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The Monday Poem > Books by Xi Chuan (3 Oct 16)

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message 1: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments Books by Xi Chuan
collaboratively translated by Wang Ping, Elizabeth Fox, Ed Friedman, Lynn Hejinian, Gary Lenhart, Murat Nemet-Nejat, Ron Padgett, David Shapiro, Richard Sieburth, Anne Waldman, Keith Waldrop and Lewis Walsh

Books should be illuminated by torches,
just as the Incas illuminated their city.

Torches shone on its
woven fabric, pears, gold and silver utensils --

objects that time uses to express itself
from opposition to unity, revealing the secrets of fate,

like Hercules and Plato
attracted by the same spring bee.

"All books are the same book,"
pale Mallarmé said with confidence.

All mistakes are the same mistake,
like Ptolemy's research into earth and stars,

his precise calculations
that only led him to absurd conclusions.

Books create a space larger than books.
The life of fire ends in its own flame.

Emperor Qin Shi haunted the library hallway
and Aldous Huxley,

robbed of the past by a fire,
clarified the rest of his life in a single lecture.

I see a rose
covered with dust; what else can death do?

The lofty bookshelves sag
under thousands of sleeping souls.

We live together,
hiding beneath the spirit's torch.

Silence, hopeful --
every time I open a book, a soul is awakened.

A strange woman walks
in a city I've never seen.

A funeral is taking place
in a dusk I've never entered.

Othello's anger, Hamlet's conscience,
Truth spoken at will, muffled bells.

I read a family prophecy.
The pains I've seen are no more than the pains themselves.

History records only a few people's deeds:
The rest is silence.


message 2: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments I completely forgot it was my turn! So not only am I late but I didn't have a poem picked out. I took this one from the anthology I recently checked out from the library (New Generation: Poems from China Today), attracted by the title.


B the BookAddict (bthebookaddict) | 8315 comments And what a great choice it was, Leslie.

Silence, hopeful --
every time I open a book, a soul is awakened.


so true.


message 4: by Gill (last edited Oct 05, 2016 02:00PM) (new)

Gill | 5720 comments 'Books create a space larger than books'

One lovely line amongst many. Thanks, Leslie.


message 5: by Jenny (new)

Jenny (jeoblivion) | 4869 comments It was well worth the wait Leslie. Lovely poem!


message 6: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments B the BookAddict wrote: "And what a great choice it was, Leslie.

Silence, hopeful --
every time I open a book, a soul is awakened.

so true."


That was one of the parts I liked best too Bette! Plus the last 2 lines...


message 7: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments Gill wrote: "'Books create a space larger than books'

One lovely line amongst many. Thanks, Leslie."


Wonderful line -- when I was typing it, I had to double-check that I hadn't made a mistake and then the meaning hit me :)


message 8: by Greg (new)

Greg | 7530 comments Mod
I like this Leslie!

I feel like maybe a bit got lost in translation in a few spots though with all the different translators. Or maybe the poem just takes a bunch of thematic turns?

Still, it has some great parts! I love the feel of the lines:

"The lofty bookshelves sag
under thousands of sleeping souls.

We live together,
hiding beneath the spirit's torch."

And I like the meaning of the last lines a lot, the idea of all the unsung lives. Something beautiful about all that is contained in that silence.


message 9: by Leslie (new)

Leslie | 15985 comments Greg wrote: "I like this Leslie!

I feel like maybe a bit got lost in translation in a few spots though with all the different translators. Or maybe the poem just takes a bunch of thematic turns? ..."


It is unclear to me how the translation was actually done -- Wang Ping is the editor of this anthology and all the others are listed as translators. He mentions in the introduction (which I just barely skimmed) that they worked collaboratively but I don't know whether that means they all worked on each poem or not.

It did seem a bit jerky at the beginning and the couplets don't feel connected to the content that well; I don't know if that form was dictated by the form of the original poem but assume so.

But the second half of the poem seems to work much better!


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