the-world-challenge, poetry, male-writer, world-literature, poc-writer
Read from March 15 to 25, 2012 — I own a copy

I am not used to reading translated poems that seem this fleshed out. Usually there is a skeleton-like quality to the poems and I can tell they were translated, but this book, I would have never suspected.

Bei Dao writes in Chinese and this book of poems is translated by Bonnie S. McDougall.

I loved the poems but I can't exactly say why. It isn't the type of writing I usually love, it's quiet, it doesn't really seem modern. The language is simple, but there is a light, enjoyable, very endearing quirkiness to the writing.

Most of the poems didn't have punctuation, and it didn't matter at all. Every poem was easy to follow. Most of the line breaks were broken in a way to help the reader navigate. The titles were pretty simple.

The big question is, will I still love Bei Dao when he is translated by someone else? I will find out soon, because I checked out every Bei Dao book I found at the 3 libraries I went to the last week. (Lately I have a ridiculous library compulsion, and right now I have 35 library books checked out from 4 libraries.) McDougall translated one other of Dao's poetry books.

My favorites in the book (I found some versions of these poems that weren't translated by McDougall but I'm not posting them because they aren't as good.)

I couldn't find any poems in the book online that were translated by McDougall, but I want to include a poem, so I am just going to type it out.

Song of Migrating Birds.

We are a flock of migrating birds
Who have flown into winter's cage;
In the green early dawn we set off
On our flight to the ends of the earth.

Let our shed feathers
Fall on the heads of young women;
Let our strong wings
Bear the sun aloft.

We herd dark clouds,
Swaying manes pass through rainbows;
We herd the winds,
Flying pockets are filled with songs.

It is our cries
That frighten icebergs into ancient tears;
It is our jeers
That shame roses into crimson cheeks.

North, our homeland,
Accept our dream: let a tree
Grow from each crack in the ice
To bear great and small bells of joy.
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