Between the Lines: Yang Lian's Poetry Through Translation 9004223991, 9789004223998

In Between the Lines Cosima Bruno illustrates how the study of translation can enhance our experience of reading poetry.

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Between the Lines: Yang Lian's Poetry Through Translation
 9004223991, 9789004223998

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Between the Lines: Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation

Sinica Leidensia Edited by

Barend J. ter Haar Maghiel van Crevel In co-operation with

P.K. Bol, D.R. Knechtges, E.S. Rawski, W.L. Idema, H.T. Zurndorfer


The titles published in this series are listed at

Between the Lines: Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation By

Cosima Bruno


Cover illustration: “Between the lines”. Photo by Maria Sole Bruno. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data   Bruno, Cosima. Between the lines : Yang Lian’s poetry through translation / by Cosima Bruno.   p. cm. — (Sinica leidensia ; 108)  Includes bibliographical references and index.  ISBN 978-90-04-22399-8 (hardback : acid-free paper)  1. Yang, Lian, 1955—Criticism and interpretation. 2. Poetry—Translating. I. Title.    PL2922.L478Z55 2012  895.1’152—dc23                                     2012007525

This publication has been typeset in the multilingual “Brill” typeface. With over 5,100 characters covering Latin, IPA, Greek, and Cyrillic, this typeface is especially suitable for use in the humanities. For more information, please see ISSN 0169-9563 ISBN 978 90 04 22399 8 (hardback) ISBN 978 90 04 22963 1 (e-book) Copyright 2012 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Hotei Publishing, IDC Publishers and Martinus Nijhoff Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill NV provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, MA 01923, USA. Fees are subject to change. This book is printed on acid-free paper.



Contents Acknowledgements. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  vii General Notes. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  ix List of Illustrations . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  xi 1. Reading between the Lines . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   1 2.

Theoretical Framework and Propositions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .   9  Text. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  11  The Relation between a Text and Its Translation . . . . . . . . . . . . .  13  Methodology Explained . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  16  Description of Translation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  22  Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  27


Case Study: Translations of Poems by Yang Lian. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  29  The Text World’s Inhabitants: A Description of the Use of  Pronouns . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  32  Time. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  38  Space. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  47  Figurative Language. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  54  Rhythm . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  64 Rhythm in the Printed Text. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 64 Poetry Readings: The Acoustic Dimension of Yang’s Poems.  68  Conclusions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  72 4. Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  75  The Timeless Space. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  78 Techniques of Presenting Time in Yang Lian’s Poetry. . . . . . . . 78 The Continuous Contingency. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 88  Subjectivity. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  94 The Crocodile-word. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94 Subjectivity through Personal Pronouns. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 94  Epilogue. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  104 5. Conclusions. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  109



Appendix: Comparative Analysis . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  119  Portraits of the Translators. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  158 Bibliography . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  169 Index. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  177



Acknowledgements My interest in the subject of this book can be traced to the year 1998, when I embarked on the translation of a number of contemporary Chinese poems for the Italian literary journal In forma di parole. During that time, I began to consider the process of reading and translating in and of itself, and also linguistic performativity and ways of dealing with it across languages and cultures. Ultimately, I decided that it was worth exploring the translation of poetry more attentively, and studying the work of other translators. I read on the subject of poetry translation; interviewed translators, poets and scholars; and asked translators about their approaches and strategies, and their general views on poetry and its translation. I also asked poets how they perceive poetry writing and translation, and discussed theoretical and practical problems with scholars. My gratitude goes to all of these people for contributing, directly or indirectly, to the writing of this book. I am primarily indebted to Michel Hockx, who, both during my doctoral research and afterwards, contributed enormously to shaping my thoughts, and was always encouraging and very generous with his time. Acknowledgments are also due to Theo Hermans, who, on regrettably few occasions, acted as a stimulating interlocutor for my theoretical speculations. I am extremely grateful to Gianni Scalia, a truly inspiring intellectual, who has had a profound impact on my conception of poetry and its translation. I also want to thank Claudia Pozzana and Alessandro Russo, editors of that so wonderfully germinating issue of In forma di parole. I owe immense thanks to my family for unconditional support and encouragement, and I am obliged to the poets Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江 河, Xi Chuan 西川 and Zang Di 藏棣 for warmly welcoming me during my fieldwork in Beijing. I would like to thank Yang Lian 杨炼, in particular, for his vibrant mind and intellectual agility. I am delighted to have made the acquaintance of the translators Brian Holton, Simon Patton and Michelle Yeh, who, together with Mabel Lee, John Minford, Seán Golden, Tony Barnstone and Newton Liu, have graciously shared useful information with me. This study could never have been completed without the financial support of the Mellon Foundation, which has generously sponsored my



research at the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the Universities’ China Committee in London, which contributed towards my expenses during my fieldwork in China. Acknowledgements are also due to Yang Lian for granting permission to reprint his poems, and editors and translators John Cayley, Tony Barn­ stone, Brian Holton, Mabel Lee, John Minford, and Michelle Yeh for granting the rights to reprint the translations. Although every effort has been put into contacting Li Xia, no instructions were received for the use of her translation.

list of illustrations


General Notes Parts of this book’s contents have been published in single essay form in the Chinese literary magazine Shi tansuo 诗探索 (2003), and in the book Translating Others, edited by Theo Hermans (2006). The transcription of all Chinese names, titles and quotations is in the Pinyin system. I have tried to maintain non-sexist language throughout the book. However, since my point of view is overtly personal, at times I have taken the liberty of referring to the imagined translator, critic, writer and reader in feminine terms, as she.

list of illustrations


List of Illustrations Figure 3.1. “Shi”, 识 Yang Lian. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  68 Figure 3.2. “Knowedge”, translated by Brian Holton. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  68 Figure 4.1. Yi, Yang Lian . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  88

Reading between the Lines


Chapter One

Reading between the Lines This is a reflexive study of the translation of contemporary Chinese poems. It has been developed around the ideas that poetry translation is an interactive process of reading and writing, and that a study of such a process increases our understanding and aesthetic appreciation of the source text. Modern hermeneutical approaches to poetry translation consider translation to be a form of critical reading and rewriting, insofar as it selects and organizes profiles of the source text in the target text. In a 1923 essay entitled “The Task of the Translator”, Walter Benjamin, the renowned initiator of the modern hermeneutical tradition, proposes to look at translation and original not as separate entities, but as connected to each other by a “vital” relationship. For Benjamin, translation can be seen as a reincarnation of the original, as its “afterlife”. He further specifies that translation “must lovingly and in detail incorporate the original’s mode of signification” (1923, 21). A decade later, Ezra Pound, commenting on his own translations of Guido Cavalcanti, writes that the translator “can show where the treasure lies” (1934, 33). In more recent times, many poets and theorists of translation have expressed similar views. The Brazilian poet Haroldo de Campos sees translation as “an understanding of the most profound workings of the artistic text, its most intimate mechanisms and gears” (1963, 325). Translation theorist Antoine Berman considers that translation reveals “the foreign work’s most original kernel” (1985, 284), and translator-scholar Clive Scott describes the process of translating as one that “re-activates” the source text (Scott 2000, 184). In line with these hermeneutical descriptions of translation, some studies have promoted the use of translation as a heuristic means for an appreciation of literary text. In her 1997 book Translation and Literary Criticism: Translation as Analysis, Marilyn Gaddis Rose advocates an increased use of translation as a critical instrument that can enrich our perception of the source text; Jean Boase-Beier (2006) concludes that literary translation is “a more literary text than an untranslated text” (148) and studying it cognitively will enhance our poetic experience.


chapter one

And yet, very often in their prefaces, introductions or footnotes, translators continue to offer apologetic justifications for having somehow betrayed the original. Tony Barnstone, for instance, introduces his anthology of translations of contemporary Chinese poetry with an essay entitled “Translation as Forgery”, in which he describes the translation process as a “long-despised activity” that is “as much a forgery as the dollar bill you run off on the printing press in your basement” (1993, xvi–xvii). Stephen Owen is one other eminent translator-scholar who, with regard to the translation of Chinese poetry, purports that “poetry has traditionally been built of words with a particular history of usage in a single language—of words that cannot be exchanged for other words” (1990, 28). Replying to his German translator Wolfgang Kubin, who said that he hates Yang Lian’s 杨炼 poetry because it is too difficult, Yang Lian suggests that the untranslatability of poetry is directly related to its quality: the better the poem, the more untranslatable it is. He writes: “Thank you, dear Kubin. Could I be glad if you said: ‘to translate your poetry is very easy?’” (1998b, 170). At the very beginning of her book on the study of literary translations, Marilyn Gaddis Rose, asks: “Have we all not agreed that literary translation is flawed by nature and that poetry translation is almost always a contradiction in terms?” (1997, 5). The list of quotations expressing a similar view is endless.1 Embedded in these statements is a particular conception of poetic language as inherently difficult and ambiguous, and so strictly bound to cultural and linguistic specificity that its very translatability is put into question. In accord with this, translation is imagined essentially as an act of estrangement and rupture; its relationship with the source text as dichotomous, untrue or subordinate; its product as disappointingly inferior, not unique, something the reader refers to out of necessity, only because s/he cannot read the language of the original. The following chapters place translation in a pivotal position for an investigation into the work of the prominent contemporary Chinese poet Yang Lian (b. 1954). Born in Switzerland to two Chinese diplomats, he lived in China for 38 years, before leaving for Australia and New Zealand, and eventually settling down in the United Kingdom. His international fame started to soar after the Tiananmen Square protests and subsequent military crackdown in 1989, when he became more visible as a dissident Chinese poet abroad and his poetry began to be translated into English 1 For more examples, cf. Robinson 2010.

Reading between the Lines


more extensively. Despite the fact that Yang Lian’s poetry has been widely translated into English and many other languages, it has so far received only fragmentary critical attention.2 Similarly, this study does not try to provide an exhaustive appreciation of Yang Lian’s work, but explores a large portion of it as a case study for the general argument on poetry translation that is being put forward. Chapter Two has a purely theoretical orientation, focusing on epistemological and methodological issues that arise when undertaking an inquiry into the process of translation. I address a long-standing question: What is the relationship between a poem and its translation? The chapter challenges the most common answer to this question, which regards a translation and its source text as having a dichotomous and hierarchal relationship. Elaborating on poststructuralist thought, reader-response theory and semiotics, it contends that the process of translation cannot be characterized simply as one that goes from A to B (from the source pole to the target pole). Instead, it describes the process of translation as being characterized by mutual constitution, rather than unidirectional determination. The theoretical framework builds upon several key texts (from Barthes to Benjamin, Eco, Frey, etc.) to raise more questions about the complexity of cross-cultural understanding and substantiate the notions that reading is a creative and critical act and that translation, like reading, engages with the text and comments on it, and multiplies with it its significance. In order to emphasize the shared constitution of an original text and its translation, this study proposes a formula that represents the process of translation accordingly. I call this formula the ‘chiasmus cross’, referring to the formula used in rhetoric A:B = B1:A1. The equation is meant to express that whenever an original (A) has a translation (B), a constituent relationship is established between the two texts, which modifies both texts. On the basis of this theoretical foundation, I proceed to an examination of translation as an activity that, coming to terms with the mechanisms of meaning production and aesthetic effects in the source text, is the depository of a comprehensive critical understanding of the original text. As such, it can constitute a heuristic tool that enriches the act of reading the source text. 2 Many articles on Yang Lian’s poetry have been published in literary journals and books; however, to the best of my knowledge, no book-length study has yet been produced. For a list of secondary sources on Yang Lian, see the database at http://www.nzepc.


chapter one

The ways in which translation functions to critique the source text constitutes a shared interest among many scholars of translation studies, especially those who have engaged with the observation, comparison and description of pairs of source texts and target texts. In an early article, “Poem and Metapoem” (1969), James S. Holmes discusses the relationship between a poem and its translation as one in which the translated poem is, in fact, a “metapoem”, a piece of writing that says something about the original, albeit as a completely different text from the original. On this theoretical assumption, he proceeds with a comparative account of specific problems encountered in the translation of Dutch poetry into English. One year later, Anton Popovič published “The Concept ‘Shift of Expression’ in Translation Analysis” (1970), a comparative study of source and target texts that shows how stylistic differences (‘shifts of expression’) between the two texts are the result of choices made by the translator to overcome linguistic distance and to keep as close as possible to the source text. He concludes that shifts do not attest to the translator’s ignorance, but to the aesthetic features of the original. In Translating Poetry. Seven Strategies and a Blueprint (1975), André Lefevere conducts a comparison between a poem by Catullus and its English translations published in the course of a century, from 1870 to 1970. Lefevere begins with a literary analysis of the source text, in order to provide the criteria for commenting on, assessing and evaluating each translation. Other notable comparative models for one original and several translations are offered by Robert de Beaugrande (1978) in his study on translations of Rilke, and by Gideon Toury in his 1980 study In Search of a Theory of Translation. While Toury’s main aim is to use this type of comparison to derive what he calls “translation norms”, de Beaugrande’s interest lies more in the translation process, which he sees as one of interaction between the author, the translator and the reader of the translation (1978, 13). The Italian scholar Sergio Cigada also describes various translations of the same original, in order to distinguish “the internal structures of the literary text” (1983, 195). However, while all these studies, as diverse and challenging as they are, have certainly contributed to the measurement and systematization of the decisions made in the process of translating, they have dealt exclusively with Western literature, never with contemporary Chinese poetry. Furthermore, despite the intended ‘objectivity’ of their descriptions, these studies often slide into the evaluative and prescriptive and propose highly subjective models that cannot always be applied to other poetic contexts.

Reading between the Lines


In 1985, José Lambert and Hendrik van Gorp attempted to “present a comprehensive methodological framework” in their essay “On Describing Translations”, and a few years later, as discussed in the next chapter, Kitty van Leuven-Zwart (1989) and Cees Koster (2000) devised useful tools for a comparative description of source and target texts. In fact, models of comparison between source and target texts have been considered conceptually problematic due to their dichotomous nature (Vanderauwera 1982; Derrida 1985; Toury 1995; Hermans 1999; Eco 2001; Pym 2004). This issue is discussed further in the next chapter, which explains that these comparative methodologies, because they are based on pairs of source and target texts, all require a hypothetical, ideal third text, a sort of ‘adequate translation’ that functions as a metalanguage, against which it is possible to measure correspondence between the two texts. Such an assumption is especially problematic for those theorists of translation who subscribe to cultural and linguistic relativity. After dispelling dichotomous views on translation, this study then proposes a triangular model of reading poetry through translation that does not rely on a direct comparison between the source and target texts, but on a comparison between different English translations of the source text. Comparison between translations allows the researcher to engage in textual analysis and description on a single linguistic level, without having to resort to a metalanguage. Furthermore, comparison makes it possible to observe how certain profiles in the source text have been given priority over others and how compositional devices have oriented each translator’s own rendition of the original. This study argues that a triangular comparative analysis that puts two translations side by side with the source text provides the researcher with empirical data that enhance the act of reading the source text, simultaneously allowing insights into the dynamics of literary reading. Moreover, it contends that it is precisely at those points where shifts between translations occur that the reader can engage with the singularity of the original poem, “where the treasure lies”. Shifts signal points of hermeneutic difficulty, which is significant because it reveals something about the text; they are not, however, to be treated as problems to be decoded by the translator or the analyst. There appears to be an element of this argument in Tim Parks’s general idea that shifts (which he calls “problems” revealed by a comparison between the original text and its translation) highlight those elements in the original that are “typical” of an author’s style, and that by identifying them, “we can achieve a better appreciation of the original’s qualities and complexities” (1998, 10 and 13).


chapter one

At the same time, this study also subscribes to the usefulness of a number of linguistic approaches, especially the pragmatic one, which, through an analysis of deixis and other aspects of discourse structure, illuminate certain mechanisms of writing and reading (Lakoff and Johnson 1980; Kittay 1987; Semino 1995; Fludernik 1995; Carter 1998; Werth 1999; Koster 2000; Alvstad 2007). Chapter Three adopts a bottom-up approach to describe a case study— two translations of nine contemporary Chinese poems, all authored by Yang Lian. The description is conveyed on the basis of a comparative analysis of these nine sets of texts (Bruno 2003a), of which a fragment (only one set of texts) is reported in this book’s Appendix. Designed to be accessible to specialists from Comparative Literature, Chinese and Translation Studies backgrounds, this study provides not only the translation of all Chinese texts, but also the Pinyin transcription and sufficient explanations of the context, so that it is intelligible to readers who do not know Chinese. It attempts to maintain an objective position throughout, avoiding evaluative comments with regard to the translations’ degrees of accuracy. In fact, its main purpose is to investigate the different ways of looking at the text, and then to examine the relations between them. The focus remains on the way translation applies its critical function to the original text, establishing its systems of signification. The critical activity of translation will strike a decisive note that will be recognized as a shift occurring between different translations. Conse­ quently, reflecting on the main recurring shifts, and using tools of literary linguistics, this study undertakes a description of some specific textual choices. It records and analyses features, such as subjects (animated and otherwise), deixis, puns, allusions, and rhythm-related devices. By observing the findings of the analysis of the translations, it is also possible to speculate (as indicated by Toury 1980 and 1995; Blum-Kulka 1986; Van Leuven-Zwart 1989; Baker 1992, 1993 and 1995) as to whether they lead to the establishment of recurrent patterns or regularities in translators’ choices, which are expressions of a strategy and perhaps even of a trend. This analytical activity constitutes an empirically-based understanding of the actual process of translation and at the same time engenders a series of considerations on the poetics of the Chinese texts under scrutiny. By describing the effectiveness of some linguistic devices, this investigation gradually leads to a personal reading of the Chinese poems. Chapter Four, using the new lenses provided by the previous descriptive exercise, proceeds to an exploration of a larger portion of Yang Lian’s

Reading between the Lines


work. Focusing attention on the recurring features revealed by translation, it delineates three units of reading: time, space and subjectivity. Explored in this way, Yang Lian’s poetic project appears to be a search for a continuous contingency between the linguistic sign (with all its history of cultural and literary references) and the poet’s subjectivity. The major poetic features of his work (e.g. simultaneity of the presentation of events, polysemy, metaphoric compounds, blanks in the text’s layout, the structure of the poem cycle, an almost total lack of punctuation, intertextuality, a particular usage of personal pronouns, ambiguity, substantivation, etc.) all participate in the poet’s discovery of his subjective voice within a system of references. What is offered in this chapter is, therefore, literary criticism of Yang Lian’s work, but the path it follows to reach its critical insights is not traditional criticism or linguistic analysis, but a combination of these applied to translations. Chapters Three and Four, then, attempt to show the way in which studying translations as a linguistic act and a creative enterprise illuminates certain mechanisms of the writing and reading processes, reactivates specific nuclei of the original text and illustrates how the original has worked with or against the prejudices, assumptions and values of its own linguistic and cultural context. In this sense, the approach elaborated upon in this book enriches the experience of the poetic text and shows that the translation and original, far from being characterized by the insurmountable distance of two natural languages, two literatures and two cultures, entertain a much more interactive relationship. Throughout this book, the reader is alerted to a series of theoretical and practical issues that have been puzzling poets, translators and scholars since ancient times. At its conclusion, the study will address some overall theoretical questions, such as the very possibility of poetry translation; the relationship between translation and poetry reading; the aesthetic, cultural and linguistic specificity of contemporary Chinese poetry, and ways in which these aspects are translatable and, indeed, translated.

Theoretical Framework and Propositions


Chapter Two

Theoretical Framework and Propositions Contemporary translation research is generally characterized by diversity and openness. Throughout its history, the discipline of Translation Studies, with all its explosive developments, has rigorously criticized the view that translation is a secondary mode, and has shifted attention to the analysis of text in context.1 However, even at present, the debate about the translation of contemporary Chinese poetry is still strongly concerned with the insurmountable distance between two natural languages, two literatures and two cultures. In general terms, translation itself has often been defined by a dichotomy that presupposes a clear division between the source and target languages. Some of the most common metaphors employed to describe translators’ activity (e.g., the translator reproduces/transfers/echoes/ duplicates) draw a line that separates the two parts, involving a unidirectional movement from a foreign source text to the target text. One consequence of such an attitude towards translation has been the pluralization of only one side of the dichotomy. On one side, there is the original, an oracular place of authenticity, authority, truth and law; on the other side, there is the spurious, pluralized inauthenticity of translations. In keeping with this, it is often said that there is only one original, but there can be many translations. Thus, audiences ranging from publishers to reviewers and readers have revealed a blind spot for the significance of translation and for its potential authenticity; sometimes it is clear that these audiences explicitly want to be blind.2 1 The shift started to occur in the 1960s with the publication of book-length studies on translation, the first signs of the formation of the academic discipline known today as Translation Studies. It was, however, not until the 1970s that this field began to develop in its own right. In the words of Theo Hermans: “The descriptive and systemic perspective on translation and on studying translation was prepared in the 1960s, developed in the 1970s, propagated in the 1980s, and consolidated, expanded and overhauled in the 1990s” (Hermans 1999, 9). 2 The invisibility of the translator has been notoriously argued by Lawrence Venuti. According to his argument, in order to be accepted by publishers, reviewers and readers, a translation has to read fluently and it has to seem transparent; that is, it has to appear not to be a translation but the original (Venuti 1995).


chapter two

Perhaps the reader of a translation cannot avoid questioning its correspondence with the original, or judging it as inauthentic. Maybe, as the terms ‘original’ or even ‘source text’ would suggest, translation does stem from the immutable object of the original, in unidirectional movement. Maybe source languages and target languages are indeed insurmountably distant. The fact is that the conventional stance on poetry translation in general, and the translation of contemporary Chinese poetry in particular, leads to a theoretical question, which is that perhaps such a tendency erases or ignores the experience of the activity of translating: to encounter and to attend to plurality. Perhaps, what authenticity really means is that for each translator a text has an inherent necessity to be rendered in one particular way. Perhaps, it might be more productive to think of translation as an activity encompassing mutual interaction, comprehension and cross-production. It is possible that, just as translation is second but not secondary, the source text is first but not original and immutable. This chapter will elaborate on these theoretical propositions and put forward a working hypothesis on the possible role of translation in the study of poetry, which will be tested in the chapters that follow. The discussion begins with the epistemological problem of defining textuality and the relationship between an original text and its translation. Gradually delineating a frame of reference to which the various stages of the investigation can be related, it refers to works from the twentieth century that have passionately challenged certain dichotomous critiques of translation, thus providing a foundation for the ‘chiasmus cross’, a formula that will be proposed as a more accurate representation of the relationship between a text and its translation. Thus, the aim of these pages is not to attempt to identify all of the influential ideas regarding poetry translation that have been formulated in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Its purpose is limited to highlighting suggestions and indications that contribute to some alternative theoretical propositions, put forth especially in the present chapter and Chapters Three and Five. Consequently, it will discuss texts that are relevant to these propositions while excluding others, even though they may be influential in the broader field of Translation Studies. The chapter concludes by presenting a methodology aimed at demonstrating the overarching proposition of the entire study, which is that translation is an irreplaceable key of access to the source poem and to poetic experience.

Theoretical Framework and Propositions


Text This section attempts to answer the classic, yet notoriously difficult question ‘What is a literary text?’ Dealing with the phenomenon of text and textuality is a necessary stage when studying translation, because translation concerns the use, understanding and manipulation of texts. The reader’s idea of a literary text is indeed directly responsible for the way s/ he looks at the source language poem, at its translation and at the relationship between them. Contemporary Chinese poems are, of course, texts. The forms and shapes in which they exist are multiple, but they can be grouped in one or any combination of the following three modes: the written verbal mode; the audio or visual mode; and the interactive mode that makes use of technology. This rather varied choice of media necessitates that the study of contemporary Chinese poetic texts has a theoretical foundation that is able to accommodate both verbal and non-verbal poetic texts, and that regards meaning as the complex of relations between a text’s audio, visual, grammatical, syntactical and semantic elements. Semiotics—the discipline that studies signs, how they are produced, and how they are interpreted—can provide one such theoretical foundation. It presents the vantage point of including verbal and non-verbal signs within its scope of investigation. According to semiotics, a text is an organized set of signs, an object that contains information that is sent, then transmitted further, received and interpreted. Thus, according to semiotics, a text has to be interpreted in order to function as text.3 This idea of text as an entity that must be read in order to fulfil its nature has been variously developed in the last half-century by readeroriented theorists, including the formalists, the post-structuralists and the deconstructivists. In Roland Barthes’s post-structuralism, for example, text and textuality play a central role. Signification, Barthes argues, is essentially unstable and plural, and reading is a creative, open-ended activity (Barthes 1975, 61).4 In S/Z, at the beginning of Section V, “Reading, forgetting”, Barthes writes: “The more plural the text, the less it is written before I read it” (Barthes 1974, 10). With this statement, Barthes erases a 3 On the subject of semiotics in connection with translation, see Dinda Liesbeth Gorlée 1994 and 2004. See also Ubaldo Stecconi 2007. 4 These main conceptions of text and reading have been initiated, followed and further elaborated by several theorists. To my knowledge, the first scholar to dedicate a whole book to the argument of textual indeterminacy is Umberto Eco 1962.


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long tradition of authorship and blurs the distinction between reader and writer, affirming that the activity of making sense of a text involves both. The reader writes, he says. In other words, all telling modifies what is being told. The basis of this concept is the text—and therefore writing and reading—and the idea that language is not a “natural, transparent medium through which the reader grasps a solid and unified ‘truth’ or ‘reality’” (Raman and Widdowson 1993, 131). On the contrary, the forms and effects of language are unlimited; they cannot be totalized in one correct interpretation, but instead generate multiple understandings. Thus perceived, language is responsible for the creative function of reading and for generating different interpretations in every critical operation—readings, translations and criticisms. Accordingly, the possibility of different readings of a text implies that there is a difference between the intentions of the author and what a text is. If reading goes beyond the intentions of the author, then a text says something more, and perhaps something different, from what the author wanted to say. From this point of view, authors cannot decide once and for all the meaning of the texts they write; thus, there is no fixed meaning to be transmitted to the reader. The author can no longer be seen as the only origin of the text. The text gives cues to the reader to activate the process of signification; every time a literary text is read, its process of signification is activated. The text is, indeed, a system for the reader to act out its signification. Every literary text directs systems of possibilities from which the reader can compose its signification. Yet reading is not a parasitical act, the reactive complement of a writing which we endow with the glamour of creation and anteriority. It is a form of work … : I am not hidden within the text, I am simply irrecoverable from it … the meanings I find are established not by ‘me’ or by others, but by their systematic mark … To read, in fact, is a labor of language. (Barthes 1974, 10–1)

In this way, with regard to the question of whether it is the reader who determines the text or the text that determines the reader, Barthes asserts that these two entities—the reader and the text—are not separable. Moreover, the reader is also plural; s/he produces meaning by relating what is read to her/his plurality (Barthes 1974, 10–1). Every reading, every interpretation (and with these, every translation), is conditioned by a number of factors, including culture and language in a particular histori-

Theoretical Framework and Propositions


cal moment, and the writer’s and reader’s educational and socio-professional background and personal idiolect. Hence, recent discussions of interpretations of texts show that the text is “open” (Eco 1962) and, therefore, that there is no such thing as absolute faithfulness of representation, because signification in a text depends on the text’s relationship with its reading. The reader, in other words, works with the text, acts upon it and activates the significance that is to be. Such is the process enacted by translation. The Relation between a Text and Its Translation In accordance with the hermeneutical approach summarized above, the Swiss literary critic Hans-Jost Frey describes a conception of poetry translation that is particularly relevant to the present exploration. According to this conception, if we reject the assumption that a text is a fixed entity, and consequently accept that a source text and its translation are highly flexible, then we can stop viewing the original as immutable law that dictates measures and start viewing it as something subject to change. Its changes are the result of its interaction with other mutable factors:5 the translator, the translating language, historically determined translational and cultural norms, the reality in which all of these variables are immersed, and so on. A discussion of translation in similar terms had already been offered in the twentieth century’s first enormously influential essay on translation, Walter Benjamin’s “The Task of the Translator”. Benjamin wrote this essay in 1923, as an introduction to his translation of Tableaux parisiens by Charles Baudelaire. Rooted in the German literary and philosophical tradition of hermeneutics, the great contribution of this essay to translation theory is twofold: it discusses translation as a second but not secondary literary act, and it defines an unexpected new relationship between a text and its translation: … by virtue of its translatability the original is closely connected with the translation … We may call this connection a natural one, or, more specifically, a vital connection … translation marks their [the originals’] stage of continued life (Benjamin 1923, 16).

5 Cf. Hans-Jost Frey 1994; for another formulation of the same conception, see also Andrew Benjamin 1998.


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Benjamin views translation as a historical moment of the original that allows the original to “live on”—that is, to fulfil itself. He, thus, recognizes that original and translation are both moving through time, and are both subject to constant mutation and to a high degree of dynamism. In “The Task of the Translator”, he argues that translation is not a rendering of some fixed, non-textual meaning to be copied, paraphrased or reproduced; rather, it is an engagement with the original text that reveals that text in different ways. One further theoretical implication of such circumstances is that translations of a text exist laterally, not vertically. A translation and the source text are not linked to each other by a hierarchical relationship, but are isomorphic. Although temporally distant from one another, the original and its translation mutually determine each other; the original determines the translation, and the translation, like every reading, takes part in the constitution of the meaning of the source text (Frey 1994, 346). Changing context and translator, the translation constitutes the original in a different way over time: For in its afterlife—which could not be called that if it were not a transformation and a renewal of something living—the original undergoes a change (Benjamin 1923, 17).

In order to conduct an examination of the hermeneutical process that has caused a translator to act in certain ways, it is essential to recognize the mutuality of the process of translating. Moreover, recognition of this mutuality can contribute to putting aside moralistic attitudes towards translation, and instead adopting a “learning attitude”—that is, a flexible attitude that allows readers of translation to “adjust our mental picture of the world to the empirical reality we observe” (Hermans 2002, 175). Given these theoretical assumptions, the concise formula of the ‘chiasmus’ offers an appropriate representation of the process occurring between a translation and the source text. ‘Chiasmus’, from the Greek khiasmos, literally to ‘mark with the letter x’, means ‘crosswise arrangement’ and is expressed in rhetoric as the following formula: A:B = B1:A1 The two texts—the original and its translation—are equated in reverse order and in a modified form. Whenever an original (A) has a translation (B), a constituent relationship is established between these two texts. Thus, in the second part of the equation, both texts appear to be modified

Theoretical Framework and Propositions


by this relationship. Indeed, the equation could not be formulized as A:B = B1:A, because this would suggest an immutable original. Rather, the modified text of the translation (B1)—where the reader can find shifts (differences, alternatives) when compared with another translation of the same text—modifies the original itself (A1). A translation and the original text each change the other; therefore the inversion of the terms in the equation is what matters here, because it explicates the fundamental mutuality of this process: A Chinese text (Original)

B English text (Translation)

B1 Modified text in English (Translation)

A1 Modified text in Chinese (Original)

The hermeneutical tradition initiated by Benjamin and further elaborated by Pound not only looks at translation critically, but also considers translation itself as a form of criticism. The translator, Pound argues, “can show where the treasure lies, he can guide the reader in choice of what tongue is to be studied” (Pound 1934, 33). The same view is expressed by the poet, critic and translator Haroldo de Campos, who states: If translation is a privileged form of critical reading, it will be by means of translation that one can lead other poets, readers, and students of literature to an understanding of the most profound workings of the artistic text, its most intimate mechanisms and gears (De Campos 1963, 325).

But how can translation show the “treasure” of the source text? How is it possible to demonstrate this paramount role of translation in the study of poetry? If, as described above, we acknowledge reading to be a meaning-creating activity in which both a text and a reader are required,6 and if we 6 Alongside the theories delineated above, the literary theory elaborated by the socalled reader-response school considers readers as active contributors to the aesthetic process, working with the text to decode signs in order to find or create meaning. Cf. Jane P. Tompkins 1980.


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accept that translation is indeed a form of reading, although written, then reading a translation is equivalent to reading an understanding of the source text. Consequently, it is possible to read both ways: a translation from the point of view of the original, and the original from the point of view of a translation. Thus, one main concern is finding the tools that can sharpen awareness of the way textual structures invite the translator/ reader to compose meaning. Methodology Explained How can we read the original from the point of view of translation? How can we see what the translator sees? According to Hans-Jost Frey, when a translation is considered on its own, it is read as an original; translation is substituted for the original, as if it were a transparent text. Only when a translation is put side by side with the original do we recognize it as a translation and start questioning it. Thus, a contrastive comparison between the two texts may show what is peculiar about translation and in which ways translation differs from the original (Frey 1994, 347). What is needed, therefore, is a method of analysis to identify all these differences in translation. Such a method is provided in the study by Kitty van Leuven-Zwart of the translation into Dutch of Cervantes’s Don Quixote (Van Leuven-Zwart 1989). Van Leuven-Zwart provides three main analytical and descriptive categories for the study of translation shifts (namely the semantic, the stylistic and the syntactic), deducing a translation tendency towards a higher degree of specification and explanation. Van Leuven-Zwart’s study is valuable because of its attempt to establish equivalence between the original text and its translation. For this purpose, she introduces the notion of the “architranseme” (ATR), a third element in the comparison of the two texts, which works as a common denominator: … two entities are related when they have both similar and dissimilar aspects, i.e. when there are both aspects of conjunction (similarity) and of disjunction (dissimilarities). In this view the existence of a similarity is considered a precondition for the existence of a dissimilarity; before one can discover the differences one must be aware of the features in common … (Van Leuven-Zwart 1989, 156).

In other words, in order to realize that two linguistic entities (words, sentences or segments) have the same meaning, it is necessary to express

Theoretical Framework and Propositions


that meaning in a sort of metalanguage. We need a tertium comparationis that ensures that both the linguistic entities of the original and its translation are equivalent to (or different from) a third entity in the metalanguage.7 However, as Umberto Eco notices in Experiences in Translation: If, in order to translate a text α, expressed in a language A, into a text β, expressed in a language B (and to say that β is a correct translation of α, and is similar in meaning to α), one must pass through the metalanguage X, then one is obliged first of all to decide in which way α and β are similar in meaning to a text γ in X and, to decide this, one requires a new metalanguage Y, and so on ad infinitum. (Eco 2001, 12)

7 The systematization of translation difference, or ‘shifts’, has been pursued by a great number of translation theorists, especially those engaged with a comparative description of source and target texts. The first scholar to use the term ‘shift’ in relation to translation analysis was probably J.C. Catford (1965). In A Linguistic Theory of Translation, he dedicates a chapter to “Translation Shifts”, defining them as “departures from formal correspondence in the process of going from the SL to the TL”. On the basis of the general linguistic theory of M.A.K. Halliday and J.R. Firth, Catford surveys a number of decontextualized examples of shifts, and designs a model that relies “on the authority of a competent bilingual informant or translator” (27) to establish them. He then concludes that equivalence in translation concerns what is “functionally relevant”, rather than “linguistically relevant”, finally admitting that “what is functionally relevant […] must in our present state of knowledge remain to some extent a matter of opinion” (94). In the effort of elaborating a model for a more “objective classification” of shifts (Popovič 1970, 84), František Miko and Anton Popovič conduct studies of “shifts of expression”, publishing respectively “La théorie de l’expression et la traduction” (1970) and “The Concept ‘Shift of Expression’ in Translation Analysis” (1970). Miko envisages a model where the analyst should proceed from the location of the texts’ stylistic features (e.g. iconicity, subjectivity, etc.) to the comparison and identification of shifts. Popovič makes a further advancement in the theorization of translation shifts when he argues that shifts are the result of the translator’s effort to reproduce the aesthetic features of the source text. He also connects shift analysis to the study of the general system of norms in translation (85). Gideon Toury, in a 1980 essay, also proposes a model for a description of translation, pointing out that one has to begin with the establishment of a tertium comparationis (in his case an “adequate translation”), in order to derive correspondences and shifts between two textual entities. As suggested by Popovič, he then reviews his findings to reach some conclusions concerning the system of translation norms. A similar interpretative act is undertaken by Shoshana Blum-Kulka in her “Shifts of Cohesion and Coherence in Translation” (1986). Here, too, a tertium comparationis is provided through an ideal “accurate” translation, while, using discourse analysis, shifts in coherence and cohesion are described as leading to a more explicit cohesive system in translation. Kitty van Leuven-Zwart’s approach, as discussed in this chapter, also relies on the establishment of a tertium comparationis (in her case the “architranseme”) for the detection of shifts. Finally, Cees Koster (2000) contributes with a critique of his predecessors’ models (Chapters 4 and 5) and the elaboration of an “armamentarium” that uses discourse analysis for a description of shifts.


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This problem is also visible when we move to the question of how to identify an “architranseme”, the common denominator. Van Leuven-Zwart calls on the authority and objectivity of dictionary definitions: It is not always easy to find a common denominator and to express it in terms of an ATR. However, practice shows that in most cases an ATR can be identified with the help of a good descriptive dictionary in each of the two languages involved. (Van Leuven-Zwart 1989, 158)

It is clear that this methodology is built on the premise that words in a language have some basic characteristics in common with words of another language. For example, in the comparison between the ATR ‘to sit up’ and the text fragment se enderezò, Van Leuven-Zwart affirms that “no difference is found”, “there are only aspects of conjunction” (Van Leuven-Zwart 1989, 158). This view also incorporates the idea that, when a shift occurs, the relationship between a segment of text and an ATR can be described by the formula ‘X is a form/class/mode of Y’, in which X stands for the text segment and Y for the ATR. For example, where two concepts are concerned—a larger more general concept and a smaller more specific concept (‘generalization’ and ‘specification’)—the defining characteristics of the more general concept must also be evident in the more specific one.8 It could be said that this method, relying as it does on the unity of the sign, is in use all the times we pick up the dictionary to find a meaning of a word. However, not only do we find for every signifier several signifieds … , but each of the signifieds becomes yet another signifier which can be traced in the dictionary with its own array of signifieds … The process continues interminably, as the signifiers lead a chameleon-like existence, changing their colours with each new context (Raman and Widdowson 1993, 126–27).

In other words, a term may have one meaning as specified by the dictionary, yet in each instance of usage, the term may take on a variety of meanings. Variation of meaning is contingent on the context of each sentence, and affects the way the text is understood. In literary texts, the context in which a word occurs makes it clear that it is meant to go even beyond meaning of general reference.9 8 For example, all of the features of the general concept of a ‘dog’ are also nested in the specific concept of a Cocker Spaniel. 9 With regard to this particular phenomenon of reading, see Boase-Beier 2006. In this book, Boase-Beier argues that there are crucial elements in the literary text that encourage for a different reading experience from non-literary texts. She refers in particular to meta-

Theoretical Framework and Propositions


With regard to this point, it is pertinent to quote Roland Barthes on the topic of denotation and connotation: Some (the philologists, let us say), declaring every text to be univocal, possessing a true, canonical meaning, banish the simultaneous, secondary meanings to the void of critical lucubrations. … Then, what is a connotation … Topically, connotations are meanings which are neither in the dictionary nor in the grammar of the language in which a text is written (this is a shaky definition: the dictionary can be expanded, the grammar can be modified). Analytically, connotation is determined by two spaces: a sequential space, a series of orders, a space subject to the successivity of sentences, in which meaning proliferates by layering; and an agglomerative space, certain areas of the text correlating other meanings outside the material text and, with them, forming ‘nebulae’ of signifieds. (Barthes 1974, 7–8)

Other thinkers may see the indeterminacy of language as a sort of modern condition, consequent on the loss of a time when language had a direct connection with reality: Today, when we speak, we don’t say what the language in which we speak says, but instead, by conventionally using, as if joking, what our words say for themselves, we say, in the manner of our language, what we want to say… if I say that el sol [the sun, masculine] sale [comes out or rises] por Oriente [in the East], what my words, and as such the language in which I express myself, are actually saying is that an entity of the masculine sex, capable of spontaneous actions—the so-called sun—executes the action of ‘coming out’, that is, being born, and that it does so in a place from among other places that is the one where births occur—the East. Well now, I don’t seriously want to say any of that … (Gasset 1937, 58).

In addition to this monolingual internal variation, accordingly to some relativistic views on language, there is no possible equivalence between two linguistic systems: A translator must take into account rules that are not strictly linguistic but, broadly speaking, cultural. The words coffee, café and caffé can be considered as reasonable synonyms when they refer to a certain plant. Nevertheless, the expression ‘donnez-moi un café,’ ‘give me a coffee,’ and ‘mi dia un caffé’ (certainly linguistically equivalent to one another, as well as being good examples of different sentences conveying the same proposition, and satisfactory instances of literal translation) are not culturally equivalent. phors and other figures of speech, ambiguity and repeated patterns, and explains that these elements “provide for the experience of emotions, affective states or other emotional and cognitive effects, which vary from reader to reader” (30), but are also essentially universal (14).


chapter two Uttered in different countries, they produce different effects and they are used to refer to different habits. They produce different stories. Consider these two sentences, one from an Italian novel, the other from an American one: ‘Ordinai un caffé, lo buttai giù in un secondo ed uscii dal bar’ (literally, ‘I ordered a coffee, swilled it down in a second and went out of the bar’); and ‘He spent half an hour with the cup in his hands, sipping his coffee and thinking of Mary.’ The first sentence can only refer to an Italian coffee and to an Italian bar, since an American coffee cannot be swallowed in a second both because of its quantity and of its temperature. The second sentence cannot refer to an Italian subject (at least to an average one drinking an average espresso) because it presupposes a large cup containing what seems like gallons of coffee. (Eco 2001, 17-8)

Most importantly, … semantic relations between the words of different languages have no one-to-one sets of correspondences or even one-to-many sets. The relations are always many-to-many, with plenty of scope for ambiguities, obscurities, and ‘fuzzy’ boundaries. (Nida 1996, 7)

In other words, as previously stated, the original is not available as a fixed standard of measure against which it is possible to establish translation correspondence. However, if we surrender the assumption that the original functions as a standard of measure, and we recognize it as dependent on its relationship with its translation, then how can we speak of translation shifts, the textual difference, in the first place? The linguistic problem of equivalence, both in form and content, might result in a misunderstanding of the relationship between a translation and the original text. If we proceed from the assumption that the original is not one but multiplies in accordance with the number of its translations (B1:A1; B2:A2; B3:A3; Bn:An), then we cannot establish shifts between the original and the translation, but must rely on the comparison between two or more translations in order to identify shifts. Whenever the two translations present a discrepancy in a grammatical or lexical element (whether a word or a syntactical construction), this will be identified as a shift. The adoption of two (or more) translations in the comparison with the original is then of fundamental importance for the location of shifts. We do not need shifts to question the accuracy of the translator’s choice, which runs on the axis of possibilities of the text. We need them to signal a knot of language. A shift is like a warning sign that says ‘Attention! Something is happening here’. A shift is what we focus upon, because it represents a turning point where the two translations take dif-

Theoretical Framework and Propositions


ferent paths. Thus, there are important differences between Van LeuvenZwart’s method and that of the present study. First of all, there is a difference between the reasons for conducting these two studies. Whereas Van Leuven-Zwart was motivated by her dissatisfaction with the Dutch version of Don Quixote,10 my main interest is hermeneutical, inquiring into translation as a process of understanding. In the final analysis, then, the present study attempts to answer the questions ‘How is this poem?’ and ‘How did the translators perceive this poem?’.11 A second difference concerns the theoretical assumption of locating translation shifts. Van Leuven-Zwart hints at the possibility of there being one single accurate semantic correspondence between a translation and the original text (her ATR working as metalanguage that establishes such correspondence). By locating shifts, I do not intend to declare any univocal or canonical meaning in the original. On the contrary, by comparing the original with two translations, it intends to commence with the recognition of the text’s plurality or simultaneous possibilities. This hypothesis is certainly not trivial, because it amplifies doubts about the way a text can be read, confirming the necessity to approach the text in a more ‘open’ way, and therefore proceeding in the opposite direction from the usual dichotomizing tendency in translation criticism. Directly connected to these two differences is the third one, pertaining to the methodology used in the location of shifts. Whereas Van LeuvenZwart relies on dictionary definitions, I refer to a second translation. The fact that I use two translations in the comparison represents an important deviation from Van Leuven-Zwart’s analysis. Indeed, when Van Leuven-Zwart refers to ‘shifts’, she means shifts away from the meaning of the original (i.e. in a dichotomous way), whereas when I refer to ‘shifts’, 10 In her Introduction Van Leuven-Zwart states: “My decision to try to develop a method for the comparison and description of translation and original text was prompted by a personal observation. While studying Spanish at the university, I was required to read Don Quixote in the original, a prospect which I did not look forward to at all. I had read a Dutch translation (Van Dam and Werumeus Buning 1967) shortly before and found the book tedious, old fashioned and pompous. To my great surprise, reading Don Quixote in Spanish proved a very pleasurable experience. The book was anything but tedious. In fact it was quite modern in tone and not in the least bombastic’. (Van Leuven-Zwart 1989, 152) 11 It might be worth noting that the adopted methodology is applicable to languages other than Chinese; to poetry, as well as prose; to contemporary, as well as ancient literature. I tested it on a limited number of modern Italian poems translated into French and into English. For the reader who would like to test the validity of this approach on a classical Chinese poem, the book Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (Weinberger and Paz 1987) provides sufficient material (19 translations) to do so.


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I mean discrepancies between the two translations. Two translations not only make the task of identifying differences possible and easy, but also enable the researcher to signal the spectrum of possibilities in the concrete choices of the translators. At the same time, despite the fact that locating equivalences between two different linguistic systems may be considered by some theorists as arbitrary, two translations provide this method with an intersubjective support: it has two existing ‘equivalents’, two possible references to rely on for the reading of the Chinese text. Therefore, according to such comparative triangulation, as shown in the analysis of translation reported in Appendix, the original is neither privileged, nor discarded; it is part of the triangle, in the same way as the two translations.12 Comparison of translations may effortlessly show textual gaps, making translation a heuristic technique that allows us to see what compositional devices in the source text oriented the translators to opt for one potential meaning over another. Even if we have doubts about the ability of any translation to fully reactivate the true meaning of the original, reading more than one translation will still increase our knowledge of the source poem, if only by raising questions about why one word, one line, one image in the original has been rendered in different ways (Kenny 2001). A comparative triangular analysis in which the original and more than one translation are simultaneously present is then necessary to easily and promptly recognize the different possibilities of signification inside the source text—that is, its hermeneutic openness. Description of Translation The structure of this study and the selection of the individual texts for inclusion in it are dictated by the availability of at least two translations in English, published between 1983 and 1995. The principal source consulted here is the Chinese–English parallel corpus of nine texts by the contem12 Because the aim of my investigation is not to write an exhaustive critical account of all the existent ways to read and translate Yang Lian’s poems, but, more modestly, to test a method for the study of poetry, the use of two translations, instead of three or more, has been employed for reasons of economy. Indeed, there would be a difference in focus between a study that presents, for example, an analysis of five translations per poem and one such as the present study. Two translations represent the minimum acceptable number for illustrating a methodology that can be applied to a virtually infinite number of texts.

Theoretical Framework and Propositions


porary poet Yang Lian and their translations into English (two translations per poem, written by different translators). Yang Lian is one of the most prominent, most translated and most internationally acclaimed contemporary Chinese poets. Since his arrival in London in 1996, Yang Lian has published Chinese and bilingual Chinese–English books, both inside and outside the People’s Republic of China.13 Apart from the availability of English translations, his poetry also provides an excellent case study because of its critically acknowledged difficulty, which sometimes borders on hermeticism. If, by investigating translations, we can ‘unlock’ the hermeticism of Yang Lian’s poetry, then the methodology elaborated here will prove to be even more useful when applied to other, less challenging literary texts. With the exception of two, from 1983 and 1985, all of the translations included in the corpus were published in the first half of the 1990s.14 Dealing with translations that have all been produced in a reasonably short period of time may offer an extra bonus, for they may reveal some recurrent or representative features of translation language and strategies at that specific point in time. Thus, through this particular corpus, the present study attempts to investigate the process of translating and, by exploring translations’ linguistic performativity, to verify whether or not the proposed methodology can successfully lead us to “an understanding of the most profound workings of the artistic text, its most intimate mechanisms and gears” (De Campos 1963, 325). At the same time, another aim of this study is to gather evidence that may support or undermine the hypothesis of the existence of translation universals or trends (e.g., stylistic normalization, lexical specification, explanations, etc.).15 13 He has published five books in China (including Hong Kong and Taiwan), five books in the UK, two in Australia, and one in New Zealand. He has also been translated into several other languages. Cf., and Yang Lian’s webpage ( (accessed on 3 April 2011). 14 The contents of the mini corpus are all reported in the Appendix, where the reader can also find the analysis conducted on one set of texts. For the analysis conducted on all other sets of texts, see Bruno 2003a. 15 The specific research question of whether or not translators typically draw upon more conventional target language resources to replace unconventional, or text-specific, creative features in source language texts has been suggested by many translation researchers. Mona Baker, for example, has been exploring the existence of universals in translation practice (Baker 1992). I believe, however, that because the corpus is rather limited, the representativeness of these texts in terms of general translation norms should not be over-emphasized.


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One aim that is not within the scope of this study is to judge these translations on the basis of their degree of ‘correctness’, since it takes as axiomatic that they are both ‘equivalents’16 of the Chinese poem. What it is designed to do is examine different ways of looking at the text. So far, the present study has argued in favour of the source text as a hermeneutic open space, only to recognize implicitly that that there is no univocal reading of a poetic text, or, if there is one, it does not correspond to the poem itself. Yet, it argues, if the text allows for different readings, it does not mean that the meaning is uncontrolled, but that the text directs systems of possibilities within which readers can compose their own meaning. Concretely, this comprehension is determined by the interaction between the translator and the elements constituting the text. Predominantly, this study refers to text-oriented scholarship to develop an awareness of how literary texts influence the act of reading. Since the 1970s, proponents of Descriptive Translation Studies have been deviating, at an increasingly higher degree, from previous prescriptive approaches, shifting their primary focus to the observation, comparison and description of translations.17 These studies have contributed greatly to the measurement and systematization of certain decisions made in translation, and for this reason (and with all of the conceptual reservations explained above) the present study makes extensive use of them in its analysis and description of translations.

16 I am aware that the use of the term ‘equivalent’ has become problematic, if not ‘unsuitable’, for a discussion on translation, as Snell-Hornby notes (1988, 22). Following Ubaldo Stecconi’s argument, however, I opt for its use here, in the hope that the apparent contradiction of considering two different texts as both ‘equivalents’ of a third text can explicate the unique relationship that exists between a translation and the original. Such a relationship, as formularized in the chiasmus cross, is exclusive of translation, among all possible kinds of texts. Indeed, before becoming B1 and A1 (or B2 and A2, or Bn and An)— that is, before translation—“B had never been equivalent to A” (Stecconi 2007, 9). For further theoretical grounding for the notion of equivalence, Toury’s work is seminal. He puts equivalence in strict relation to the social and historical context of translation, affirming that equivalence is something automatically produced by all translations, no matter what their linguistic or aesthetic quality (Toury 1980, 63–70). 17 One of the most influential essays in this branch of Translation Studies is Gideon Toury’s “A Rationale for Descriptive Translation Studies”. The article was published for the first time in 1982, in the journal Disposito 19–21: 23–40. An expanded version was then re-published in Hermans (1985, 16–41). Other important descriptive studies of translation include Lefevere 1975; De Beaugrande 1978; Toury 1980; Van Leuven-Zwart 1989; Koster 2000.

Theoretical Framework and Propositions


Working under the assumption that translation is a form of reading, and a critical operation on the source text,18 it stands to reason that translation can say more about some aspects of the source text and less about others. Thus, in the first place, the critical activity of translation cannot focus on each and every element of the source text;19 rather, it will concentrate on a specific turning point, “a decisive textual knot” in the language of the source poem that stimulates each translator’s different reading. The “decisive knots”, “clusters of textual energy”,20 are identified through comparative analysis of the two translations. The idea that translation shifts highlight what is most creative and idiosyncratic about the original text constitutes the central argument in Tim Parks’s Translating Style: The English Modernists and their Italian Translations (1998). Parks maintains that a comparison between original and translation helps identify those elements in the text that are typical expressions of the author’s stylistic strategies, thus allowing for a better appreciation of the original’s qualities and complexities (10, 13). Although Parks uses the term “problems” to refer to shifts, and conducts a contrastive analysis between original and translation,21 his conclusion that a reflection on the “differences between original and translation” can “lead straight to the heart of a writer’s poetics” (200) corresponds to the position on shifts that is taken in these chapters. The present study first records all of the shifts occurring between the two translations from a ‘bottom-up’ perspective, categorizing them along the lines suggested by Van Leuven-Zwart. Using tools of literary lin­ guistics,22 it then proceeds to a description of the main recurring shifts as specific textual choices made by the translators throughout their hermeneutical process of translating. In other words, it examines shifts as

18 This statement may present complications if translations 1 and 2 are not considered independently, but as temporally—and critically—successive. In the latter case, the last translation would constitute a critical operation not only on the original, but on the previous translation as well. 19 As Barbara Johnson notes, ‘criticism’, a Greek word meaning ‘to separate or choose’, has to differentiate between the elements of the literary text (Johnson 2000, 174). 20 The terms are borrowed from Lewis (1985, 271). Although Lewis uses these terms in the context of what he defines “abusive” translation, I find his idea of ‘textual knot’ consonant to what I am trying to convey here. 21 As previously noted in Chapter One, these aspects of Parks’s argument are in disagreement with the theoretical framework adopted in the present study. 22 Specific tools for a linguistic and textual comparison between translations and poetic texts are given in Koster 2000.


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devices adopted by the translators in order to achieve certain textual effects.23 This descriptive stage of the study also takes into account cultural assumptions, habits of reading and literary conventions, both of the text’s original historical situation and of later reading situations. In this respect, its description of individual translations has been strongly influenced by literary pragmatics, the ‘top-down’ perspective of which stresses the interactive communication process between writing and reading: Literary pragmatics must concern itself with textual meanings beyond the linguistic structure of the literary text itself, either in the inward-looking way … (i.e. ‘the study of deixis … , implicature, presupposition, speech acts, and aspects of discourse structure’ … ), or by looking outwards towards aspects of the sociocultural affiliation of authors/readers and the complexities of literary communication beyond simplistic assumptions of message transference by means of a code through a channel … from a sender … to a receiver (Sell 1991, xvii).

This descriptive exercise leads to a series of considerations concerning the poetics of the Chinese texts under scrutiny. At the same time it acquires a historical dimension, in which, by observing the findings of the analysis of the translations, we can assess whether there are recurrent patterns or regularities in translators’ choices that could be expressions of a strategy. These include the addition or deletion of textual elements; the usage of non-standard units; the distribution of syntactical patterns; the length of sentences; the repetition of expressions; and selection from synonymous groups. After completing the task of recognizing the ways translation reports on facets of the original, activating its critical operation and establishing its systems of signification, in Chapter Four, using the new lens provided by the descriptive exercise on translations, the study proceeds to an exploration of the whole poetic production of Yang Lian. It focuses attention on the features revealed by the most recurring shifts between the 23 A similar point was made by Jiří Levý in 1967, when he proposed looking at translation as a “decision making process”. This was further elaborated by Anton Popovič in a 1970 essay, in which he argues that translation shifts are not signs of the translator’s incompetence, but of her/his coming to terms with lingusitic difference. More recently, Jean Boase-Beier (2006) dedicated extensive attention to the study of translation from a cognitivist point of view. She defines literary style as ‘the outcome of choice’ (1) and provides insights into the nature and effects of translation shifts by recognizing that one way of approaching translators’ different choices is to look at two translations of one poem ‘as embodying two different views, held by two different translators, of the voice of the inferred author’ (79).

Theoretical Framework and Propositions


translations, and delineates three units of reading: time, space and subjectivity. In Chapters Three and Four, the reader is alerted to a series of practical problems that have been puzzling translators dealing with Chinese poetry. In general, such problems arise not just from culture-specific concepts, but also from a semiotic heterogeneity that is often displayed in the space of one single poem. In the last chapter, the study addresses a general problem in translation studies, concerning how to make available to the reader of translation some cultural and aesthetic details of the source text. Conclusions The first conclusion that must be drawn is that the formula of the ‘chiasmus cross’, together with the derived triangular method for comparative analysis, constitutes a departure from previous dichotomous views of translation, showing that the practical part of this study works in harmony, not in contradiction, with the theoretical part. The method designed for reading the original text and its translation is able to minimize bias, insofar as it is based on the analysis of two existing translations, and not of one translation against the source text or against a hypothetical text. In the analysis informing this study’s description of the poetic texts, major differences between the two translations are pointed out and evaluated in an effort to understand what the textual result of such differences is, and what those differences say about the original. Second, it is important to emphasize that a judgemental and prescriptive approach to translation is in clear contrast with the interests of this study. In fact, it has been argued that, since the context of the source text and the context of the target text never coincide (their location, time frame, cultural assumptions, habits of reading and literary conventions are never exactly the same), every source text is open to a multiplicity of possible readings, in the configuration of which each reader/translator establishes what s/he thinks is the coherence of the text. The critique of translation conducted here aims to reveal the kinds of forms in which it is possible to experience certain relations between a source text and its translation, thus opening up the possibility of enhancing the appreciation of the poetic experience itself. Thus, in the final analysis, the topic of this research could be associated with the perennial


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theme of linguistic boundaries, encompassing both the theory and practice of translation and the interface between writing and verbal performativity. This study begins with a review of the semiotic and poststructuralist theories that have informed it, but the approach to poetic text it adopts may not remain within these theoretical boundaries. The reader will find that the argument put forth attempts instead to reconcile tools that traditionally have been considered in opposition to each other: linguistics, cultural studies, communication theories, post-structuralism, pragmatics and semiotics. Indeed, despite the claimed indeterminacy characterizing much of the poetry examined in this study, both poetry translation and poetic creation can be the object of rational analysis, and they can gain insights from a methodical approach—given that such an approach is subject to the researcher’s hermeneutical process.

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


Chapter Three

Case Study: Translations of Poems by Yang Lian This chapter examines a number of poems by Yang Lian from inside their translation—that is, from inside existing, actual readings, which are the products of particular hermeneutic processes involving the source text and the reader/translator. As discussed in the previous chapter, this approach to poetry recognizes implicitly that either there is no univocal reading of a poetic text, or, if there is a univocal reading, it does not correspond to the poem itself. In other words, translation, maintains a reciprocal, constituent relationship with the original. The target text is the best possible reading achieved by that translator with the means available to her on the date of completion. However, if the source text allows for different readings, this does not mean that it is a blank canvas, or that the translator does not make mistakes or has no agenda. Meaning is not uncontrolled, but the text contains possibilities within which one can compose one’s own reading. The impossibility of different translators translating a work in the same way suggests that the way chosen by each translator derives from her comprehension of the text. This comprehension is determined by the interaction between the translator and the elements constituting the text. Due to the fact that translation is an interactive, hermeneutical process that involves a translator (with her context) and a text (with its context), it is temporary, time-bound, circumstantial, and specific to a particular point in time. Consequently, over time, one or more translators will produce new translations. There can be misunderstandings and even falsifications (after all, every translation is nothing but the enactment of a disagreement with previous translations), but for the analyst of translation, all shifts occur among the range of possibilities of the text. There is no insight to be gained from presuming a translator’s incompetence, but it can be very productive to ask questions about the reasons for the translator’s choices, because this will uncover the translator’s ideology, as well as the system of signification of the original, in which there is space for misreading and manipulation. The manipulations of translation begin with the selection of the text to be translated, and continue in all sorts of ‘paratexts’ (Genette 1987)


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that sometimes accompany translation (introductions, commentaries, footnotes, etc.). All translators try to manipulate the reader to engage with the text in the way that they think the original should be read. Moreover, a translator functions as the meeting point of a myriad of other texts; that is, s/he is not ‘pure’, but has her/his own cultural background, education, ideology, prejudices, linguistic habits, and expectations of the source text and its context, and so forth.1 It would be impossible for a translator to produce a totally objective, neutral translation. However, we can only confute a translation by way of another translation that will, in turn, also be subjective and therefore not neutral. In other words, there is no poem that exists outside translation, or, to quote Robinson, “it is the fact that there can be no literal translation that allows there to be fidelity and accuracy, for these terms require that there is an acknowledged gap between the original and its translation” (Robinson 2010, 42). This is the reason why the present study focuses on what the translator thinks the original says, rather than on ‘misreadings’. Consequently, what follows is an investigation of textual pragmatics that, arguably, will increase understanding of the poetic texts. The study presents and describes translations in order to analyse how they read the source text, and to determine what aspects of the source text have caught the attention of the translators. The study does not aim to produce a league table comparing translations A and B. The description contained in this chapter is presented according to a preliminary line-by-line analysis, in which translations and the original poems are investigated, and shifts at the micro-level are identified between translations and catalogued.2 Adopting tools of analysis that are collected in Koster’s armamentarium (2000), I comment on the shifts that occur and recur most often, together with the textual effect that they contribute to defining. Using shifts as indicators of textual creativity (both of the source text and its translations), citing specific examples to illustrate 1 A good example is provided by Ezra Pound’s translations of classical Chinese poetry. It has been pointed out (Xie 1999) that Pound did not have much knowledge of the Chinese language, that his translating agenda was to undermine English literary tradition and that his translations of classical Chinese poetry exemplify the exoticism of the period. The impossibility of the translators escaping their own ideology, because they conform to and participate in the ideology of their age, has been convincingly argued by scholars such as, Lefevere (1978), Hermans (1985) and Tymoczko (1986). 2 The corpus referred to for this analysis comprises nine Chinese poems by Yang Lian, with two English translations each, for a total of 27 texts altogether. A fragment of such a mini-corpus, just one set of poems, is featured in full in the Appendix.

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


the results of the translators’ decisions, the analysis operates in triangulation with the two translations and the source poem. The questions raised include: What are the effects brought about by such shifts? Do shifts at a micro-level determine substantial shifts at a macro-level?3 Are these shifts consistently occurring in translation, independently from the individual translators’ personal styles? In other words, can these shifts be considered as indicators of ‘translation universals’, in accordance with various scholars’ arguments,4 or are they at least expressions of English translation strategies during the time-span in which the translations were produced? During the comparative analysis between the poem and the two translations, many shifts were defined as grammatical shifts and located in the sub-categories of function words (conjunctions, place and time prepositions, adverbs, pronouns, demonstratives and possessives), verbs (voice and aspect), and grammatical classes. Indeed, a great number of conjunctions (e.g., and, but), prepositions (from, below, in), demonstratives (this, that), personal pronouns (I, it), and possessive pronouns (my) are inserted or deleted in the translation texts. Changes in verb tense and in grammatical classes (e.g., a noun rendered as a verb, or an adjective by an adverb, etc.) are also very common. Among the most recurring shifts, there also are many pertaining to semantic specification (e.g., mùyù 沐 浴, translated as freshly bathed in one translation, and as bathe in another) and to the stylistic sub-category of punctuation marks. The discussion will begin with an interpretation of the first array of shifts within the framework of the ‘text world’.5 The concept of the ‘text world’ is indeed a useful one; the poem is similar to a microcosm, as a world inside of which it is possible to recognize a number of entities (subjects and objects) that are related to one another by their respective loca3 At the micro-level, shifts involve differences of single words, lines and clauses. At the macro-level, shifts transcend lines, clauses and stanzas, referring to the characterization of the subjects, as well as their actions, and the time, space and style, and therefore the entire work. 4 Toury (1980 and 1991), Vanderauwera (1985), Blum-Kulka (1986), Van Leuven-Zwart (1989) and Baker (1992, 1993 and 1995) have all put forward hypotheses in this respect, indicating translators’ tendencies towards lexical, grammatical and syntactical explicitation, simplification, disambiguation or conventionality. 5 ‘Text world’ indirectly refers to the concept of a ‘possible world’, which was introduced into philosophy for the first time by Gottfried Leibniz, and was then frequently used by Relationists as part of their world view. In the context of this study, ‘text world’ means the mental construct built up by the writer and interpreted by the reader. On the topic of the ‘text world’, see Semino 1995, Werth 1999 and Koster 2000.


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tions in space and time, whether physical or abstract.6 Much of the information pertaining to the text world is formed by what falls under the term ‘deixis’.7 Indeed, deixis involves pointing to a person, place or time. Consequentially, main deictic elements and terms are personal and demonstrative pronouns, certain adverbs, various aspects of tense and modality, definite articles, and some syntactic forms, such as the interrogative and the vocative. Among the deictic elements of the text should also be included what are sometimes defined as ‘lexical deictics’ (Verdonk, quoted in Semino 1995, 153)—that is, personal and locative names (e.g., ‘the boy’; ‘in 1965’; ‘at home’). In brief, the study will organize translation shifts so as to answer the questions of who is speaking, where and when. It will then also examine shifts pertaining to some rhetorical structures and lexical choices, which have come to define the poems’ figurative language. Finally, it will discuss shifts in prosody, as determined by layout and punctuation, as well as by poetry readings. The Text World’s Inhabitants: A Description of the Use of Pronouns Of the various subjects in a text, the first one we will consider is the persona (also called the ‘voice’ or the ‘speaker’ in the poem). The voice speaking in a poem has an important function, for it is that voice that expresses thoughts, and it is that speaker through whose eyes or from whose point of view a sequence of events or a series of details is presented. In other words, the persona is the zero-point, the origo, the focalizer, in the text. The persona, purely as a textual entity, not as the author’s “temporary transfiguration of self in the text” (Widdowson 1987, 241), can be explicitly present in the discourse by way of the singular or plural first-person pronoun (e.g., “I am a poet”); implicitly present through the occurrence of 6 In “How to build a world (in a lot less than six days, and using only what’s in your head)”, Paul Werth synthesises the mental representation “of a text world as a blank form with questions on it which have to be answered: where does this take place? when? who is taking part? what objects are there? what are the relationships between any of these entities? what qualities do these entities possess?”. If we can come to understand how each entity has emerged, what each entity’s essential properties are and how they relate to one another, we will have improved our knowledge about the world of which they are a part (Werth 1995, 55). 7 Deixis is a Greek term meaning ‘index’, and it is used in linguistics to name the particular linguistic phenomenon that encodes the spatial and temporal context from the zero-point, the origo, of the speaker. For information on this subject, see Green 1995.

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


first-person possessive pronouns (“The Street outside My Window”); or she can exist only as a speaking voice (for example, in the poem “The Book of Exile”, where neither first-person pronouns, nor first-person possessive pronouns occur). In the last case, the persona should not be considered one of the subjects in the text. The frequency of first-person pronouns and first-person possessive pronouns determines the degree of involvement of the persona in the text, which may contribute to the degree of subjectivity in the text. A clear example of the implications of the use of such pronouns can be found in Poem 6, “The Street outside My Window”. In the Chinese text, the persona shows her presence through the possessive construction wŏ 我 (my) + substantive. Grammatically speaking, a noun phrase in which a possessive pronoun occurs is composed of a head word (the noun) and a modifier (the possessive pronoun). Thus, the persona in this text does not appear as autonomous, but is present only three times, as an entity linked to an object, the window, and once in an objectified construction (“their intimacy makes me believe”). In both translation texts, the possessive pronoun outnumbers the original. Moreover, in various lines, the persona is made explicit through the introduction of the first-person pronoun: Poem 6, line 10: Translation A: Translation B:

整个冬天 zhĕnggè dōngtiān All winter long, all winter

街上只有 jiē shàng zhĭ yŏu I have seen only on the street only

This kind of explication can also be called ‘subjectivation’, since a syntactical shift occurs through the insertion of a subject. In terms of the presence of the persona in the text world, the most important effect of this kind of shifts is a change in the degree of the persona’s visibility within her environment. From occupying a subordinate or implicit position in the text world, the persona will act out a more assertive role in the articulation of her actions and thoughts. The persona’s identity, and the way in which and the degree to which this identity is defined are fundamental elements in the creation of a text world. It is clear that the visibility or presence of the persona in the text world depends on her involvement with the text world, which is partly construed through the occurrence of the first-person and first-person possessive pronouns. The degree of involvement or distance, of subjectivity or objectivity, may vary on the basis of such an occurrence. The persona


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can be one of the subjects of the text world, or, in contrast, she may not belong to the text world. She may be invisible and absent, an outsider reporting on someone else’s experience. While the first-person singular pronoun, I refers to the persona, the second-person singular pronoun you refers to the addressee; indeed, you is specifically called a ‘pronoun of address’. Sometimes, however, you can be used strategically in a literary text to refer to the persona, as a pronoun inherently perceived as I. This usage of you allows for a liminal experience; on the one hand, the reader recognizes that you is addressing the persona; on the other hand, the reader is called to participate, automatically identifying herself with the addressee (Fludernik 1995, 99–129). An interesting case of the usage of you is provided by Poem 1, “The Book of Exile”. In this text, the identification between you and the persona is encouraged by the fact that you is referred to as a poet within the text itself (“your poetry invisibly traversing the world”). You turns out to be a you of self-address. The main result of this aesthetic device is to support an internal focalization, so that the poem is perceived as the self’s internal dialogue, and not as the persona addressing the reader. The description of the poem is entirely focused on the you-persona’s perception of the world and the relation of the statements can be read as her emotional response. Looking closer at the occurrence of this kind of pronoun inside the text, it is clear that a kind of semantic contrast has been created. Each time the you persona is affirmed by the personal pronoun nĭ 你, s/he is immediately counterbalanced by direct negation (“you are not here”) or by semantic annulment (“you are absent”; “you write and/bask in self deletion”; “skulls on the ground are you”). The greater number of you in translations (lines 7–8 in translation B, and line 14 in translation A) may tone down this aesthetic feature of the source text, though in all three texts the displacement of the subject remains strong for the particular lexis: Poem 1, line 7−8: Translation A: Translation B:

Poem 1, line 15:

你一边书写一边/欣赏自己被删去 nĭ yìbiān shūxĭe yìbiān/ xīnshăng zìjĭ bèi shānqù In writing You/Bask in your own deletion as you write so you are/ a connoisseur of your own excision 在字里行间一夜衰老 zài zì lĭ háng jiān yíyè shuāilăo

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian Translation A: Translation B:


in words and lines you grow old in a night growing old overnight between the words, the lines

Throughout all of the Chinese text of Poem 4, “An Elegy for Poetry”, the addressee is never present. Translator B, in line 37, introduces the subject you, as an impersonal pronoun: Poem 4, verse 37: Translation A: Translation B:

里面一阵风暴发出回响 lĭmiàn yī zhèn fēngbào fāchū huíxiăng and within it the echoing roar of the storm. where you can hear echoes of a howling storm.

The same situation occurs in the first two parts of Poem 5, “Celebration at Midnight”. The shifts located between the two translations of this poem, where translator B adds you (in lines 4 and 9), stressing the dialogical function of a particular imperative statement, draws attention back to the original text: Poem 5, line 9: Translation A: Translation B:

此刻,在世界中央。我说:活下去─人们 cĭkè, zài shìjiè zhōngyāng. wŏ shūo: huó xiàqù – rénmen Now in the centre of the universe I say: live on – from the middle of the world I say to you: live on, my people

“I say to you” has an explicitly expressed interlocutor, implying a rather high degree of linkage between the persona and you; moreover, the possessive pronoun my, in “my people”, linking the persona to the vocative/ addressee, increases the sense of belonging of the persona to a community. This poem is divided into three parts. In the first part, ‘Opening the Song’s Way’, the persona is expressed using the plural personal pronoun wŏmen 我们; in the second part, ‘Piercing the Flower’, by wŏ 我; and in the third part, ‘Muffling the Drum’, by wŏ 我 and wŏ de 我的. In the Chinese text, no addressee is distinguished by the pronoun nĭ 你 in the first and second parts. In part three, the plural pronoun nĭmen 你们 functions as an object. The result of these linguistic devices is the movement from a common existential dimension in the first part towards a dominating ego in part two (stressed by the lexical choice and the symbolism), to an overexposure of the persona, in part three, where s/he almost acquires


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divine power (both wŏ 我 and wŏ de 我的 are present). The you here is a linguistic device used by the persona to define the world outside herself; you is not even marked off as an autonomous entity, but needs the instructions of the I (“my light, even when it precipitates on you, still illumines you”; “Now, from the middle of the world I say: live on people”). In other words, the position of the persona in the text world points to a distance between the self and the other. This feature has been recognized as a particular characteristic of the poet’s work during this period: Seán Golden and John Minford have defined it as “the rediscovery of the ego in Yang Lian’s poems” (Golden and Minford 1990, 128). Moreover, in a note to the reader of the poem, the poet himself specifies: “The ‘you’ [plural] and the ‘I’ of the poem symbolize the two levels in human life of external reality and spiritual search” (Yang 1985, 162). Poem 2, “The Mirror”, does not contain a second-person pronoun. Translator A calls to the reader from the first line, when he translates a hypothetical preposition into the imperative mood of the verb suppose: Poem 2, line 1:

倘若现实 tăngruò xiànshí

Translation A: Translation B:

Suppose reality If reality

能够从幻象开始 nénggòu cōng huànxiàng kāishĭ could begin from illusion could start from fantasy

An impersonal you appears in line 18: Poem 2, line 18: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 19: Translation A: Translation B:

俯身之际 fŭ shēn zhi jì as you lean into it Stoops low

脸僵硬成石 liăn jiāngyìng chéng shí the face stiffens, turns to stone its face petrified

岁月布下迷宫让自己使传 suìyè bù xià mí gōng ràng zìjĭ shīchuán yourself lost to history by the maze spread by the years Time creates a labyrinth in which to lose itself

The effect of such shifts is a diminished distance between the persona and the reader. One could argue that since the persona in this poem is expressed by the first-person plural pronoun wŏmen 我们 (we), the reader is already called in. But the Chinese pronoun wŏmen 我们, like the English we, has

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


the double possibility of I + the other(s) or I + you. Moreover the pronoun wŏmen 我们 in the text is present only once at the beginning of the third and last stanza. In the Chinese text, this insertion marks a change of perspective: the first and second stanzas describe of an imaginary world that presumably exists in the mind of the persona. This contrasts with the last stanza, where the perspective becomes closer, with the insertion of the pronoun wŏmen, indicating a here-and-now situation that includes the persona and someone else; it narrates a state of affairs that is more intimate. This situation changes back to a more remote one, with the insertion of the undefined, impersonal pronoun shéi 谁 of the last two lines. A change of voices and perspectives has occurred in the poem from the distance of the first two stanzas to the intimacy of lines 20, 21, 22 and 23, and then back to distance in the last two lines. At different points, in both translations, the persona and the near perspective are present from the beginning of the poem and then reinforced in the last stanza: Poem 2, line 2: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 21: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 22: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 23: Translation A: Translation B:

玻璃就是唯一的风景 bōli jiù shì wéi yī de fēngjĭng glass is the only landscape Then glass would be our only scenery 圆睁双眼 yuán zhēng shuāng yăn open our eyes wide Both eyes bulging 如鱼的四肢互相纠缠 rú yú de sìzhī hùxiāng jiūchán entwined in four fishlike limbs our four fishlike limbs entangle one another 穿过桥洞 世界高悬在头上 chuānguò qiáodòng shìjiè gāo xuán zài tóu shàng pass under the arch the world suspended high of a bridge above us as we pass below the bridge, the world hangs high overhead


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The involvement of the reader in the text world is determined by the occurrence of the first-person plural possessive pronoun (our), the objective case of the first-person plural pronoun (us), and the first-person plural pronoun (we). This first section has mainly elaborated on shifts in the usage of pronouns, considering how the reader turns out to be more present in translation than in the Chinese text, while the degree of distance between the persona and the reader is also lower. The following two sections provide a reading of another category of frequently occurring shifts, which pertain to time and space. The study of these shifts is crucial to the understanding of the poetic text, since determining when and where the events of a poem occur is necessary to clarify the mood, the tone, the structure, as well as the theme of the poem. Time The question addressed in this section is: In which temporal dimension(s) can the text world be located? It examines verb tense and aspect, temporal adverbs, and the prepositions and conjunctions that firmly establish the time sequence in the text.8 Through the study of these temporal markers we can identify the relationship between coding and content time,9 and define the time span of the text world. Tense is a grammatical category involving time; it puts the time of the event referred to in a sentence in relation to the time of the utterance of that sentence. In linguistic terms, tense establishes the relationship between the content time and the coding time. The present tense indicates the simultaneity of content and coding time, referring to an event that occurs at the time of the utterance. The past and future tense, instead, establish a chronological separation between content and coding time: the past tense refers to an event that occurred earlier than the utterance, and the future tense refers to an event that will occur after the utterance.

8 The temporal and spatial setting of a poem involves two kinds of textual devices: the linguistic device, which will be addressed in this and the following sections, and the formal device, concerning the scheme of prosody and graphic asset, which is dealt with later on in the chapter. 9 The coding time is the time at which the utterance is transmitted; the content time is the time (or times) to which the utterance refers.

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


In Poem 1, “The Book of Exile”, temporal shifts occur between the two translations. In the lines featured below, translation A uses both the gerund and the simple present tense three times. Translation B is more varied, using the gerund twice, the simple present tense twice, the past tense once (as a hypothetical predicate) and the present perfect tense once: Poem 1, line 3: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 1, line 5: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 1, line 7: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 1, line 12: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 1, line 15: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 1, line 16: Translation A: Translation B:

空白如死鸟在你脸上飞翔 kòngbái rú síniăo zài nĭ liăn shàng fēixiáng emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face is blank as if a dead bird circled above your face 把你的日子向回翻动 bá nĭ de rìzi xiànghúi fāndòng turning back your days turns your days backward 你一边书写一边 nĭ yìbiān shūxĭe yìbiān in writing as you write

you so you are

随随便便移入呼吸 súisui biànbian yírù hūxī carelessly enters breathing casually moving into a breath 在字里行间一夜衰老 zài zì lĭ háng jiān yíyè shuāilăo in words and lines you grow old in a night growing old overnight between the words, the lines 你的诗隐身穿过世界 nĭ de shī yĭnshēn chuānguò shìjìe your poetry invisibly traversing the world your poem has invisibly pierced the world

Translation A clearly locates the situation of the poem at a specific moment in the present. Switches are only to the gerund, which conveys a quality of durativity or aspectual continuity. It is as if the narration in the


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poem is taking place at the very moment of enunciation. The possibility of instantaneous reading takes the reader closer to the situation. On the other hand, translation B’s temporal location appears less homogeneous, presenting a larger variety of tenses. The usage of the gerund and the present perfect tense, in translation B of lines 15 and 16, is a noticeable feature in the poem economy. The gerund links the events of the two lines, so that we can note a different interpretation and segmentation of the two lines. In translation B, the subject of growing old may be intended as your poem, while translator A specifies you as the subject and keeps the two lines as separate statements. As a probable result of this shift, translator B chooses to use the present perfect, in line 16, denoting that the action of piercing began in the past and that it is now completed. Grammatically speaking, this last shift of tense reveals the interpretation of chuānguò 穿过 as a compound composed of the verb chuān 穿 and the aspect particle guò 过, marking the completion of the action. Translator A, instead, reads chuānguò 穿过 as a compound composed of two parallel verbs: chuān 穿and guò 过, strengthening the sense of passing through. In translation B, the shift to the present perfect tense establishes a separation between coding time and content time. The event is now placed outside the time that was set out at the beginning of the poem (i.e., the present), abandoning the present, ongoing dimension for a concluded state. Both the concept of time and the need to transcend it are developed throughout Yang Lian’s poems. If the present tense is the device to indicate experienced time, dramatic monologue and juxtaposed images are generally the means of conveying timelessness. The use of the gerund in translation may often indicate cohesiveness between events, but this is not as clearly stated in the Chinese text. The gerund is indeed a tense that signals subordination between verbs, indicating general simultaneity with the verb of the principal sentence, or it may signal a causal or modal quality. One example is provided by a comparison of translations A and B of Poem 3, ‘Crocodile’: Poem 3, lines 1−3, Translation A: Poem 3, lines 1−3, Translation B:

The crocodile’s nostrils shut like a word ignoring you floating and sinking on the page of white paper the crocodile, nostrils shut tight as a word disdains to notice you just sinks or floats at the surface of this white page

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


The main difference between these two versions consists in the visual description which, in the second case, develops by juxtaposition, not by subordination. As a consequence, the principal sentence in translator A’s version is the first, whereas in the second version all three lines are of the same syntactical weight. Indeed, there is no special focalization upon one single event; no event substitutes for another, and all verbs describe different actions, which, nevertheless, apart from the sequence of presentation, remain more or less simultaneous in our mental representation. Although in some cases the temporal sparseness of verbal clauses can be considered a ‘structural’ characteristic of the Chinese language10 (and, thus, abandoned in translation in an attempt to make it fluent), in other cases the Chinese text presents clear markers pointing to a syntactical relation of juxtaposition. Next is an example of co-ordination expressed in the Chinese text by a comma: Poem 4, verse 4: Translation A: Translation B:

像浪花,在黑黝黝的丛林间移动 xiàng lànghuā, zài hēi yŏuyŏu de cónglín jīan yídòng Like surf moving among the pitchblack trees of uneasiness, through the deep shadows of trees it drifts,

In Poem 4, “An Elegy for Poetry”, on line 30, translator B employs the English future tense: Poem 4, line 30: Translation A: Translation B:

在洁白的田野上我要袒露 一颗心灵 zài jiébái de tiānyĕ shàng wŏ yào tănlù yī kē xīnlíng In fields of purest white lay bare my heart, I’ll bare my heart in these clean white snowfields

The interpretation of yào 要 as a modal verb marking the future tense appears to be unjustified in this case, since elsewhere in the poem the future is determined by the use of the adverb jiang 将. Yào 要 may then be intended to express the will of the persona, not the future. Translation B, thus, reveals an implicit stylistic criticism in as much as it decides to definitely diminish the stylistic and emotional weight of the statement, indicating an emotionally unmarked future action. Such stylistic criticism

10 In Chinese, the verb does not present tense changes, but it can be modified only by way of aspectual particles or time expressions.


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is moreover demonstrated by translator B’s choice in the next line, where a parallelism is obliterated: Poem 4, line 31: Translation A: Translation B:

在洁白的天空上我要袒露 zài jiébái de tiānkōng shàng wŏ yào tănlù In pure white sky lay bare my heart, as I do in the clean white sky

一颗心灵 yī kē xīnlíng

As the result, whereas translator A experiences the Chinese text as indicating the will of the persona, stressing, by way of the repetitive construction (the two spheres of tiānyĕ 田野, “fields”, in line 30, and tiānkōng 天空, “sky”, in line 31), translator B presents the event as habitual, connecting, with the conjunction as, the future action of line 30 to the present tense of line 31. Later on, in line 35, there is another shift: Poem 4, line 35: Translation A: Translation B:

我要让玫瑰开放,玫瑰就会开放 wŏ yào ràng méigui kāifàng, méigui jiù huì kāifàng I will the rose to bloom and it blooms; when I want the rose to bloom, it will blossom;

Comparing translation A, “I will the rose to bloom and it blooms”, with translation B, one may notice how the present tense, in translation A, relates to the actual, or the scene-setting quality of the imagined world projected by the persona. It implies that this is what the rose actually does when the poet names it. The present tense thus acquires the timeless dimension, losing its deictic anchoring and referring to a certain state of the poet in general. In contrast, translation B, introducing the line with the conjunction when, choosing the future tense to indicate the Chinese auxiliary verb hùi 会, and using a synonym for the same verb (bloom/ blossom), shows a preference for prose-like syntax and low-key tones. Translation A of Poem 8, “The Time, the Place”, marks a transition from the proximal time of the first stanza, in which the present tense occurs, to the distant time of the other three stanzas, in which present and past tense become mixed: Poem 8, line 8: Translation A: Translation B:

十月的连翘花黯淡如败壁颓垣 shíyuè de liánqiáo huā àndàn rú bài bì tuí yuán October’s forsythia blooms faint as the crumbling of ruined walls The Lianchi flowers which in October look dismal as broken walls

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian Poem 8, line 9: Translation A: Translation B:


却在一个晚上突入你的梦境 què zài yī ge wănshang tū rù ní de mèngjìng yet one evening it came charging into your dream Suddenly invade your dreams one night

In the first stanza the present tense describes the actual situation of the persona and of you (“That old house I can’t go back to / you can’t go back to now either”). Interestingly, the occurrence of the adverbial phrase the whole evening, in line 3 (“as that lamp lights the whole evening up …”), alongside the progressive aspect of line 5 (“You’re still waiting …”), implies that coding time is part of the same time span as content time. In other words, the temporal setting of the first stanza is presented as occurring during that evening. In the second stanza, the introduction of the entire autumn in line 6, together with the past tense (“the entire autumn only the wind came visiting”), marks the temporal shift to the past, outside reality, into memory. The persona abandons the initial role of direct participant and adopts a conventional narrative role. Yet, some lines maintain the present tense, where the situation described has a general value (line 8), or refers to the present situation (line 11 and 12). In the fourth stanza, the use of the past tense in line 19 is less justifiable: Poem 8, line 19: Translation A: Translation B:

但每个清晨当鸟叫了 dàn mĕi ge qīngchén dàng niăo jiào le but early each morning as the birds sang But when birds start singing every morning

I agree with translator B in reading the le了at the end of the line as a modal particle expressing a change of state, and not as an aspectual particle; in addition, the occurrence of that mĕi ge qīngchén 每个清晨, “every morning”, would suggest a general quality of the statement that could be rendered with the present, as it was in line 8. Even more striking is the use of the past tense in line 20, where the content time is placed at the unreachable distance of a memory within a memory: Poem 8, line 20: Translation A: Translation B:

你是否记得有一个黑暗 ní shì fŏu jìde yŏu yī ge hēi’àn did you remember there had been a darkness Do you or don’t you remember there’s a darkness


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Translator B, on the other hand, chooses to render the poem time mostly in the present. This could give the impression that content time has caught up with coding time. The tense used, however, does not have the instantaneous quality of the first stanza, but acquires the characteristics of a dramatized account, as an atemporal, generalized present: Translation B: Poem 8, line 9: Poem 8, line 19: Poem 8, line 20:

Suddenly invade your dreams one night But when birds start singing every morning do you or don’t you remember there’s a darkness

Or, at least, the situation of enunciation remains ambiguous in the text: Is it an absolute present or it is an instantaneous present? In this poem, images and sensations are associated with evening and with autumn, both of which carry specific associations. Defined by the lighting of the lamp, the black shadows and the desolate patter of footsteps, the evening is filled with sensations of loneliness, while autumn is associated with wind, crumbling ruined walls, and withered leaves. Night and day contrast vividly, for when day comes back and the world returns with its familiar sound of birdsong, only the memory of the darkness seems to make the past possible. Overall, the poem presents an alternation between two positions of the persona, that of the immediate participant and that of the narrator of remembered events. Tense may then be the means through which the translator sets up this double perspective and signals shifts from one dimension to the other. Some shifts in translations have been identified as explanations of the semantic roles of time. Looking more closely at the temporal shifts, we may note the proliferation of conjunctions, prepositions and adverbs of time in sentence-initial position in the translations. In Poem 2, “The Mirror”, for example: Poem 2, line 18: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 23:

俯身之际 fŭ shēn zhi jì As you lean into it Stoops low 穿过桥洞 chuānguò qiáodòng

脸僵硬成石 liăn jiāngyìng chéng shí the face stiffens, turns to stone its face petrified

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian Translation A: Translation B:


pass under the arch of a bridge As we pass below the bridge

Further, in Poem 4, “Elegy for Poetry”: Poem 4, line 17: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 4, line 35: Translation A: Translation B:

呜咽不是拒绝,少女的手指和 wūyè bùshì jùjué, shăonŭ de shŏuzhī hé Weeping is no rebellion, the young girl’s fingers and to sob out loud refutes nothing when the fingers of young girls 我要让玫瑰开放,玫瑰就会开放 wŏ yào ràng méigui kāifàng, méigui jiù huì kāifàng I will the rose to bloom and it blooms; when I want the rose to bloom, it will blossom;

The first consideration that derives from these shifts is that possible but implicit connections are made explicit, and indirect temporal links between events, actions, etc., are explained and rationalized. Shifts involving the addition of these function words may consequently cause a macro-level shift in cohesion and explanation. At an aesthetic level, the insertion of time adverbs and prepositions, together with the change of verb tense, directs our perception of the time in the poem, and where an action or event is presented as timeless or universal in the source text, translation describes it as a contextualized, limited situation. A higher degree of cohesion and explanation in this sphere may change a syntactical sparseness, a staccato style that presents events and figures in a concatenated manner or as a series of snap-shot images, into continuative, fluid or even prolix prose.11 In Poem 1, “The Book of Exile”, the events are specified in their immediacy and unpredictability. Indeed, some temporal markers are used to denote the sudden realization of the events: Poem 1, line 2:

刚刚写下就被一阵狂风卷走 gānggāng xĭexià jiù bèi yìzhén kuángfēng juănzŏu

11 In his essay “The Verse: Original and Translation”, Jiři Levý reports the results of research on the differences between prose and poetry, conducted by Mayenowa. He states the following: “In a verse one wants to adopt a less developed system of syntactic relationships of subordination” (Levý 1993, 5).


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Translation A:

Just written are swept off by a wild wind

Poem 1, line 13:

移入一只梨就不看别人 yírù yìzhī lí jiù búkàn bíeren Enters a pear and ceases to look at others

Translation A: Poem 1, line 15: Translation A:

在字里行间一夜衰老 zài zì lĭ háng jiān yíyè shuāilăo In words and lines you grow old in a night

The brief duration of the actions and the unpredictability are also stressed twice by the doubled attributive verb súisui biànbian 随随便便 (carelessly/casually) as verb-determiner (cf. lines 10 and 12). To this extent, the translational interpretation of translator B, based as it is on cause-effect syntax, may considerably change the mood of the poem from unpredictable into intentional: Poem 1, line 13: Translation A: Translation B:

移入一只梨就不看别人 yírù yìzhī lí jiù búkàn bíeren Enters a pear and ceases to look at others into a pear so no one else is seen

The time, in Poem 5(III), ‘Muffling the Drum’ is strongly evoked deictically with the repetition of cĭkè 此刻 at the beginning of the long lines: Poem 5, line 1: Translation B:

此刻,高原如猛虎 cĭkè, gāoyuán rú mĕng hŭ… Right now the mountain is a ferocious tiger …

This important indication in the poem is connected with the continuous present of the description of the scenes. It has been given prominence by translator B, who decides to adopt Right now as an equivalent. The presentation of successive visual descriptions, repetitively introduced by right now, conveys to the poem a perpetual renewal of ‘now’, as in cinematography in which every scene is enhanced by the now of representation. This kind of language refers to the ‘immediacy’ of the real. The study of temporal shifts in this section has pointed to the use of certain linguistic devices in the Chinese texts, which predominantly seem to aim at conveying a present of successive visual scenes. One appears to have access to the occurrence of the events at the same time as they are perceived by the persona. The syntax also displays this style of descrip-

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


tion, where phrasal units are characteristically paratactically linked by juxtaposition, and not by means of subordination. Space This section examines the notion of location in space as it is elaborated in the text world through entities having locative function (e.g., Norlang, the street outside my window, etc.), and deictic expressions that indicate spatial locations with respect to the position of the persona: demonstratives (this, that) adverbs (here, there) and verbs (come, go). The beginning of Poem 1, “The Book of Exile”, gives clues about the way in which a text world is built:

A: B:

你不在这里 nĭ búzài zhèlĭ You are not here you are not here

A: B:

刚刚写下就被一阵狂风卷走 gānggāng xĭexià jiù bèi yìzhén kuángfēng juănzŏu Just written are swept off by a wild wind just written is blown away by the gale

A: B:

空白如死鸟在你脸上飞翔 kòngbái rú síniăo zài nĭ liăn shàng fēixiáng Emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face is blank as if a dead bird circled above your face

A: B:

送葬的月亮一只断手 sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu Funereal moon is a broken hand the funeral-following moon a broken hand

A: B:

把你的日子向回翻动 bá nĭ de rìzi xiànghúi fāndòng Turning back your days turns your days backward 翻到你缺席的那一页 fāndào nĭ qūexí de nàyí yè

这笔迹 zhè bĭjī Marks of this pen this pen mark

48 A: B:

chapter three Back to the page when you do not exist turns to the page where you are absent

In general, while a verb, in English, will necessarily fix an event or a situation at a point in time, shifts in nominalization may create a timeless dimension, bestowing a universal status upon the event described. Translator B considers kòngbái 空白 as an attributive verb (“is blank”) referring to this pen mark, not as the subject of the third-line sentence, evoking an empty place. Consequently, in line 4, he uses the definite article the (the funeral-following moon a broken hand), indicating that funeralfollowing moon is the new subject, not an apposition to kòngbái 空白. The metonymic asset present in this translation results in a quite complex text, and the reader is left with a series of uncorrelated images: Why is a pen mark, which has been blown away by the gale, blank? Why is it as if a dead bird circled above the face? Why is it a funeral-following moon? What happens instead in translation A? Reading the first line, one is provided with the main elements of the text world: the subjects (you [as persona] and marks of this pen), the time (are), and the place (here and this). The occurrence of the personal pronoun you, the adverb here and the demonstrative this, added to the use of the present are, draws the reader to the situation of a specific location and a specific moment. These elements refer to the specific spatio-temporal setting of the immediate surroundings, where the persona is positioned within the situation that he is talking about. But what kind of space is here? The function of the entity marks of this pen is very important for the definition of the space, since it evokes the frame into which the theme (exile/displacement) is developed. The pen marks give information about the semantic area of the poem: that of writing. Some difficulties in interpretation have been recorded in the comparison of the two translations of this poem. They are probably due to the structure of the poem, which develops its theme by negating the deictic elements. In the Chinese text, the use of the same character for both here and this (or these) (zhè-lĭ 这里, zhè 这), the sound repetition and, above all, the occurrence of these deictic elements in the same broken line, indicate the tight connection occurring between the two segments of the first line. The persona is speaking of a place defined by the adverb here and the demonstrative this, thus, the place is defined as the persona’s current location, a proximal space. At the same time, however, as we try to anchor the subjects, nĭ 你 and bĭjī 笔记, to the specific situation presented, this

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


proximity is nullified by way of the negated verb bú zài 不在, the use of the personal pronoun nĭ 你, instead of wŏ 我 (see above), and by the directional resultative zŏu 走 in line 2. The situation described is then one of a personal split and writing displacement. In other words, the particular usage of location markers and other linguistic elements displays a situation in which the persona is both participant in the poem’s discourse and external to it. In such a linguistic structure, the poem elaborates the theme of exile. As mentioned above, an important reference for understanding the setting of this first stanza is provided by marks of this pen; the setting of the poem is the page. Adopting the page as the spatial frame of the stanza, the image of the third line appears to be the result of the event described in the previous lines. The space (the page) is now the blank because marks of this pen have been swept off by a wild wind. The image of the dead bird may relate to the way a sheet of paper circles around when falling down. In the same way, one line down, the image of the funeral-following moon is also assimilated to that of the white, blank page. This metaphoric concatenation leads to the image of lines 5 and 6, where life itself is presented as a book starting from the page of the persona’s absence, namely the stage before his birth, marked as distant by the use of the demonstrative nà 那. Another interesting example of the importance of spatial references in the text is provided by translation B of Poem 2, “Mirror”. One noticeable systematic shift in this translation consists of an increase in the amount of place specifications and references: Poem 2, line 4: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 8: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 11: Translation A:

白昼弯曲后 báizhòu wānqū hòu after daylight meanderings after the white daytime comes full circle 房间里的房间 fángjiān lĭ de fángjiān a room within a room In this room within a room 蚂蚁爬过嘴角细碎的皱纹 măyĭ pá guò zuĭjiăo xì suì de zhòuwén broken laugh-lines climbed by ants


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Translation B:

Ants crawl over thin broken wrinkles near the corner of the mouth

Poem 2, line 12:

野草横生 yĕ căo héngshēng weeds proliferating Wild grass grows in all directions

Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 15: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 16: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 17: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 2, line 19: Translation A: Translation B:

血是萧瑟的红叶林 xuè shì xiāosè de hóngyè lín blood is a forest of red leaves bleakly rustling Blood is a red-leaved wood rustling in the wind 每照亮一次就死亡一次 mĕi zhàoliàng yī cì jiù sĭwáng yī cì each illumination a dying And dies every time light shines upon it 玻璃的沼泽 水银的稍纵即逝的鸟飞 bōli de zhăozé shuĭyín de shāo zòng jí shì de fēi nĭao the swamp of glass a quicksilver bird gone in an instant In the swamp of glass the fleet mercury bird 岁月下迷宫让自己失传 suìyè bù xià mí gōng ràng zìjĭ shīchuán yourself lost to history by the maze spread by the years Time creates a labyrinth in which to lose itself

The need for place specification expressed in translation B may be explained as an attempt to facilitate the reader’s ‘mental accommodation’ of the various elements in this difficult poem. However, the accumulation of such specifications displays not only a higher degree of cohesion overall, but also produces a difference in the general perception of space as it is conceived by the persona in translation A. The use of the demonstrative this, as in “In this room within the room” (line 8), achieves the effect of projecting a perception of the place as one close to the persona. Moreover, it creates a connection with the previous statements, indicating that the persona is possibly referring to the same place mentioned previously (perhaps the room of which the door opens

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


in line 3). The Chinese text is possibly more ambiguous, as it does not provide this information, but projects a text world that is less harmo­nized, perceived as a collage of images. The addition of locative information, such as in the wind (line 15) or upon it (line 16), may reduce the attention directed to the presented events, providing other details to be considered. Consider these three translations of the same line: Poem 2, line 19: Translation A: Translation B: Translation C:

岁月不下迷宫让自己失传 suìyè bù xià mí gōng ràng zìjĭ shīchuán Yourself lost to history by the maze spread by the years Time creates a labyrinth in which to lose itself Years and months spread out a maze to obliterate the self

Translator A focuses on the agent; translator B focuses on the place; and translator C focuses on the event of obliterating the self. Shifts pertaining to distance in translation are quite frequent. The position of the persona, in relation to a place presented, is either more or less proximal. A further instance of the use of the determinative this, is provided by Poem 3, ‘Crocodile’: Poem 3, line 3: Translation A: Translation B:

仅仅在这页白纸上浮沉 jĭnjĭn zài zhèyè bái zhĭ shàng fúchén floating and sinking on the page of white paper just sinks or floats at the surface of this white page

Here, the definite article the, adopted by translator A instead of the determinative adjective this, diminishes proximity. This refers to the page proximal to the persona at the moment of utterance. By association, a reader may imagine that the page is specifically the one on which the poet is writing the poem. The indicates a page probably known by the addresser, but less specific about its position. There are instances of the effect provoked by the Chinese directional resultative lái 来, in Poem 4, “An Elegy for Poetry”, in lines 36, 38 and 40, where the translational solution of return, instead of come back, does not specify the location of the persona: Poem 4, line 36: Translation A: Translation B:

自由会回来,带着它的小贝壳 zìyóu huì huílái, dàizhe tā de xiăo bèiké Freedom will return, bringing its little shell, freedom will come back carrying a small shell


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More clearly, at line 27, the choice of the preposition from, instead of in, indicates an increased distance, where the persona’s location is not inside the wasteland, but outside it: Poem 4, line 27: Translation B:

岩石累累的荒野中我听到歌声 yánshí lĕilĕi de huāngyĕ zhōng wŏ tīngdào gēshēng and I’ll hear music from this wasteland of stones

Thus, deictic information establishes the place and the deployment of the text world. However, other references may also have a very important function in evoking spatial frames. This study has considered, for example, the case of marks of this pen in Poem 1, but a special case can be represented by the use of the proper name Norlang in Poem 5(II), ‘Piercing the Flower’: Poem 5(II), line 1: Translation A: Translation B:

诺日朗的宣喻: nuòrìlăng de xuān yù: This is the proclamation of Norlang: Nuo-ri-lang proclaims:

To a Chinese reader, the frame evoked by this proper name is probably more specific than to an English reader. Indeed, the poet himself decides to introduce the collection titled Norlang, with a note, explaining that Norlang is the name of a male Tibetan deity and also the name of “a waterfall and a snow-capped mountain on the high plateau between Sichuan and Gansu” (Yang 1998a, 58). The information is not secondary, since it enriches references to the spatial collocation and helps the reader to understand the whole text. This information may be considered relevant to endow the text with spiritual or political meaning. The reader may have a true or distorted knowledge of such a reference, but the point is that it creates a working frame of reference to develop the theme.12 Translator B, in his book, conveys half the information, deciding to emphasize one single aspect above other possible connotations. Under the Chinese transliteration of the name Nuo-ri-lang is the following: “In Tibet, the god of virility” (Finkel 1991, 97). Paul Werth (1995, 49–80) suggests that, in a text, even characters can be considered, to some extent, as properties of the locative objects. Thus, for example, the character of the silent woman, in Poem 6, “The Street 12 For an absorbing study on the third section of the poem Nuòrìláng 诺日朗, see Edmond 2004 and 2005.

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


outside My Window”, may be intended as part (property) of the street, as much as the run-down car may be and, consequently, the seven stray cats and the man. Similarly, the street can be also regarded as property of the broader spatial frame of the space outside my window. This perspective, in reading a text, can be particularly useful when dealing with texts in which the subject shows scarce presence. As already examined in the first section of this chapter, the structure of this poem, in Chinese, tends to reduce as much as possible the presence of the persona in the text world. Yet, one can read the whole poem as a representation of the persona’s state of mind, through the external correlative of the street. The persona’s state of mind merges in the lonely images of the street. The street is composed of images humanized (through metaphors), lonely and depressing. It is as if this vision, revealed through the persona’s observation of the street, offers an insight into the soul, but this is achieved through observation of the world outside the persona. In the light of these considerations, it is important to distinguish between the two worlds (the outside of the street and the inside of the persona), and to convey a text world as distant as possible from the persona. As already discussed, avoiding the use of first-person pronoun may be the translation strategy to achieve this. A general conclusion about the spatial setting in Yang Lian’s poems is that the themes of displacement and solitude determine a structure in which location (for example, the concept of “home” in Poem 8, “The Time, the Place”) is spatial, not geographic. As the poet himself states: Space and time are symbols of consciousness. Through a personal perception of the space, one gives space an order. This order is a rational construction, is poetry … I restrict the rational space in the poetic form, namely within the sphere of language… Once a reader argued in a letter that my poetry is ‘picture-poetry’. I replied specifying it is ‘space-poetry’. (Yang 1998b, 251–62)

In the same essay, the poet refers to the structure of the poem “City of Dead Poets” (no. 7) to explain his concept of space: … the two stanzas correspond to two levels: the first, from reality to language—from the death of the poets to the poetry of the dead poets; the second, from language to reality—poetry without poets more distinctly reveals the essence of the poets’ death (they never lived). In the structure, imagery gains a very broad, deep, unfolding space. (Yang 1998b, 257)


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In this highly conceptual space, the poem is structured and the theme elaborated. Thus far, this study has examined the main elements upon which the text world is built. The next section will focus on the use of figurative language13 through which the text world is projected. In particular, it will investigate lexical choice and metaphors as additional devices that are often blended with poetic concepts of space, time and subjectivity. Figurative Language Very often, the poetic text resorts to figurative language to stimulate associations, impressions, and reactions. As this study will attempt to show in the following pages, the syntactical constructions of metaphors and similes and some lexical choices in Yang Lian’s poetry respond to the task of amplifying linguistic experience. Through frequent links with the semantic order of the sensory world, by borrowing from the visual, acoustic and tactile domains, Yang Lian attempts to expand language possibilities and create a surplus in signification. Figurative language can be defined as a means that allows reference to one entity in terms of another and, in this way, highlights similarities between the two. Poem 5(I), line 1:

Translation B:

…午夜降临了,斑斓的黑暗展开它的虎皮,金 灿灿地闪耀着绿色。 … wŭyè jiànglín le, bānlán de hēi’àn zhănkāi tā de hŭpí, jīn càncàn de shănyào zhe lùsè … … Midnight has fallen. Darkness spreads its tiger pelt, streaked with glowing gold …

This metaphorical description establishes connections between a nighttime scene and the pelt of a tiger, on the basis of visual qualities; the dark colours of the woods at midnight interposed by the flashes of moonlight, and the pelt of the tiger with its black and yellow stripes.

13 By ‘figurative language’ is usually meant that form of language that makes use of devices such as simile, metaphor, personification, paradox, hyperbole, onomatopoeia, images and symbols. Lakoff and Johnson (1980, 80) suggest that “we understand experience metaphorically when we use a gestalt from one domain of experience to structure experience in another domain”.

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


Most of Yang Lian’s figurative language, however, does not display similarities so straightforwardly perceived, but rather establishes unconventional and challenging connections between different areas of experience: Poem 1, line 4: Translation B:

送葬的月亮一只断手 sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu funeral-following moon a broken hand

The figurative technique employed here utilizes the so-called ‘compound metaphor’, in which more than one figurative expression is combined, in order to display a configuration of images without predication. Complex metaphors are, thus, created by juxtaposition: two or more entities are placed side by side without any comparison, leaving the reader to imagine connections between them. This device forces the reader to interpret the accumulation of figurative expressions not as photographic descriptions of reality, but as symbols of something else. Often, the incompatibility of figures and the dismissal of any grammatical links break the conventional coherence between words and things, challenging the reader to find the missing connections. All this is reflected in the translations. For example, in the line cited above, translator A decides to reduce the complexity of the first image, using only the word funereal, and to specify a connection between the two images, introducing the copula is: Poem 1, line 4: Translation A:

送葬的月亮一只断手 sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu funereal moon is a broken hand

In the same way, the considerable increase of cohesion markers, in the translation texts,14 can be regarded as an answer to the need of facilitating semantic relations between the overlapping and intersecting images: Poem 2, line 16: Translation B: Poem 8, line 8:

每照亮一次就死亡一次 mĕi zhàoliàng yī cì jiù sĭwáng yī cì and dies every time light shines upon it 十月的连翘花黯淡如败壁颓垣 shíyuè de liánqiáo huā àndàn rú bài bì tuí yuán

14 I am thinking of all the shifts gathered under the heading ‘Function Words’, including all those pertaining to the coordinating conjunctions, as explained in the Appendix.

56 Translation B:

chapter three The Lianchi flowers which in October look dismal as broken walls

This is even more evident when the translator explains a metaphor in terms of a simile: Poem 4, line 28: Translation B: Poem 9, line 2: Translation B:

饱满的蓓蕾的乳房哺育着我 băomăn de bèilĕi de rŭfáng bŭyù zhe wŏ I’ll suckle from swollen buds like breasts 一生写下的字迹群星散去 yīshēng xiĕ xià de zìjī qún xīng sàn qù The traces of words written in a lifetime scatter like stars

The difference between adopting explicative similes or figurative expressions such as metaphoric compounds is a difference in focalization. In the first case there is a description, in the latter there is a personal interpretation of the events presented. The simile produces a slightly evocative effect. The image is that of a ‘normal’ world in which things can only be compared to other things; they are not perceived as other things. The result, in other words, is a greater distance from the poetic world. Apart from the ‘compound metaphor’, another technique used to make figurative constructions is the simile. Each of the poems analysed contains at least one figurative construction with the comparative verbs rú 如 or xiàng 像. In translation, such constructions have often determined shifts in the grammatical classes of the entities involved: Poem 1, line 3: Translation A: Translation B:

空白如死鸟在你脸上飞翔 kòngbái rú síniăo zài nĭ liăn shàng fēixiáng Emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face is blank as if a dead bird circled above your face

In translation A, the subject of the verb to soar is emptiness, while translator B considers dead bird as the subject of the verb to circle. Similarly, in the next three cases, translations relate to different subjects: Poem 6, line 5: Translation A: Translation B:

像只累的海鸥从海边飞来 xiàng zhī lèi le de hăi’ōu cóng hăibiān fēilái Like a tired gull flying from the sea flying in from shore like a tired seagull

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian Poem 6, line 6: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 6, line 13: Translation A: Translation B:


像粒石子两手抱紧自己 xiàng lì shízĭ liăng shŏu bàojĭn zìjĭ Or a stone hugging itself hands hugging herself as tight as a pebble 像被打空的麦粒毫无怨意 xiàng bèi dă kōng de màilì háo wú yuànyì Ungrudging like threshed wheat grains empty husks, utterly free of resentment

This kind of shift reveals ambiguity in the grammatical interpretation of the constructions. It is indeed possible to explain the solutions adopted by the following two different grammatical formulae: 1. (Subject) + Subordinate phrase (如/像 + Object) + Principal phrase (Verb + Indirect Object) = S + (V + O) + V + iO 2. (Subject) + 如/像 + Object (Subject + Verb + Indirect Object) = S + V + O (S + V + iO) What is relevant here is not to point out which interpretation is the most appropriate, but to recognize the gap in ambiguity, displayed by the Chinese figurative constructions for an English reader. The striking occurrence of such shifts in translation demands a pause for reflection on the figurative process enacted by the Chinese text. A peculiarity of such constructions lies in a simultaneous view of the two entities involved in the comparison. It is as if the two originally separate images have been fused in the new third image of the simile.15 As a creative process, the simile is organized into planes that gradually blend into each other inside the proposition; it does not proceed through logical relationships. This may produce ambiguities of reference and, thus, lead to different interpretations, when translated into English. All the examples above show this kind of ambiguity, but the case of lines 2 and 3 in Poem 6, “The Street outside My Window” is particularly emblematic: Poem 6, line 2: Translation A:

它镇静得像一把梳子 tā zhènjìng de xiàng yī ba shūzi As quiet as a comb

15 Such an explanation also finds support in Paul Werth’s definition of metaphor as a “double vision” (Werth 1999, 317).


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Translation B:

it lies by my windowsill

Poem 6, line 3:

搁在窗台上 gē zài chuāngtái shàng It sits by my windowsill, composed and calm as a comb

Translation A: Translation B:

In this case, is it the street (‘it’/tā 它) that is laying on the windowsill, or is it the comb? To put it another way, which word is the subject of the verb gē 搁? I am afraid that the question, posed in these terms, has no answer. In order to understand the lines and the perception process underlying them, one needs to individuate the planes on which the simile has been constructed: Plane I: Plane II: Plane III: Plane IV: Plane V:

tā 它 yī ba shūzi 一把梳子 zhènjìng 镇静 yī ba shūzi + gē + zài chuāngtái shàng 一把梳子+搁+在窗台上 Simile: tā + zhènjìng de + xiàng + yī ba shūzi + gē + zài chuāngtái shàng 它+镇静得+像+一把梳子+搁+在窗台上 An entity: An objective correlative: Abstraction: Image:

In this case, tā 它 and yī ba shūzi 一把梳子 are essentially different in nature but come together in the poet’s perception as two entities tightly bound to one another. Indeed, each of the relating elements (zhènjìng 镇 静, gē搁, zài chuāngtái shàng 在窗台上, xiàng 像) can refer to both tā 它 and yī ba shūzi一把梳子. The answer to the question above (which is the subject of the verb gē 搁?) would then be both.16 When one translates the lines into English, these processes necessarily become logical ones, and the simile comes to be composed of grammatically well-defined entities, each with its own position. One may decide to keep xiàng yī ba shūzi 像一把梳子 as an adverbial adjunct, and to convey the image of the street laying on the windowsill. Conversely, when one considers the image-plane, one may decide to indicate a comb as the subject of the verb laying, explaining the abstract concept of zhènjìng 镇静 16 During an interview, I asked the same question to the poet, who gave me a similar interpretation. Yang Lian records his considerations on what he calls the simile’s “layers” in a conversation with Gao Xingjian 高行健. See Yang 1998b, 323−62, especially 342.

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


by means of the lonely image of a comb casually abandoned in the wrong place. The kind of poetry that emerges from the study of these linguistic devices is a poetry that speaks of existential experiences as discontinuous and completely separate phenomena that come to be unified by consciousness through the poetic process. The compound metaphor and the simile, blurring the boundary that separates the two entities comprising their structure, are designed to fuse discrepant perceptions of the real. Yang Lian not only creates unusual images, but he also devises perceptions on a different scale. In the last case of simile, for example, the union of the outside, open space of the street with the small, personal, indoor object of the comb results in assorted perceptual experiences: The value of poetry is not in the force of the words, but in the force of spatiality; it is not in the level of emotionality, but in the level of rationality which collects complex experiences. (Yang 1998b, 179)

Despite this last statement, it is worth examining these words with regard to their lexis, one of the most frequent reasons for controversy concerning translation. Lexis is often recognized as a significant component in contemporary literary stylistics. A study of lexis, as a discussion of the chosen repertoire of words, involves an analysis of literariness, of the power/impotence of words, and of meaning and interpretation that, though absolutely essential, would necessarily become bogged down in a long theoretical discussion on the meaning of poetry. Consequently, this topic will not be addressed here, but in the next chapter, which will attempt to define Yang Lian’s conception of poetry. Rather, this section will put forward some considerations related to lexical devices, which emerged during the comparison of the translations and the Chinese texts. Every literary text is open to a multiplicity of interpretations; each word, besides its literal denotation, may imply a series of connotations.17 Yet, the possibilities open to the connotations are not completely external to the propositions; they are instead directed by the context. Indeed, words do not exist in isolation, but their physiognomy and associative meanings are often determined by their relationships with 17 It is generally agreed that there are two ways to understand the meaning of a particular word: 1) through its denotation, which refers to a dictionary meaning, and 2) through its connotations, which refer to implied meanings, all the associations that the word brings into play. See Carter 1998, 264.


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other words. This is generally true, but it is especially true in the case of tropes— that is, when a writer wants to say one thing in terms of another. A character already constitutes a small metaphor: An image, a line, a poem, even the structure of a poem cycle, all are degrees amplifying the spatial consciousness of the ‘character’. (Yang 1998b, 181)

One example to consider is the word lí 梨, in line 13 of Poem 1, “The Book of Exile”: Poem 1, line 13: Translation A: Translation B:

移入一只梨就不看别人 yírù yìzhī lí jiù búkàn bíeren Enters a pear and ceased to look at others into a pear so no one else is seen

The reason for the choice of the word lí 梨 here is determined by its phonological resemblance to the word to leave, also pronounced lí 离. Indeed, in some Chinese contexts, pear may stand for separation, distance, to leave, to part from, division, to be away, and so on. The same word, written, for example, in a shopping list, may assume connotations of price, weight, taste, while in this context, the possibilities of connotation are directed towards a specific meaning. This device could be regarded as a phonetic pun drawing attention to a phonetic equivalence, which would normally remain unnoticed, or it could be regarded as a semantic-visual pun, based on the use of a physical object that represents another word by phonetic association. However, what should be stressed here is that this lexical device works as confirmation and amplification of a concept elaborated throughout the whole poem. In other words, a meaning of the poem, namely one that pertains to exile and displacement, is embodied in a single element, or in a single lexical item.18 Similarly, writing bird, moon, or blank, the poet does not want to denote only a certain animal, a satellite, or the white space on a paper. Instead, he wants to connote a series of associations, and thus to organize meaning with a certain stylistic effect. How can we appropriately account for the lexical stylistic effect the word produces? 18 Further examples can be found in all of Yang Lian’s work. If one compiles a list of all the lexical items in all of the poems examined, it is clear that there is a strong prevalence of words pertaining to the concept of death. As discussed in the next chapter, death can be regarded as the overall conceptual framework in Yang Lian’s poetry, a framework that explains the poet’s own conception of poetry.

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


In Yang Lian’s poetics, there is an intention to create a plural, multilayered apparatus of meanings. This intention is expressed by speaking of objects that are not univocal, and using signs that are not univocal signs, both of which are connected by relationships that are not univocal. The poet himself, in various ways, has repeatedly referred to this idea in his essays. In “Inside Chinese”, for example, he writes: My German translator Kubin said: “I hate Yang Lian’s poetry, it’s too difficult”. Thank you, dear Kubin. Could I be really happy if you said: “To translate your poetry is very easy”? (Yang 1998b, 170)

Or in “Why It Certainly Is Sanwen”, he provocatively states: … After two years, when many overseas friends called me saying: “Now, we understand your poetry”, I said smiling: “Maybe just now you do not understand it”. (Yang 1998b, 3)

What the poet appears to be hinting at here is that to define his poetry is also to indicate its substantial ambiguity. This study has already shown how, for example, the structures of compound metaphors and similes are aimed at indicating the simultaneity of different layers of meaning. However, the lexical repertoire is also selected in order to display semantic simultaneity. When, for example, in Poem 1, “The Book of Exile”, the poet uses the word kòngbái 空白, he wants to maintain a certain trope in the general metaphorical framework life-is-like-a-book, and, at the same time, he wants to express the concept of emptiness while opening it to literary and philosophical allusions: Poem 1, line 3: Translation A: Translation B:

空白如死鸟在你脸上飞翔 kòngbái rú síniăo zài nĭ liăn shàng fēixiáng Emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face is blank as if a dead bird circled above your face

Translation A, substituting a visual quality for the concept, refers to emptiness, determining a specification that explains the meaning, deleting the trope. Specification, in general, is quite frequent in translation. Indeed, many shifts involve a semantic choice on the part of the translator that tends towards specification.19 The more a piece of information is specific, the less ambiguity is possible. Less ambiguity means fewer possibilities of 19 As reported in the Appendix, 82 semantic specifications have been located versus 48 generalizations.


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interpretation. Fewer possibilities of interpretation result in less plurality of meaning. Poem 4, line 1: Translation A: Translation B:

苍老的世纪露出它的额角 cānglăo de shìjì lùchū tā de éjiăo The aged century bares its brow The decrepit century’s bony brow protrudes

The Chinese lines, as perceived by translator A, present a personified description of time, synecdochically represented by the word century, using the neutral adjective aged. In translation B, the adjective is rendered with the negative, evaluative decrepit. The process carried out by these kinds of semantic specifications may produce a chain reaction. Indeed, from the very first line, the first shift (decrepit, instead of aged) provokes the second (bony brow, instead of temples), the third (protrudes, instead of shows), the fourth (its wounded shoulders shiver, instead of shake), and so on. Whereas in translation A there is no judgement made on old age, in the translation we are directed to read it as a negative attribute, presenting an almost horrific image of decrepitude. Thus, for translator A, the Chinese text is open, leaving the possibility of multiple interpretations, while this is absorbed and recreated by translator B in a univocal manner. When examining lexical shifts, another consideration emerges with regard to the figurative use of words. It relates to the peculiar properties of Chinese characters, which may have independent semantic functions, as monosyllabic lexemes, or may occur as dependent morphemes in multisyllabic compounds. In the poems analyzed, a few cases have been recorded in which parts of the compound word present visual differences when compared to the well-established dictionary versions. For example, the version of the compound línglán in line 5 of Poem 5(III), ‘Muffling the Drum’ is 铃蓝, while in dictionaries it is given as 铃兰. The first character means bell, the second, in Yang Lian’s version, means blue. Translators have chosen for this compound the noun lily (translation A) and lilies-ofthe-valley (translation B). One of the English names for this flower is bluebell lilies, a noun that translates both meanings of the Chinese characters. Though cases like this20 could be considered neologisms, the immediacy of their interpretation, together with their low frequency in the 20 In the corpus, I have also found the compound mànyán 漫延 (poem 5[III], line 2) and yuànyì 怨意 (poem 6, line 13).

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


texts would instead suggest they are examples of quite a common occurrence in Chinese.21 Attention to such lexical details, moreover, can be manifested in translation by a selection of words that conforms to the Chinese etymologically. A comparison between translations A and B of Poem 5(III), ‘Muffling the Drum’, may be seen to show translator B’s adoption of Chinese etymology: Poem 5 title: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 5 title: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 5, line 1: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 5, line 2: Translation A: Translation B:

开歌路 kāi gē lù Introit Blazing the Trail 煞鼓 shā gŭ Coda Muffling the Drum … 被透明的手指无垠的爱抚 … bèi tòumíng de shŏuzhí wúyín de àifŭ … receives the infinite caress of transparent fingers … stroked by a vast translucent hand … 狼藉的森林漫延被蹂躏的美 … lángjí de sēnlín màn yán bèi róulìn de mĕi … … The tousled forest spreads its ravaged beauty … … the sprawling forest’s full of trampled beauty …

The titles in translation B are etymologically literal. In line 1, the second character (míng 明) of the compound tòumíng 透明 means light, thus, translation B uses the word translucent; in line 2, the Chinese binomial róulìn 蹂躏 contains, in both its syllables, the character radical zú 足 (foot). Thus, translator B chooses trampled. In conclusion, the word, in Yang Lian’s poetry, functions as an icon. The semantic return is not consumed by its denotative reference; rather it is enriched in the correspondence between style, content, material and form. Each meaning has to be apprehended together with the other meanings. The reader is then discouraged from isolating references, and 21 Indeed, the evolution of the Chinese language itself has followed the principle of semantic-sound borrowings (Chen 1999).


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instead s/he is encouraged to collect the complex returns that the poem imposes. This technique stresses plurality of meaning over denotations, and requires more than one reading. Rhythm This section brings together considerations arising from shifts in prosody. In order of frequency, the most important prosodic shifts encountered during the comparative analysis pertained to punctuation markers, syntactic segmentation and sound repetition. The following description is delivered in two subsections: the first is a critical interpretation of the selection and arrangement of verse forms, punctuation, and typographic variants in the printed text; and the second is a critical interpretation of the way a poem is read aloud or performed. As will be discussed, this latter dimension is not necessarily the evident outcome of the former; performance may actually even contradict the printed text in style and emphasis. Rhythm in the Printed Text The texts under consideration are free-verse compositions, in which traditional prosody, with a fixed metre or rhyme scheme, does not apply. These poems usually do not rhyme and do not move on feet of more or less equal duration. According to a definition of free verse provided by Derek Attridge: Free verse is the introduction into the continuous flow of prose language, which has breaks determined by syntax and sense, of another kind of break, shown on the page by the starting of a new line, and often indicated in a reading of the poem by a slight pause. (Attridge 1995, 172)

Thus, one way of describing free verse is in terms of its basic unit, the line. The length of the line-unit and the length of the sum of all line-units determine rhythm in a poem. There are long poems and short poems; long-line poems and short-line poems. Consequently, one initial way to perceive a poem’s rhythm is to look at the poem’s layout. A frequently recurring prosodic pattern in Yang Lian’s poetry is represented by a composition of 16 lines. Among the nine poems analysed, four count a total of 16 lines: “The Book of Exile” (Poem 1), “The Street outside My Window” (Poem 6), and “City of Dead Poets” (Poem 7) are arranged as two eight-line stanzas, while “Old Story” (Poem 9) counts four four-line

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


stanzas. Each of the remaining five poems presents a variable number of lines (Poem 2, 25 lines; Poem 3, six lines; Poem 4, 41 lines; Poem 5, has a six-line set, a nine-line set, and a ten-line set; and Poem 8, 17 lines). In the two volumes of Yang Lian’s poetry published by Shanghai wenyi chuban she (Yang 1998a and 2003), 55 poems out of 293 count sixteen lines. Of these 55, 22 belong to a collection entitled Shiliu hang 十六行 (Sixteeners).22 The lines of Yang’s Sixteeners are not particularly long in Chinese, varying from a minimum of seven to a maximum of eighteen characters. However, when it comes to the translation, because of the structural differences between Chinese and alphabetic languages, their length changes considerably. The change in length determines a change in the layout, and a change in the layout determines a change in the perceived firstglance rhythm. There exist various differing printings of translations of Yang Lian’s poems, where spacing, font, and page format may change. But almost always, the Western print medium gives results that are inadequate for Chinese poetry, constraining the poem into too narrow a page.23 Conversely, when the French publishing house M.E.E.T. edited Yang Lian’s Sixteeners in the collection La maison sur l’estuaire (Yang 2001), it decided to keep the visual integrity of the original by printing it horizontally on the page, rather than vertically. Similarly, in 2004, the Italian publishing house Libri Scheiwiller also printed Yang Lian’s Dove si ferma il mare in a similar fashion (Yang 2004). In both cases, the publishers decided to accommodate French and Italian typographical conventions respectively to the Chinese text, not the other way round. The rhythm generated in the majority of Yang’s poems is rather fractured, the antithesis of the linearity of the flow of speech. This is accomplished not only by fragmented, quite unregulated syntax and semantic ambiguity, but also by a rigorous absence of punctuation markers, and a certain use of the white field of the page. In the face of these textual anomalies the translator brings sometimes conventional clarities to Yang’s idiosyncratic practices, using punctua-

22 Such a numerological prosodic pattern may be understood as a modification of the most commonly used form in Chinese classical poetry—the eight-lined regulated verse— and the four-lined quatrains. 23 Compare, for example, the original with the translation in Notes of a Blissful Ghost (Yang 2002a, 115–37).


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tion. The syntactic rationalization in translation, through the addition of punctuation markers, normalizes the lines, connecting words and phrases in a more fluent rhythm. Consider what happens, for example, when a short, simple poem such as Poem 3, ‘Crocodile’, is rewritten in a punctuated prose format: The crocodile shuts its nostrils like a word. Ignoring you, it floats and sinks on the page of white paper. In despair, you call for help and, with long submerged words, sink into crocodile water.

A poem of two three-line strophes, with an emphatic short-length rhythm, is resolved into two syntactic periods. However, because the poem presents fewer fixed boundaries between the sentences, a variety of punctuation is possible, and the strophes may be reformulated with a different number of periods (full stops). The unpunctuated version of this poem still displays simultaneously possible interpretations and, therefore, simultaneously possible rhythms and intonations. By deciding on punctuation, the translator gives strong rhetorical directions, fixes a narrative meaning, gives an indication of how to intone and, therefore, decides what Yang Lian left undecided, porous and fluid. Additionally, the format, the introduction of punctuation and the abolition of lineation not only affect the visual and rhythmic impact of the piece, they also smooth out a certain dramatic effect. The white emptiness, and its textual stillness, creates the impression that the words, like crocodiles, are breathtakingly floating on the page. Translation A of this poem presents quite a different rhythm. The short end-stopped lines are translated into longer, lightly stressed ones, each of which contains an enjambment, while the use of the gerund stretches the verb-words contributing to slow down the rhythm. It is clear that typographically, in Yang Lian’s poetry, from image to image, from observation to observation, there are no punctuation markers to inhibit the flow and rhythm of lines. There is, however, another typographic device that directs rhythm, telling the reader when to pause: the blank space. Consider, for example, the first line of Poem 1, “The Book of Exile”: You are not here this pen mark

Here, the absence of the persona, you are not here, comes as a blank moment on the page, determining, from the first line, the rhythm and the

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


theme of the whole composition. Similarly, in the following lines, this typography gives the effect of a semantic gap: Poem 2, line 1: Poem 4, lines 31 and 32: Poem 6, line 4:

If reality could begin from illusion In fields of pure white I’ll lay bare a heart In pure white sky I’ll lay bare   a heart waiting  for a silent woman

A dramatic effect with semantic weight is created by this typographic inventiveness. The blank turns the line where it occurs into an emblem of itself. It constitutes both a poetic resource and a device that indicates how to pace the poem. Blank spaces are just as important as the words themselves in composing a particular construct (Meschonnic 1982, 304−5). The visual quality of the poem’s layout then becomes poetic material in its own right, meant to make an impact on the eye through the expressive effect of the page. A further example of the macro-shift created by shifts in the printed text’s layout can be found in the translation by Brian Holton of the whole collection Where the Sea Stands Still (Yang 1999). The poems are presented here in a different layout from the Chinese original (at least the one published by Shanghai chuban she in Yang Lian’s homonymous collection). The Chinese version (Yang 1998a) has lines leftaligned at the centre of the page. This layout is not unusual for modern free verse. In fact it resembles, at least visually, the shape normally asso­ ciated to a poem. In contrast, the look of the translation, with its lines centred in the middle of the page, produces results that are more irregular, and possibly more contemporary. The words are distributed to emphasize the white of the page and to create an effect of movement and activity at odds with the conventional poetic page or traditional verse form. As shown in this excerpt from “Cement man”, the poetic expression of this spatial structure puts pressure on the isolated centred lines: 2 the dead are ground down by mantling snow in the limbs a cement coffin turns living birds to nails wild cats circle in high tickets dirty open the cement coverlet of each day where to run

3 where not to run where can’t you run can’t not run


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One observes how crucially visible the non-linearity of asyntactic fragments is in this layout. In the same book, rhythmic simultaneity is signalled in translation by a diffuse use of compounds, similar to the Anglo-Saxon device of kenning: green-black; guinea-pig; cud-chewed; much-praised; passers-by; year-round; etc. (Yang 1999) The translation by the same translator of the poem “Shi” 识 (“Knowledge”), provides yet another clear example of significant layout (see Figures 3.1, -the original, -and 3.2, the translation).

Figure 3.1. “Shi”, Yang Lian

Figure 3.2. “Knowledge”, translated   by Brian Holton

This is a translation designed for the eye rather than for the ear. It is a visual construct that draws attention to language as an intertextual act running far back in time. Moreover, it forces the reader to perform the reading as a movement in space. In this way, it also emphasizes one of the main concerns of Yang’s creation: the treatment of time as space, denying the understanding of information through duration. In his essay published as an introduction to Notes of a Blissful Ghost, Brian Holton notes: The exploration of poetic space, Yang Lian’s avowed intent in his recent work, has moved his poetry into new and exciting dimensions, challenging his translators as never before, and in some cases, forcing the hapless translator to attempt to do the work of both concrete poet and graphic artist.

(Yang 2002a, 16)

Poetry Readings: The Acoustic Dimension of Yang’s Poems Although this study is not accompanied by audio material, it will nevertheless proceed with considerations on shifts in rhythm as experienced

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


during poetry readings, as this will add an extra dimension to the discussion. Indeed, the knowledge that we can attain listening to a poem that is voiced, at a poetry reading or on a compact disc, is neither better than, nor inferior to the written version. It is simply different. In the year 2000, a CD-ROM was published by Cyperfection, with the title City of Dead Poets. This is an impressive work created by the Japanese video performance artist Chiho Hoshino, where some of Yang Lian’s poems are ‘translated’ into an electronic multimedia performance. The user of the CD-ROM will experience Yang’s poems in the written Chinese characters and in the English letters of Holton’s translations. The poems’ performativity is then expanded through images, video sequences, and sounds. Most importantly, the user is also given the opportunity to hear both Yang Lian reciting some of his poems in Chinese, and the AngloFrench film producer David Larcher reading other poems by Yang in English translations.24 In 2008, Bloodaxe published a DVD book entitled In Person. Here, thirty poets are filmed while reading their poems. In particular, Yang Lian introduces his poem in English but reads it in Chinese (Robertson-Pearce 2008). To begin with, the voices of Yang Lian and David Larcher recite in very different rhythms. Both seem to pay no attention at all to the spacing of the printed poem. The reading style of Yang Lian is varied in pitch and intonation. This may be mildly innovative (if not conventional), but is for this reason easier to follow. There are segments and lines that he speeds up, as if wanting to understate them, or to avoid fixity. At other moments, he pauses and emphasizes, shifting in tempo and pitch. Indications from the printed text may not be followed, but a balance between pauses and emphasis, and accelerations is created. Overall, this polyrhythmic style is intensified by the sonic structure of Chinese, with its short words of one or two syllables. 24 Eight poems are included: “The Garden on a Winter’s Day”; ‘Crocodile’; “The Landscape in the Room”; “Next Door”; “The Non-personal Snow”; “November Print”; “Sky Burial”; and “Someone Who Dies in Daydreams”. At the beginning, the screen features a shelf of 16 juxtaposed icons. Clicking on the first icon, while listening to the reading of “The Garden on a Winter’s Day” by David Lacher, it is possible to see the sequence of the lines in Chinese and, in the background, an animated image. The seventh icon: by moving the cursor towards the left or the right, this interactive, audio-visual medium allows one to hear the poem “Sky Burial” at different speeds. Along with its speed, the timbre of the voice also changes. The fifteenth icon features the lines of the poem “November Print” floating on the screen; all of the lines are blurred. Moving the cursor over each line, it is possible to emphasize it, and listen to it recited.


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David Larcher, very differently, adopts a near-monotone rhythm, without unnatural intensity or high-pitched emotional impact. His voice sometimes fades slightly to a lower level of audibility. Larcher’s style, rather than foregrounding a few elements of the poem in a didactic or purposeful way, leaves untouched the surprise of one line following another. A generally slow tempo contributes to creating an intimate dimension that is rich in perceptions. Almost every break is ignored, and emotional emphasis is avoided. Practically ignoring the blank spaces on the page, Larcher may, however, linger on a long pause in the middle of a strophe. Clearly, whatever the layout of a poem, rhythm is being made by the reader. Recognition of this inspires a rethinking of rhythm in the light of these performances. A critical issue arises with regard to the status of discrepancies between performed and published versions of poems, which leads to the question ‘What are the differences, if any, between interpretations based on the text versus interpretations based on the performance?’ The main point here is that, as is the case with all textual aspects explored in this chapter, rhythm too is multidimensional, and changes in relation to the reader’s response at a given moment. Rhythm, as language in general, is also related to context, so that national (but also regional, societal and individual) variations might be expected. In this view, rhythm, as a constitutive of poetic semantics, belongs to the complex of textual devices that impedes attempts at establishing a univocal interpretation. In other words, alternative rhythmic interpretations draw attention to the unfixed material of the poem, and ultimately to an awareness of poetry as a system of signifiers. A poem can of course be performed in our mind, by silent reading, or it can be voiced out. In both cases its words and rhythmic devices constitute sonic material that engage our imagination, provoking associative meanings. All words in all poems work that way. But there are poems that more than others require to be read aloud in order to unfold and fully display their associative potential. Yang’s poems are, in most cases, a combination of the visual as well as the acoustic; they must be seen, as well as heard. The following discussion considers the sound-play displayed in some of his compositions. Poem 1, “The Book of Exile”, provides an example of the internal rhyme, produced through the repetition of the vowel-group u-ei:

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian Line 10: Line 11: Line 12:


suì gútou súisui biànbian cuìdào jiăoluò lĭ shŭi hé shŭi mōcā de kōngdòng shēngyīn súisui biànbian yírù hūxī

Poem 7, “City of Dead Poets”, provides two examples of sound imitation, emphasized by reduplication (kuāngkuāng and dōngdōng) and repetition (xiăng/xiăng): Line 6: Line 7:

báitiĕ pí de shŏuxīn li gūtou kuāngkuāng xiăng zăo bèi wàngjì de chuāng wài xiăogŭ dōngdōng xiăng

Here, repetition is invested with a central sonic and syntactic weight, but in translation A it is avoided: “The early forgotten outdoors the little drum beats / In palms like white metal bones creak”. Lexis in translation B, instead, has been chosen to reproduce the onomatopoeia: “outside longforgotten windows snare drums rattle / bones clang in galvanized palms”. Another example occurs in lines 30 and 31 of translation B of Poem 4. Here too, repetition is avoided: Poem 4, line 30: Translation B:

zài jiébái de tiányĕ shàng wŏ yào tănlù yī kē xīnlíng I’ll bare my heart in these clean white snowfields

Poem 4, line 31: Translation B:

zài jiébái de tiānkōng shàng wŏ yào tănlù yī kē xīnlíng as I do in the clean white sky

In these examples of poetry, the reader is encouraged to try sounding out these words internally or aloud. Although the experiment will probably lead to a loss of concentration on the level of structure, grammar and meaning, specific and identifiable sound images will emerge. Thus, there are two dimensions of poetic rhythm: the visible dimension of the printed text, which concerns space and linear arrangement, as well as other typographic devices; and the audible dimension of the voiced text, involving time and sound prominence, as acceleration, deceleration and pausing. As informative as it may be, I would not however consider the sounding out of a poem as the covetable replacement for its silent reading. A multidimensional commentary on reading poetry could eventually include an exploration of the physical gestures made by the reader during the performance. With such an investigation, a further semantic track could be added to poetry reading and its interpretation. This study has not pursued this idea only because sources of this kind are even more difficult to gather and to refer to than the audio ones. However, the phys-


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ical presence of the performer has great relevance for the way the poem is perceived. All this is ever so evident when the performer is the poet and the audience is enticed into contextualising the reading as the representation of the actual moment of creation. When we attend a poetry reading or hear a poem read aloud by its author in a recording or some other context, we may confuse the speech in the poem with the speech of the person, and we may confuse the persona who speaks in the poem with the person who speaks at the reading. The listener may believe that she is now in touch with the genuine poetic voice. However, from an oral point of view, each performance is original, and every reading is unique. No reading can be definitive. Thus, just like translation, poetry reading constitutes a hermeneutic act. All versions of a poem (translations, silent reading and performances) must be considered, altogether, as variants that plurally constitute the work, through time. Conclusions The focus of this chapter is on texts—poems and translations. It has attempted to determine how each text has built up its coherence in expressing thoughts. One of the most thought-provoking ways of doing this is by considering alternative ways in which texts might have been written; therefore, this study compares and analyses each Chinese text with two translations. Applied linguistics makes a contribution in this context. Concerned with the patterning of language in texts, it often sheds light on how some textual elements constitute textual devices upon which artistic values may depend. Thus, linguistic knowledge is applied to the discussion of the textualities under consideration. The above description of translations has been oriented by shifts, and by points or passages that are in some sense forced, and that indicate a difficulty of expression, an ambiguity in interpretation. These points— whether they are composed of words, turns of phrase, or more elaborate formulations—are like switch points in the original text and call for special interpretations. Shifts refer to ‘knots’ in the original that stand out as “clusters of textual energy” (Lewis 1985). This study has elaborated on the following most frequently recurring shifts:

Translations of Poems by Yang Lian


–– Shifts in subjectivation: A greater number of personal pronouns in translation result in a higher degree of involvement of the persona and the reader. –– Shifts in the spatio-temporal setting, which defines a more anchored space and time, as opposed to more fluid and abstract spatio-temporal dimensions. –– Lexical shifts, which relate to lexical disambiguation, indicate a far less univocal semantic manipulation in the Chinese poem. –– Shifts in prosody that indicate reduced repetitions, and a more conventional usage of punctuation in translation. These signal a much bolder use of visual and acoustic devices for the overall rhythmic effects of the source text. It has been argued that, although structural asymmetries are certainly present between the Chinese and English languages, the textual features explored are not included due to linguistic necessity. All the textual features highlighted by shifts are considered to be specific linguistic devices that are employed in poetic projects. They are aesthetically significant, and each choice in translation may affect subsequent choices, developing that translation’s particular profile of the text; therefore, the hypothesis put forward by various scholars on the existence of ‘translation universals’ is only partially confirmed. Indeed, while this study has recorded a general tendency towards lexical and syntactical disambiguation, it is difficult to establish if this is due to a common translation strategy, or to the individual translator’s reading of the source text. The final task of this study, in the next chapter, will involve the use of the information gathered during the analysis and description of translations and source texts to comment on quite specific aspects of Yang Lian’s poetics. The purpose, then, is not to provide a comprehensive guide to Yang Lian’s poetry, nor is it to provide a definitive answer to critical questions. The following chapter will only show one particular way to respond to the content of the text. This can be confirmed or corrected, or discussed with others, and its significance in apprehending the text as a whole can be debated. What is mainly of concern here is the process of using translation as a key of access to the text. By its conclusion, this study should have demonstrated that to know the manners in which systems of signification have been selected and arranged in translation gives a glimpse into the system of signification of the original. Indeed, if the singularity of a writer’s cre-


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ativity lies in the writer’s use of specific forms, a comparison with translations will necessarily point to such specific forms. From the exposition I have made of translations, and from the particular aspects of the Chinese texts that I have isolated, I will ultimately reveal my own reading of Yang Lian’s work.

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


Chapter Four

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation An obvious conclusion of the methodology adopted in the previous chapter is that the enhancement of literary experience by comparing translations and original text arises from a reflection on the words and forms that have been used, and also words and forms that might have been used instead. It is in this context that a study of two translations can provide access to a literary work, uncovering its textual pragmatics. The previous chapter examined Yang Lian’s poetry on a case-by-case basis. This chapter attempts to relate the findings of this analysis and its attendant descriptions to overall patterns of poetic creativity in Yang Lian’s œuvre. However, its purpose is not a complete explication of Yang Lian’s poetry; rather, on the basis of the analysis conducted thus far, the study presents a few features to showcase some of the principles of Yang Lian’s poetics. This part of the study is still largely text-centred, and proceeds from the text to theory. Its analysis of the translations under consideration draws attention to some recurring shifts; the descriptions of these shifts highlight some of the main features of the Chinese texts; and the identification of these features finally leads to a gradual, although probably incomplete picture of Yang Lian’s poetics. Rather than simply describing the formal features of the texts for their own sake, this chapter will attempt to show their functional significance to the coherence of the text as a whole. In other words, it discusses the possible reasoning behind particular forms chosen by the poet over other possible ones, and the patterns the poet distinctively moulded out of the language available to him. At this point, the study will move beyond linguistics, and on to a critical reading of the Chinese texts. Following on from the considerations that arose during the description of the translations, the chapter presents dissections of two main contiguous units of reading that can be put under the headings of Spatio-temporal Dimension, and Subjectivity. Subjectivity, as previously described, in Chapter Three, corresponds to a particular textual effect that relates to the persona (the textual speaker) as temporally and spatially extended. On the one hand this study aims to


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detect subjectivity in the text in the form of the first person—the most immediate expression of self-consciousness—and, on the other, to determine the spatial layout where this subject is placed, and the temporal references that orient her.1 Sometimes a poem may give the impression that the first-person pronoun I refers to the actual or implied poet. This happens most often when the persona in the poem is presented as someone who writes but, generally, it is accurate to say that in literary texts “a potential of contextualization in terms of the actual writer and actual reader of the text frequently remains in force” (Fludernik 1995, 100). For example, when at a conference I discussed the poem “The Book of Exile” by Yang Lian, a Chinese writer living abroad, the majority of participants tended to interpret it as a sort of political statement made by an exiled poet about the June Fourth massacre of 1989. The audience attached an exclusively political connotation to the word ‘exile’, regardless of the fact that in the poem, as this chapter will demonstrate, there is no such direct reference, and instead, textual elements indicate the close association of the word ‘exile’ with the process of poetic creation. Whenever this study describes modes of thinking about the persona and her world, it attempts to avoid conveying impressions that are mostly shaped by information, or misinformation, about the actual author. Dealing with the conception of a world in the poetic text, it views subjectivity purely as an effect of language play, as a product of the language that seeks it out, not as the origin of language.2 This explanation has been provided partly because it is not always obvious whether or not this study is addressing the subject in the text, the poet, or the present author’s ideas about both of them; and also partly to emphasize the kind of approach present in the study as a whole. There should be no ambiguity about the fact that when this study investigates subjectivity it always and only refers to the poem-text (that is, to something made, constituted). Bearing this in mind, the so-called ‘persona’s subjectivity’ also remains subjected to the function of the reader in making sense of the text. Taking 1 In the same way that I refer to the implied reader, the implied writer and the implied translator as feminine, because that is the way I imagine them, hereafter, for a similar process of momentariy transfiguration of the reader into the persona, I shall refer to the implied persona as feminine. 2 This way of looking at subjectivity is in line with Roland Barthes’s post-structuralist thought, as expressed in his famous line: “only language acts, performs, and not me” (Barthes 1966, 492).

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


into consideration various textual elements and forms, this study speculates on certain mental states of the reader. Thus, it is possible to conclude that both reader and writer enter the writing, where they can act out the idea of making sense of the text. Just as the translator engages with the original text, the reader contributes to the making of the persona, remaining active in her perception of the text. We have seen how the study of deixis may be especially useful here, in grasping the degree of the persona’s presence, together with understanding her experience in the text world, her environment, her mental states and perceptions. However, deixis does not constitute the only privileged mark of subjectivity. Modality,3 transitivity, linguistic register and narrative structure can all be seen as marks of subjectivity. My reading has, indeed, been drawing on a number of textual devices as highlighted by translation shifts: verb tense and aspects, temporal adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions, coherence markers, syntactic structures, metonymic presentation, punctuation marks, polysemic puns, visual assets of the printed poem and prosody. All of these elements are distinguished here as contributions to the definition of a certain kind of subjectivity. Consider, for instance, the causal construction of line 26 in Poem 4: “that because of me suffuses these ruins with a strange light”. Here, the persona is understood as someone whose very presence or activity has an effect on her environment. Similarly, in poems marked by a strong narrative development of the events, with a sequence of changing states in which one is perceived as temporally and causally related to the other, the subject can be thought of as temporally extended and temporally coherent. Conversely, other poems may display a kind of objectivity, in which the subject’s interaction with her/his surroundings is removed from the spatial level. In these poems, a great part of the content and change of perspective can be decided not by the activity of the subject, but by a particular structure, such as that of the poem cycle. The reader may then make a distinction between regarding the persona as a participant—that is, as someone with things to do in the text world—and regarding space and time in a way that is disengaged from the persona. The best place to 3 This term is inclusive of modal auxiliaries, such as can, might, should and would; modal adverbs, such as probably, usually, surely and always; metaphorized modality expressed, for example, by verbs such as reckon, think and believe, and by evaluative verbs, such as regret, welcome and deny; and evaluative adjectives and adverbs: unfortunately, surprisingly, admirable, and even beautiful, etc.


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begin an analysis of this is by examining time and space as two co-ordinates that are fundamental to an understanding of subjectivity. The Timeless Space A great many translation shifts are related to time. As discussed in Chapter Three, these shifts bring about certain effects in the reception of the text. Chapter Three has shown, for example, how verb tense and aspect differ from translation to translation, while temporal adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions proliferate in their explication of time. These findings may not be surprising, for Chinese linguistic structure is generally considered more flexible in the specification of time and, consequently, the concept of tense is considered irrelevant to the original, and only relevant to the reader whose language happens to be temporally marked. This chapter will not consider the issue of temporal indeterminacy in Chinese language; rather, the aim of this section is to see whether, in Yang Lian’s poetry, temporal indeterminacy is significant or not. In other words, this section will explore whether temporal indeterminacy in Yang Lian’s poetry is a chosen textual device (and if so, with what goal), or if it is a Chinese-language related necessity. Equipped with all the findings of the analysis and description of translations, this study processes the shifts summarized below into a theorization of Yang Lian’s poetics of time. Techniques of Presenting Time in Yang Lian’s Poetry An increased number of temporal adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions recorded in translation aim to explain the temporal connection between two apparently disconnected segments of the Chinese text. For example, Poem 2, line 18: Translation A: Translation B:

俯身之际 fŭ shēn zhi jì As you lean into it Stoops low

脸僵硬成石 liăn jiāngyìng chéng shí the face stiffens, turns to stone its face petrified

This example includes two types of syntax: one of subordination (hypotactic structures), used in translation A, and one of juxtapositions (paratactic structures) used in translation B and, arguably, in the Chinese text. As already shown, this kind of shift includes temporal and hypothetical subordination, by way of conjunctions or through the use of a gerund.

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


The linear presentation of images (either through the insertion of elements aimed at connecting an image to the one that follows, or through metaphors and similes with fixed subjects and objects) in translation A is contrasted by a simultaneous presentation of images in the other two texts: Poem 1, line 4: Translation A: Translation B:

送葬的月亮一只断手 sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu funereal moon is a broken hand funeral-following moon a broken hand

Punctuation marks in translation B are substituted for blank spaces, or the absence of punctuation in the other two texts: Poem 2, verse 23: Translation A: Translation B:

穿过桥洞 世界高悬在头上 chuānguò qiáodòng shìjiè gāo xuán zài tóu shàng pass under the arch of a bridge the world suspended high above us As we pass below the bridge, the world hangs high overhead

This overview already highlights the tendency of this poetry to blur consecutiveness and sequentiality, and to create simultaneity. However, if we consider language to be inherently consecutive, in its linear and sequential display of one word after the other, then, in accordance with Seán Golden (1996, 277–304), we should also consider imagery, intentional polysemy and all the other forms of wordplay as constitutive of time in poetry. Therefore, shifts pertaining to polysemic puns, such as the example in the line below, Poem 1, line 13: Translation A: Translation B:

移入一只梨就不看别人 yírù yìzhī lí jiù búkàn bíeren Enters a pear and ceases to look at others into a pear so no one else is seen

are included here, together with shifts in lexical specification, which reduce the simultaneity of meanings of more ambiguous words: Poem 9, line 7: Translation A:

推开你脸上两个无关的春天 tuī kāi ní liăn shàng liăng ge wúguān de chūntiān push two irrelevant springtimes open in your face

80 Translation B:

chapter four Open two unrelated springtimes on your face

Finally, we must examine all of the shifts in arrangement in the spatiotemporal dimension of the printed poem as a visual object. Often translation contains shifts in the alignment of lines, where a less constrained lay-out contrasts with the fixed proportions of the Chinese text. For example, whereas the line below appears to be the longest line in the original Chinese text, in translation it does not retain this visual property, having been shortened in relation to the other lines: Poem 1, line 2: Translation A: Translation B:

刚刚写下就被一阵狂风卷走 gānggāng xĭexià jiù bèi yìzhén kuángfēng juănzŏu Just written are swept off by a wild wind just written is blown away by the gale

All these textual features engender a certain perception of time in the reader, determining part of the text’s meaning. But what are the implications of the features mentioned for Yang Lian’s poetics? What does this ‘temporal simultaneity’ tell us about his underlying conceptions of poetry? Is Yang Lian’s attempt to create simultaneity a revitalisation of a conception of time present in the Chinese tradition? It is necessary to expand the scope of investigation from the 27 texts of the mini-corpus to Yang Lian’s work as collected in his three volumes published by Shanghai wenyi chuban she (Yang 1998a, 1998b and 2003).4 In these works, a wide range of different devices are used to convey time. To begin with, consider the following poem, which, in the translation by Brian Holton (Yang 1999, 11), presents poetic scenes by means of juxtaposed images. These are set in a temporal dimension that appears to be mainly in the present: Spring, or a river’s pain in your love a bird’s bright fear is in your gaze a river’s pain in your love a shattered day prevents you from dodging this riverbed heaped high with snow-white ice in a field of vision where notebooks thickly sprout every tree beats against you like a poem’s wounded tributaries 4 Yang Lian’s latest poetic endeavours (two collections of poems: Lee Valley Poems and a group of erotic poems that has not been published yet) are not included in this study.

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


in a drop of water the dead are everywhere outside the window the brighter the sunlight the more lifelike the canker a boy disappears where he falls a boy hears unrecognised blood’s loud wail love weeping inside you comes from flesh-coloured wings in air a skinless river hurts all night long capping everyone’s yesterdays with your one day wading barefoot through shadows on the grass flowers book operations to come the more spring’s in spate the more it’s a lifelike dreamless man when nothing’s said no river can flow away from you there’s only what you’ve always endured in dark marrow all alive pecking pecking it’s everything all over again

These scenes are presented in a way that can be interpreted as having an inclination towards parallelism; several images/events are presented as alternative levels of a scene, but without the distinct development of time. The different moments of the events can be perceived as if existing in parallel time frames. This parallelism works as a basic poetic principle on the level of detail, motif or scene; for example, different perspectives of the scene described, snap-shot images comprising a complex theme, details defining a metaphor. Consider the following poem: Faces crumble silently nightmares in the flesh inch by inch chisel you away shipwrecks and fallen-out teeth chatter with mud and slime ‘Masks 3’ (Yang 1990a, 43)

There also are poems, however, containing a different system of expressing time. For example, in the following poem (Yang, 1999, 15), lines describe a varied time, which the translator conveys by conjugating verbs in different tenses: Requiem, or river running back no love not destroyed in love like sky paralysed in sky requiem playing for deafened ears enough


chapter four in the shimmering soprano of stones each river really is running back running back from birdsong trees paler than morning running back from laughter the box of springtime mother collected torn open in time by crazy children you must still go back to where you have always stood requiem who listens with respect is the dead someone sings and spirit puts on flesh abandoned again and again teeth gleam beyond pale yellow moonlight memory standstill in standstill is the sky of music’s depth until all names spell out death and with musical instruments death says rivers that give up crying for help run back to become this silence run back into this instant children climb on green benches wooden stakes slapped into flower again by nanny ocean spring spring is lined up trim and spruce you’ve already died so you’re not afraid to love

However, in this poem it is clear that all the different tenses do not convey a linear development of the events; instead they appear to be analytically independent. Past, present and future coexist, determining an unusual temporal dimension where events from different times are all present. To this extent, it appears that a non-linear reading, from bottom to top, for example, would affect the modality of our perception of the poem (first the image of the “river” “running back”, and then the image of “the box of springtime mother collected”), but there would not be any damage to the plot development, because the appositions of scenes and images express physical simultaneity rather than following stages in time. Thus, a choice of constructing sentences or segments that are not bound to one another by an adverb, a preposition, a conjunction, punctuation marks or any other device of temporal subordination appears crucial for the full linguistic display of this poetic project. Sometimes a dimension of simultaneity may be patterned syntactically by unbound segments of time or plain juxtapositions; at other times, on a more conceptual or semantic level, it may be patterned by the cycle of the seasons, by the alternation of day and night or by the equation of two opposed extremes. By not excluding relative fragments, but by containing them all simultaneously, the poet writes:

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


‘Now birth is death’ ‘Mountain. I’ (Yang 2002b, 111) On the seabed there are clocks and watches but no time ‘Old Story. 2’ (Yang 1998a, 330)5

Or, Die everyday be born everyday ‘Thunder. V’ (Yang 1998a, 208)

In the equation of these pairs of extreme moments, the poet moves into a metaphysical dimension of no-time, where the opposition of two relative fragments is not perceived as such, but as ambivalence. As noted with regard to those shifts pertaining to figurative techniques, the metaphoric devices employed by Yang Lian display a superimposition of the two images involved either into the compound metaphor, or into the simile. Lines such as 送葬的月亮一只断手, sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu (“funeral-following moon a broken hand”) (Poem 1, line 4) reveal a metaphoric presentation that functions like a collage, combining the two elements of the metaphor into an indissoluble complex. In many lines, metaphoric combinations are condensed into nouns through simple determinations, such as in line 28 of Poem 4, 饱满的蓓蕾的乳房哺 育着我, băomăn de bèilĕi de rŭfáng bŭyù zhe wŏ (“full-breasts-buds nurse me”). Such a technique avoids the verb ru 如, or xiang 像 (‘to be like’), presenting the two images synchronically, as a single one. Yang Lian does not seem to worry about the sequentiality of the two elements of the metonymy, since, according to his formulation, they constitute an equation that ensures a perfect superimposition, undermining speech’s temporal hierarchy.6 It is possible to look at this particular patterning of images in light of Pound’s formulation of Image, which would further support the connec-

5 Hereafter, all translations of quotations from Yang 1998a and 1998b have been done by the present author. 6 Nevertheless, because we are dealing with writing and not with painting, however minimal, a sequence exists, and forms a hierarchy that determines the reception of the poetic image. In the lines translated, for example, the reader perceives first the “moon” and then superimposes it with the “hand”. In the same way, the image of “full breasts” becomes the image of “buds”.


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tion between those chosen metaphoric devices and the preoccupation with the deletion of time: An ‘Image’ is that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time … It is the presentation of such a ‘complex’ instantaneously which gives that sense of sudden liberation; that sense of freedom from time limits and space limits. (Eliot 1968, 4)7

Another major technique adopted by Yang Lian to avoid temporal linearity in favour of synchronicity, is to be found in the structure of the poem cycle. An example of this is in the poem cycle Where the Sea Stands Still. As the author explains (Yang 1998b, 259–63), it consists of four parts, four sonatas, or four places, chu 处, ultimately identifiable as four levels of treating the same theme. Using Buddhist terminology, he adds that these “four places transmigrate into the same single place” (262). Each of these parts has three sections. Of these three sections, the first and the third echo one another, while the second works as a thematic digression. The logic of such a structure is based on music. As in the sonata form, the composition has three sections, in which themes are explored according to a set of key relationships: there is an exposition (section one of the poem cycle), which functions as a prelude to the theme; a developmental part (section two), which provides collateral scenes that are relatively independent, and that broaden the scope of the theme; and a recapitulation (section three), which deepens and exhausts the theme. The correspondence between the four ‘places’ is marked at the end of every third section by the recurrence of the same sentence structure: … zhi chù 之处 (where).8 Again, the concept of the ambivalence of two extreme moments is stressed in the last line of the poem cycle, where what is supposed to be the place that the poem ends (the very end of the poem) is the place of a beginning: “is where we see ourselves set sail”. Thus, the development of the same theme throughout the four sections of the cycle, the repetitive resonance created by zhi chù at the end of each section, the overall structural circularity resulting from the paradox that the last line constitutes, together all serve to emphasize a time-space continuum. In the light of these considerations, we can conclude that the 7 As Pound himself makes clear, this process—the “imagist method”—is not the prerogative of his poetry only: “I mean, merely … a method which has been intermittently used by all good scholars since the beginning of scholarship” (Cookson 1973, 21). 8 The complete lines are “where the necrosis of last night goes endlessly back”; “where a storm can never stand”; “where the mirror’s fictive ending stretches endlessly away”; “is where we see ourselves set sail” (Yang 1999, 138–61).

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


particular timeless dimension in Yang Lian’s poetry is developed as space.9 Moving to an exploration of prosodic choices, the hypothesis of a form of poetics that develops time as space receives an even stronger confirmation. Prosody is, indeed, another major device to develop time. As illustrated in Chapter Three, it is the corpus of indications that gives rhythm to the reading. The rhythm, the rhyme, the alignment and length of the lines, the way a poet or a reader performs the poem, choosing to accelerate the reading of some words or lines, or slow down the reading of some others, are all factors related to the conception of time. As noted earlier, the second line of “The Book of Exile” (gānggāng xĭexià jiù bèi yìzhén kuángfēng juănzŏu) appears to be the longest of the poem. Its length not only extends time, but also and primarily dilates space, to convey, in a physical sense, the image described, namely that of the wind blowing away the pen marks. The extra length of this line describes, iconically, what the words say. The typographical layout, which includes blank spaces and punctuation marks, also forms part of the range of devices used by the poet to convey time and space. The particular arrangement of the words on the space of the page serves as a graphic device to undermine the temporal linearity of writing, and to describe events through a suspension of visual perception. The line “As we pass below the bridge, the world hangs” (Poem 2, line 23) has the following layout in Chinese: 穿过桥洞


The translation, as already noted, features the temporal conjunction as, and the substitution of the blank space with a comma. Here, the two events have their temporary consecutiveness, whereas the Chinese line iconically conveys the exact moment described by the two segments. Movement stops in the blank space, and a suspension occurs there.

9 The following statement by the author seems to confirm this idea: “Once a reader argued in a letter that mine is ‘picture-poetry”. I replied specifying it is ‘space-poetry’” (Yang 1998b, 251–62). Moreover, Yang Lian once explained the reasons for choosing the poem cycle form in these terms: “In fact, what really excites me is structure—endlessly making a frame for the living flux of sensations and feelings, in order to transfigure that flux, and at the same time stimulating language to open itself out through the contrasts, the conflicts and the resonance within the form of the poem cycle. This might be simply defined as a kind of poetic consciousness: building poetic space” (Yang 1998b, 174). This passage was translated by Brian Holton in Yang 1999, 187.


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The structure of the eight poems entitled ‘Heaven’ in the collection Yi constitutes an even more representative case of the treatment of time as space. In these poems, the expression of time through prosody relies on a numerological system of blank squares.10 Indeed, the lines are arranged according to whether or not they contain no blank squares, or one or two blank squares. For example, the visual structure of the first of these poems, ‘Heaven. I’, appears as follows: … 落日厌典步步生莲,向死亡之西缓缓行进    再度怀抱    一只鸟或一颗孤单的牙齿    空空的儿膜猝裂     听不见无辜听不见六条龙倒下绿色如潮 就这样不朽:光在沉沦 在每张面孔下死去,鸟瞰藏红花的天空   把我的某颗心,摊到日晷上 …

The logic of this arrangement is interpreted by the critic Ning Feng as follows: … The lines with no blank squares are active, visible as ‘positive’. The lines with two blank squares are passive, visible as ‘negative’. The lines with one blank square are equilibrant, visible as ‘combination’. (Yang and Ning 1991, 111)11

Thus, while compelling a shift from the temporal aesthetic (i.e., prosody) to the poetics of space, this visual prosody simultaneously elaborates, on another level, the leading theme of the poem collection, namely the principle of yin 阴 and yang 阳. Indeed, the whole collection is structured on the model of the Yi jing 易经 (Book of Changes), the oldest Chinese literary text, entirely devoted to illustrating the yin-yang principle. In the Yi jing, solid lines (yang) and broken ones (yin) are combined in every possible way to form six-line figures. In this way 64 hexagrams are produced. One hexagram can be changed into another by the transformation of a yang line into a yin line, or vice versa.

10 In Chinese, each character is imagined as inscribed into a square. Such a peculiarity allows a different visible aspect than one organized through alphabetic systems. 11 My translation.

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


Yang Lian’s Yi has four parts. Each part has two leading motifs (equivalent to the solid and the broken lines of the Yi jing) forming a total of 64 poems, equivalent to the 64 hexagrams of the Yi jing. Without going deeply into the cosmological complexity of the yin-yang principle, let it suffice to say that, in Chinese culture, it represents a process of permanent change, interchange and transformation. What matters here is that the constant change of the yin-yang principle is thematically and formally inherent in this work: … the sixty-four hexagrams exist simultaneously, each hexagram ‘at the same time’ constitutes the whole ‘mutating’ world, together with the other sixty-three hexagrams. Between one hexagram and the other there is not a ‘linear’ logic, but a ‘space’ relationship, a slight move in one part may affect the situation as a whole … (Yang and Ning, 1991, 243)12

The direct outcome of this conception of constant mutation is a world in which only the shape of things changes, not their essence. Things and facts are contingent, but their essence, the idea that the poet extracts from them is general; it is outside time. Thus, time implicitly results in spatialization; depending on the essence of things and facts, it loses its meaning; it is deleted. In particular, I want to indicate a consciousness of time in Chinese poetry, that is to say, poetry will establish its own pattern of language which is not ‘to race against time’ but ‘to delete time’. What I want to say is: Tear away the illusion of time! … When space is built in literary works, time can be cancelled. (Yang 1998b, 178, 180)

In conclusion, Yang’s poetic strategy is devoted to minimizing time, and materializing it into space. Such a strategy may include the use of temporally unmarked verbs; the co-occurrence of different, but analytically independent temporal states; the juxtaposition of two elements with opposing semantic natures; figurative patterns; the structure of a poem cycle; or, finally, the treatment of prosody as a visual space, rather than simply as an acoustic time. Having ‘deleted’ linear time, Yang’s poetry appears to be composed of moments, perceived simultaneously; not moment containing moment, or moment following moment, but mo­ments in space.

12 My translation.


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The Continuous Contingency This section will elaborate in more detail on Yang Lian’s conception of poetry, on the basis of a number of considerations on lexical shifts. It will show how, according to this conception, a work of art is not atemporal, but exists in a continuous temporal contingency.13 In particular, a poem is seen as a system of relationships established with several other works and texts. It is, thus, neither a fixed point, nor a static entity; rather, every work alters the entire system and reorganizes it into a new function. Works of the past continue living in those of the present. The term ‘intertextuality’ can also indicate this dynamism, being both the meeting of different texts (with their political and cultural contexts) in every work of art, and the process of transformation and re-elaboration by which the forms of expression of some become the forms of expression of others. With regard to the continuous contingency of the work of art, some of the lexical choices in Yang Lian’s poetry seem revealing. Taking into account shifts categorized in the Appendix as ‘semantic specifications’,14 this study will attempt to demonstrate a lexical strategy that is aimed at exposing the sign in its intertextual resonance while, at the same time, investing it with novelty. One good example is offered by the title of the collection, Yi—a title that to date remains untranslated.15 Yi (see Figure 4.1) is a character invented by the poet, in accordance with the old Chinese rules for composing characters. It is composed by the archaic pictographic version of 日, ri (sun), traversed by 人, ren (human being), thereby symbolizing a relationship of some kind between man (ren) and sun (ri). By employing the concept of the synecdoche, the sun can be extended to symbolize

Fugure 4.1

13 The term is taken from Bigongiari 1972, 11. In this essay, Bigongiari undertakes a critique of Roland Barthes’ concept of the literary work as an entity “without contingency”. 14 That is, when a translation, reducing the connotative possibilities of a word, conveys a form, class or mode of the corresponding Chinese element. 15 Mabel Lee, translator of the entire collection, opted for a non-translation of the title that is, indeed, conveyed in its Pinyin transliteration.

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


heaven, sky, or nature. The syllable chosen by the poet to call this invented character is also meaningful; it creates homophony with yi, 一, the Chinese word for ‘one’, yi, 诗, ‘poetry’, in one of its archaic pronunciations, and yi, 易, meaning ‘change’. This last assonance links to the Book of Changes, whose structure, as has been demonstrated, is reflected in the structure of Yang Lian’s collection. Thus, in the title itself, the sound-play creates a polysemic pun that unfolds the simultaneity of meanings in one single word, in time and space.16 As Seán Golden reminds us: Wordplay, in all of its varied forms, escapes the inherent consecutiveness of language by creating through it (at least momentarily) a simultaneity of experience (at least at the conceptual level, or at the level of reception). (Golden, 1996, 279)

The more polysemous a word is, the more ambiguous, indeterminate and, hence, context-dependent is its meaning. As in the case of polysemic puns, the lexical choice for a word that contains more referential possibilities can also be considered as a device aimed at achieving synchronicity, in the space of the word, through the plurality of sense. This study has noted the example of line 3 of translation A of Poem 1, where a lexical specification is recorded in the use of the word “emptiness” to translate 空白 kòngbái (‘the blank’). In this translation, the visual quality of kòngbái (‘the blank’) is sacrificed for the concept it refers to, namely ‘emptiness’. The specification resulting from this shift explains the meaning, but deletes the metaphorical framework of the Chinese text; indeed, in the Chinese text, kòngbái (‘the blank’) is directly connected to the poem’s general metaphor of life-is-like-a-book, and with the symbol of the moon. In many ancient poems, the image of the moon is often associated with the philosophical notion of emptiness, 空虚 kōngxū. Thus, the word kòngbái in this Chinese poem is an element of intertextuality that recalls kōngxū. However, kòngbái alludes to kōngxū, and is not a simple repetition of kōngxū. It appears that the change from kòngxū to kòngbái is a technique employed by the poet in order to emphasize resonance over

16 Here, I would like to refer back to the treatment of the compound metaphor (i.e., where the two terms of comparison appear to have the same semantic weight). In the same way, the case of the homophonic pun li, in line 13 of Poem 1, provides another example of this kind of device to create simultaneity.


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repetition, exposing the sign (i.e., the word) as a container of plurality, and as a body in which tradition and novelty are intermingled.17 In this case, if translation has achieved the purpose of expressing the concept, and has opened it to literary and philosophical references, it has done so at the expense of the plural, multilayered apparatus of meanings created in the Chinese text. In other words, translation conveys the repetition, but not the ‘modification’ that is resonant with tradition, yet modified in form and context. This not only achieves temporal synchronicity at the semantic level, but moreover, can be seen as an essential poetic process that strives for the ‘renovation’ of the sign. A number of images in Yang’s poetry can be explained with reference to the classical poetic technique of the visual interplay between characters. For example, as stated in the quotation below, a line of classical poetry that describes a moonlit night-time scene employs characters with the character radical for ‘sun’.18 This device emphasizes the semantics by way of visual-etymological support.19 As the poet says, this classical reference shows his “thinking in characters”, however, transformed into a new, quite different image: To decompose characters is not peculiar; to relate them is full of charm. Besides, the structure of the sentence 明月—松 间—照 is rich in visual effects. The ‘moon’ becomes today, “as moonlight is clearly our phosphorescence” (Where the Sea Stands Still)—another sentence, demonstrating that, for the poet, writing is itself a double-direction process, ‘going back’ and ‘leaving’. On the one hand, it ‘returns’: returns to tradition, to ancient times, to characters, to the ‘thinking in characters’ … ; on the other hand, it leads ‘ahead’: towards the present, towards the I, towards actual Chinese, to the ‘personal form’ he has built, and again he seeks for the topic of ‘deleting time’. (Yang 1998b, 300–1)

Thus, for the poet, the word moonlight then contains the resonance of the line taken from the classical poem, but it becomes our (personal) phosphorescence.20

17 It could also be intended as a statement of affiliation by the poet to Imagism, as the symbolic function of the sign here “does not obtrude, so that a sense is not lost to those who do not understand the symbol as such, to whom, for instance, a hawk is a hawk.” The quotation is from Ezra Pound, appearing in Eliot 1968, 9. 18 The line 明月松间照 is translated as: “Bright moon shining through the pines”, from the poem “Autumn Evening in the Mountains” by Wang Wei (AD 701–61). 19 For a study of visuality in Chinese poetry, see Bruno 2012. 20 ‘Phosphorescence’ also conveys the idea that intertextuality, as a phenomenon expanding the reference, radiates in a stellar way, and not linearly.

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


From the perspective of intertextuality, a double strategy emerges from the reading of Yang’s entire oeuvre. The first strategy aims to dissipate the original suggestion, allowing its recovery only as reminiscence, as in the case of kòngbái. The second consists of the direct presentation of the quotation. Instances of this latter strategy can be found throughout the collection Illusion City, in which the names of famous artists, or the titles of famous works, are directly quoted in the poems. Intertextual dialogue is established with Nietzsche (“Non-person Snow—Sils Maria”), Kafka (“The Castle on Paper” and “The Kafka Museum”), Van Gogh (“The Sky that Buried van Gogh”), Rodin (“Reading ‘The Gates of Hell’”), etc. However, even when the references are as obvious as in these examples, the inner connection, which should reveal the relationship with the specific tradition, is sometimes so hidden that it is often hard to identify. The problem of the sign’s inherent tradition and the novelty derived from the poet’s ‘thinking in’ it, recurs extensively in Yang’s poetry. In a narrative poem from Yi, Yang Lian muses: This is a place without memory, memory is only the ghost living in the mind. Always narrating other times, but always speaking at the present … : a concentric circle deepening layer by layer, layer by layer sweeping down, my ghost lives everywhere, becomes every word – … One poem suspended … : “it is always the first time”. ‘Thunder. VIII’ (Yang 1998a, 224-25)

Writing is “a place without memory”, without time, because the poet uses language—the receptacle of tradition—in a continuous contingency. Poetry is “always narrating other times”, because language itself is tradition and repetition. At the same time poetry “speaks” only in the “present”, because of the continuous contingency that occurs in the individual relationship between tradition, experience and creation, something that is inexhaustible.21 Language for Yang Lian enables the poet to inquire into the self and all phenomena. The process enacted is a ‘concentric circle’22 of introspection that stimulates thought while establishing an intertextual conversation with tradition. 'Thinking in characters’ does not just retrieve tradition, 21 The concept brings to mind the words of Roland Barthes: “Une oeuvre est ‘eternelle’, non parce qu’elle impose un sense unique à des hommes différents, mais parce qu’elle suggère des sens différents à un homme unique … : l’oeuvre propose, l’homme dispose.” (Barthes 1966, II, 38). 22 Concentric Circles (Tongxin yuan 同心圆), is the title of another poem cycle by Yang Lian, which has been translated by Brian Holton. See Yang 2005.


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but re-elaborates it according to the mutated circumstances. Therefore, tradition does not fade away, but it is revitalised by new personal thought: “my ghost lives everywhere, becomes every word”, “it is always the first time”. In the timeless space of re-creation, every work appears simultaneously contemporary, without temporal stratification. In light of what has been said so far, a reading of Yang Lian’s poetry cannot neglect to mention its link with classical tradition, although the poet always moves towards a personal innovation of the entire corpus of his traditions. On many occasions Yang Lian mentions the names of Qu Yuan 屈原, Li Bai 李白, Du Fu 杜甫, Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹 and Su Dongpo 苏东坡.23 He has often expressed admiration for some of the characteristics of Chinese artistic tradition, namely the capability of ancient poetry and painting to synthesize various visual perspectives in the body of the work; and he has also stated on various occasions what he considers to be the peculiarities of the Chinese language—its atemporality and syntactical freedom.24 On this terrain, Pound’s fascination with the Chinese ideogram seems to be transplanted back to the Chinese soil. There is, indeed, no doubt that Yang Lian, with regard to the matter of temporality, utilizes a synthesis between the traditions of classical poetry and modernistic poetics. After all, he insists that all poetry ever written anywhere comes to constitute his tradition, for a poet has the ability to choose his own tradition: I think that, first of all, [a poet] has to make clear the position of his poetry. [He] could, for example, have this kind of system: To draw a vertical axis for the cultural tradition he belongs to, and then draw a horizontal axis for the world culture of his time (including philosophy, literature, art, and religion). The poet can then ‘look back’ to his tradition starting from the most recent world culture selected. (Yang 1998b, 152) … on the vertical time, and on the horizontal space. In the ‘mother-tongue’ there are Qu Yuan, Li Bai, Du Fu, Su Dongpo … ; in the ‘contemporary’ there are Pound, Eliot, Elytis … all compare with you, becoming your ‘starting point’ (Yang 1998b, 311).

Returning to the shifts in specification reported in the analysis, it is possible to recognize an intention, in the Chinese text, of marking the word 23 These are all famous names in traditional Chinese literature. 24 In “Shi, quxiao shijian” 诗,取消时间 (“Poetry, Deleting Time”), Yang states: ‘“Analyzing the inherent structure of Chinese language, we can say that ‘to delete time’ is the peculiarity of Chinese characters themselves … I am referring to the atemporality of Chinese verbs … Besides the atemporality of verbs that overcomes specific time, other characteristics of Chinese are equally important. For example, its free relation with personal pronouns.” See. Yang 1998b, 280–1.

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


with a more abstract, or intellectual sense, rather than a specific, concrete meaning. As in the case of the polysemous word, the more abstract a word is, the more ambiguous, indeterminate, and hence context-dependent, is its meaning. The substantial ambiguity resulting from this creative process encourages a separation from the specific event towards a more general and abstract level. The general and abstract level proposed by Yang’s poetry, rather than describing or expressing reality, affirms poetry as an ‘intellectual space’,25 a space of thought, which does not have to be either political or philosophic, but can remain specifically poetic. Yang Lian states: We can say that, when a poem is written, ‘reality’ is not described but abstracted. (Yang 1998b, 180)

In fact, no matter what the topic—political, philosophical, geological, or economical—poetry will deal with it from inside its own domain. The independence of poetry from any social or common sphere of the reality has been commented on by the Italian translator Claudia Pozzana in her essay “Distances of Poetry: An Introduction to Bei Dao” (Pozzana 2007). Pozzana indicates “at least three series of distances” in Bei Dao’s poetry: one in relation to language—“that is the core matter of poetry” (95), one that concerns love and politics, and one in relation to philological-literary knowledge. Thus, the first of these ‘distances’, the one related to language, has a much heavier weight than the other two, which could eventually be considered as types of subdistances. Indeed, Pozzana says that the “key-point of his [Bei Dao’s] relationship with politics is a poetical reflection on language as a national political issue” (97). The linguistic sign includes political allusions, as well as the philological and the literary—in other words, all the spheres of a common existence. However, all of these “layers” need to be “swept down” (to use Yang Lian’s terminology), so as to reach the “poetical distance” that will make the sign “new” again. All the textual devices illustrated, devaluing time, show the continuous contingency of language, the ever changing relationship between history and I. The argument could, perhaps, at this point be reformulated to say that the core of Yang Lian’s poetry is not tradition, and is not even the ‘deletion’ of time, but is the relation between linguistic sign and subjectivity. 25 “Intellectual Space” (Zhìlì de kōngjiān 智力的空间) is the title of an essay by Yang Lian, and even occurs in the title of his essay collection (Yang 1998b).


chapter four Subjectivity

The Crocodile-word The desire to create a new, subjective modality of thought, to eliminate repetition, constitutes a recurring and activating drive in poetry. This desire inevitably suggests that language can fail to be subjective, engender­ ing instead nothing more than the mere shadow-play of uncontrollable references. To this extent ‘to say’ is ‘to lie’ and ‘who says’ is a ‘liar’, because words are not subservient to the poet’s own thought, but act independently. As in Poem 3 ‘Crocodile 7’, Yang Lian uses the metaphor of the crocodile to describe language as frightening and dangerous for subjective thought. The poet needs to dedicate his constant attention in order to avoid being swollen up by it: The crocodile attacks with a glance eyelids sheath-like hiding sleepless teeth flesh a mass of tiny tracks at the water’s edge in an instant off guard you are eaten ‘Crocodile 1’ (Yang 1990a, 75)  

From the perspective of this fundamental awareness of the poet, the ­relationship between language and subjectivity, word and meaning, becomes the central preoccupation of writing: In this world the one who trusts words least is the poet “The Garden on a Winter’s Day” (Yang 1998a, 338)

Subjectivity through Personal Pronouns In Chapter Three, this study considered how the frequency of the firstperson and possessive pronouns may determine the degree of involvement of the persona in the text, and how in some cases the second-person pronoun can function as a pronoun of self-address. On the basis of these translation shifts, the study will now explore the way in which Yang Lian’s poems project different degrees of subjectivity, something that varies considerably between the earlier and later poems. A first, striking distinction quickly becomes apparent when one simply records the occurrence of the first-person pronoun in the whole poetic

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


production of this writer. In almost all of Yang’s early poems (from 1979 to 1989), the persona is present through the first-person pronoun I; while, in poems written after 1989, the pronoun I appears less frequently, as it is substituted by the pronoun of self-address you, or simply absent. However, heterogeneity is already countenanced in those poems that have I as the persona. For example, in the case of the poem cycle Apologia to which Poem 4 belongs, the persona, who is likely to be closely identified with the figure of a poet, appears to hold a central function in the poetic process, revealing a faith in the subjective creative power of the poet: “I will the rose to bloom and it blooms” (Poem 4, line 35). As Pozzana notes (1996, 256), although in a world of ruins, the persona can still say: “I believe”: I believe: all this has been created for me on a world of ruins … “Language” (Pozzana 1996, 53) I shall believe each icicle the sun that because of me suffuse these ruins with a strange light “Homage to Poetry” (Poem 4, line 25-26)

The major effect of this use of the first-person pronoun is to make the speaking voice resemble an individual voice that enunciates vividly. This is supported by syntax that is less paratactic, both at the level of words— so that these are made less ambiguous—and at the larger textual level— so that the overall story line can work towards a historical development, through the use of adverbial particles indicating the future (jiang 将, hui 会), or the occurrence of causal conjunctions (yinwei 因为). Furthermore, by referring to the world with this and these, the persona reciprocally confirms herself and reality. The representation of the persona in these poems is affirmative, preventing the reader from recognizing her role as the ‘true subject’ of the propositions. In this type of text, the reader is not included as a subject in the enunciation. However, in these first poems it is also possible to recognize a doubting attitude that will later be developed into the poetics of bitter disillusionment with the power of words to enact personal meaning, on the ‘presence’ of the poet’s subjectivity. Thus, in the same poem cycle, Apologia, the persona also says: I don’t know […] who, on long-frozen images,


chapter four can weave again a drifting canvas “Soul” (Yang 1984b, 253)26

The coherent position of the I as the central self already starts to be undermined by the play of language, which determines the entrance of the reader (who) in the poem. Yi presents a shift in the use of personal pronouns. For example, in the section “In Symmetry with Death”, the poems ‘Mountain.I’, ‘Mountain.II’, ‘Mountain.VII’ and ‘Mountain.VIII’ do not present any personal pronouns, except at the end of the composition, where the third-person singular neuter pronoun ta 它 (‘it’) is printed in bold. The first translation of ‘Mountain.II’ by Mabel Lee substitutes this pronoun with the word substance (Yang 1990a, 29), revealing the attribution of an abstract, quite important weight to this pronoun. The impersonal pronoun ta, in Chinese, works like a demonstrative, requiring a noun or a phrase to be referred to. In this case, however, the text does not supply a clear referential address for the word it, and the reader has little idea of what the it means. The syntax of these four poems does not appear to be organized in any kind of temporal hierarchy, nor does it contain subordinations, but it is considerably fragmented and, as a result, quite challenging to deal with, because the principle that should link these fragments is left uncertain. The metaphorical structure is one means by which this experience is managed. As has been demonstrated, the use of a collage of mixed, splintered metaphors is typical of Yang Lian’s work. In this poem, too, there are a series of metaphorical attributes, but no object to attach them to, except the it. Certainly, the apparent randomness of these metaphors has logic, but it is a logic that does not provide a completely satisfying definition of it. The principles of association are multiple, with no evident unity, as if to stress that the principle is in the non-coincidence of meaning with the self: The Earth’s only code: it ‘Mountain.I’ (Yang 1998a, 119) Birds as they want to be: it ‘Mountain.II’ (Yang 1998a, 121)

26 My translation.

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


The occurrence of it at the end of the composition, after the colon, is meant to define this pronoun through all the preceding metaphors. However, since the metaphors seem to follow a hidden logic, the major weight of the whole poem falls on this pronoun without a noun, so as to say that the meaning is in its freedom from the self: “the birds as they want to be”, free from any controlling subjectivity. The persona has no interaction with them.27 In this sense, the metaphor itself seems to function on the basis of the impossibility of the poet to imposing his subjectivity on the process enacted by poetry. The four central poems of “In Symmetry with Death”, ‘Mountain.III’, ‘Mountain.IV’, ‘Mountain.V’ and ‘Mountain.VI’, display a narrative syntax, in which an ego emerges with the occurrence of the pronoun I: At the end, there is no language that can communicate the fortune of man. Although I have the honour of being counted as one, it is quite beyond my ability to describe even myself. If I use the metaphor ‘hollowed out rock’, it still falls short of describing that tranquillity, that transcendence, that beauty. Not eating or drinking, no light or dark, no hot, nor cold—like death, more powerful than death; it is sluggish life. It is this which is called the state of ‘ineffability’. … Suddenly I see four children walk in, each of them with the face identical to mine. They bow and say to me— … ‘I am your son, congratulations on your death’ ‘Mountain. VI’ (Yang 1998a, 135–36)

The conscious perception is that whatever description is given to the I, it can never embody subjectivity. The persona recognizes that poetry, as the representation of subjectivity, is always threatened by the play of the language, by the crocodile-word. As a result, s/he appears located between the desire to present subjectivity, and the knowledge that language can mark the death of that subjectivity: This is a dream, a parable. This is my own epitaph. The land of my dreams is covered with rocks and graves … I don’t know when it started, I lost myself … I weep in a prison of my own making. Perpetually alienated from others, and even perpetually alienated from myself … “Self” (Yang 1990a, 22) 27 For this argument’s sake, it is interesting to contrast this line with the previously cited “I shall believe each icicle the sun / that because of me suffuse these ruins with a strange light”, or “I will the rose to bloom and it blooms” (Poem 4, lines 25, 26 and 35).


chapter four

Thus these other poems concern the lack of subjectivity. If the composition does not present any persona, subjectivity is missing by omission; if in the text the personal pronoun is present, it is diminished by the semantics of death. Whichever is the case, the use of personal pronouns in Yang Lian’s poetry is significant. In the section “The Untrammelled Man Speaks”, from the collection Yi—where, as previously noted, the lines are arranged according to whether they contain no blank squares, or one or two blank squares—the personal pronoun I occurs only in the lines with one blank square (those identified by the critic Ning Feng as he 合, combination or equilibrium). In the other two types of line, no personal pronoun occurs at all. Again, in the lines with one blank square, the occurrence of the persona goes together with the semantics of death, and this I is no longer self-articulated, or self-uttered, but determined by something other than the self: Language of the dead, invading my lips not inoculated against rotting … I am the prophet I do not know, I am my own testament I speak the words carried into the epitaph of the I who has died Inducing a drop of semen I am spat out by another, to disseminate a pure progeny in this land of dead … Endless reverberations In intervals of my singing, birds in flocks soar high … I go far from myself, continually renewing, removing wind and dust like taking off a gold-planted mask Pass through death in words to squander non-death … ‘Heaven.III’ (Yang 1990a, 28)

There are “endless reverberations” that annul subjectivity, and it is only in silence, “In intervals of my singing”, that poetry finds its potentialities, making “birds in flocks soar high”. Such silence, an interval in the constant clamour of talking about the world, aims at letting the world speak for itself. As Wai-lim Yip notes in relation to Taoist art and the notion of emptiness, it affirms a void of subjectivity, which finds its physical repre­sentation in the blank of the painting or between a poem’s lines—a negative space that “is made into something vastly more significant and positive” (Yip 1983, 82).

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


After Yang Lian left China, the self-address pronoun you began to appear in his poems.28 The poem cycle Masks and Crocodile is the first example of this new form of poetics. In the introduction, entitled “Masks Which Can’t Be Taken Off” (Yang 1990a, 39), the poet clearly states the main concern of the collection, which confirms what was already hinted at in the previous works: I go to say something but on the page of white paper there are the reverberating echoes of someone else. Poets have confronted poetry in this way for a thousand years. Perhaps poetry never exists … Words are born in this way and thus have silence as their ultimate brilliance: The myriad phenomena is blue The blue of when I no longer exist

“I no longer exist”, for “someone else” enters into the words of the poem, and the persona itself is exiled from the writing, becoming you: In the impersonal word there is certainly someone maybe it is you or some other you But you remains impersonal …

‘Crocodile 18’ (Yang 1998a, 261)

The one called you is a figure somehow subjected to the word, to the language play, and remains “impersonal”, deprived of subjectivity, and thus displaced: You are not here

(Poem 1, line 1)

The matter of exiled subjectivity becomes a common concern in all the poems of Yang Lian written outside China. In this respect, geography seems to be important in and of itself; however, it is regarded as a physical displacement to be added to the analogous, more complex psychological displacements. The home country, the Chinese language itself, is felt as deeply foreign: 28 This would suggest a coincidence between the events in the life of the poet and the events taking place in his poetry, therefore contradicting what I have argued on the independence of the persona in the text with respect to the poet. However, as will soon be made clearer, this aspect can be regarded as one of a number of textual-centred aspects of Yang’s poetry. Here, I consider it to be a coincidence, rather than a principal cause.


chapter four I escape from the label ‘Chinese poet’ towards the definition ‘Chinese language poet’; I explore the Chinese language’s inherent elements; thus, I run away again becoming ‘Yanglish poet’. But the poem is even extraneous to the original! (Yang 2000)

As is already evident from the title of the collection subsequent to Masks and Crocodile, Non-Person Singular, the impersonal status created by poetry is further elaborated. The first poem of this collection, entitled “The Book of Change, You and Other Things” (Yang 1994, 9), reproposes the question of intertextuality as a tension of subjectivity in language, deploying a you that marks a division between the writer and the reader. Here, the persona (the self-addressed you) only introduces an I once, in the form of direct speech, significantly shifting the you of the poet into the I of the reader: you came you said I’ve read this book for thousands of years

Thus, displacement here takes the forms of the shifts from I to you, from the perspective of the writer to that of the reader and from the past of the Book of Changes to the present of the writing. However, displacement is also felt in the estrangement of the you from the cultural and the geographical: there’s no native land among strangers there’s not that little room of yours that held all the East

In the 70 poems of Non-Person Singular, the self-address pronoun you is the one most often employed. There are only a few cases in which the you clearly refers to someone other than the persona.29 Although less frequent, in some poems of this collection, the I is still employed, represented as an empty entity, with an uncertain identity, and strongly displaced: in the end I am a vacuum in the multitude of faces … till I could only live a bogus, inauthentic life … my flesh and blood went missing, became someone else’s flesh and blood “Missing” (Yang 1994, 35) 29 These are: “The Last Room in Goya’s Life”, where the you refers to the world: “A Girl Remembered”; “For a Nine-year-old Girl Killed in the Massacre”; “Another Helen”; and “Summers’s One and Only Harbour”, in which the political connotations are more obvious.

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


the map struggles to shrug off my tiny planet disappear facing another person, another room “Next Door” (Yang 1994, 25)

At other times the I is problematically co-extensive with the you. For example, in some poems of the cycle Illusion City, where intertextuality is more clearly stated, the you is used to address someone with whom the persona (we) chooses to establish the intertextual conversation. However, the distance between you and the oblique persona we is changeable and unclear, perceivable as oscillating between sameness and otherness, communion and alterity. At no point is it possible to be sure of the actual separation between we and you, since the poem displays an intertextual displacement that blurs such division: you are not us you are that never-again drownable bronze-cool instant digging away the last cries from our mouths you sit in our depths embellishing every bone “Reading ‘The Gate of Hell’” (Yang 1994, 83) so we die in you “Someone Who Dies in Illusions” (Yang 1994, 85) in your one swift glance I saw myself changing shape “Mother” (Yang 1994, 79)

Illusion City can be regarded as a detailed attempt to locate the changing self of the poet behind his writings. As Yang Lian said in an interview with Li Xia in 1993, Illusion City “marks my exit from the preoccupation with the poetic process per se and my entry into the mixed world of poetry, reality and existence, which is what this collection is about” (Li 1995, 149). In this way Yang Lian has deliberately placed his enterprise on the shifting ground between the poet’s person and the poetry—all the more complex because the poet claimed the poems were impersonal. Poetry aspires to the condition of life, but the world that it produces has no identification with the real. The poet knows that words are only words, but he still arranges, chooses and coins words, so that the subject is denied by his own illusion of life: Someone who dies in illusions is like a poet who dies in a poem “Someone Who Dies in Illusions” (Yang 1994, 85)


chapter four On the other hand, congenitally, a poem is a linguistic illusion which becomes living metaphor. It is a fundamental awareness: it is born from impossibility. Indeed, the poet does not know what is truth. He simply escapes from what he knows is not truth. He is continuously escaping, not only philosophically and politically, but also and above all linguistically … (Yang 2000)

This feeling of incompletion is constantly suggested, especially in Yang’s last published poems, the collection Where the Sea Stands Still. In many ways, this collection represents the utmost elaboration of what has been discussed above; the use of the self-address you is increased still further, and through the use of juxtaposed fragments of narrative, the unpunctuated and broken pieces of speech produce a subtle openness of structure and meaning. In Where the Sea Stands Still three perspectives co-exist—the intimate (you, used in the first and third parts of sections one and three), the social (we, used in the first and third parts of sections two and four), and the poetic (no persona, used in the second part of each section)—assuring that these are different states of mind that always exist side by side, and interpret the same experience in different ways. The first shifting of subjectivity occurs between sections one and three, where the attempt to attribute the you with an act of consciousness (“just as your weariness has chosen/the sea”) leads to the interaction with the other: who comes with you close to each of your deaths who says … who shares this doleful distance with you Where the Sea Stands Still (Yang 1999, 151)

The next shift, from the we of the second section to the we in section four, is especially interesting. In section two, we is used impersonally for generation (“a century/rewrites our names … after a century we grasp the blackness of the clock”), while, in section four it turns to the community of poets. This last personal identification is both a location (an address) and a dislocation: King Street straight on Enmore Road turn right Cambridge Street No. 14 … unfamiliar words … is a poem leading us back down to the house of nowhere

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


and everywhere … Where the Sea Stands Still (Yang 1999, 157)

So as to signal that it is the common process of writing that makes any subjectivity evacuate its own words, and that this poet, too, is waiting, and watching: we hear ourselves fall elsewhere and shatter no sea that doesn’t slip into the void of the poem … this shore is where we see ourselves set sail Where the Sea Stands Still (Yang 1999, 161)

Thus, the oxymoron of the title (how can the sea stand still?) is an oxymoron that explains the impossibility of a fixed presence of subjectivity in the poem. The sea has often been employed in poetry as a general trope for mutability, associating its tidal movement with the mutability of the self, as well as with the movement of the poetic language. The sea is also one of Yang Lian’s favourite metaphors for the creative process of poetry writing. It is often combined to the image of the shore, or that one of the land, as suitable trope for the continuous shaping and reshaping of subjectivity. The liminality of this trope suggests the incessant state of flux that makes subjectivity always temporary, in constant redefinition, in permanent relation to the other. In such a half-articulated state, subjectivity forms and dissolves, forms and dissolves as the water line on the shore. Some of the sense of cultural displacement is lost, since displacement takes the form of a permanent sense of free floating.30 From this perspective, to be in ‘exile’ is not considered to be a bad thing, and it acquires a modernistic, more metaphoric meaning, as it is considered a condition common to every writer, a necessity of the poetic process. Only in an exile with broad connotations, only in the condition of looking at one’s own language as a foreign language, might there be a moment of potential.

30 In defining his own situation, Yang Lian himself has preferred the term piaobo 漂泊 (‘to float’), to the word liuwang 流亡, ‘exile’. See, for example, the title of the conversation with Gao Xinjian “Piaobo shi women huode le shenme?” 漂泊是我们获得了什么 (“What Did We Gain From Floating?”) (Yang 1998b, 323). The distinction has also been pointed out by Oliver Krämer in Krämer 1999, 168.


chapter four Epilogue

Yang’s poetry is infamous for its difficulty. As discussed in this chapter, its difficulty can be regarded as the result of the attempt to clear the sign from its own burden of meaning; because this poetry must disrupt readymade linguistic articulations, rebelling against the authority of language, it becomes difficult. However, difficulty can also be considered the way in which this poetry asks the reader to create, rather than simply consume, thus recognizing writer and reader as equals in the process of signification. The translation approach seems to be especially useful for the study of this form of poetics, because it shows the gaps in semantic and syntactic ambiguity, by attempting to fill those same gaps with the various explanations of unavoidable interpretations. Thus translation shifts not only expose the rifts between the two languages involved, but also, and above all, the blankness of the words, the muteness of signification, the ‘knots’ in the source language. Translation shifts have also shown how different devices are employed in Yang Lian’s poetry in order to reduce the emphasis on time in favour of space, towards a non-linear, non-historical development of narrative. This chapter has shown how, formally, the grammar of the poems is heavily paratactic, with logical and syntactical connections often absent, and how the larger structure of the poems is also paratactic in its fragmentary presentation and unfolding of narration. This is why, as readers of Yang Lian’s poetry, we often experience an absence of connections at the levels of words, lines and stanzas. Coherence and linear time are disrupted by fissures, blanks, syntactic gaps and dislocations, and substituted by forms of parataxis. It is clear that there is a consistent shifting of signifier over signified. In this form of poetics, polysemy, semantic ambiguity and intertextuality work as recognition of the continuous contingency of writing. Such continuous con­tingency can now be seen as a suitable framework for a continuously con­jugating subjectivity. This chapter has examined the varieties and possibilities offered by Yang Lian’s poetry, from the early notion of a single identity of the self as a constant poetic voice, to the notion of subjectivity as something that is constantly relational, moving between the self and the other, interactive, and context-based. In this exploration of subjectivity, playing with the rules of syntax and punctuation contributes to making theoretical sense.

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


The absence of a clear persona in many poems generates problems in the hermeneutic process of translation, which, as a result, has to fill the gap by inserting personal pronouns or changing the class of a verb into the class of a subject. Translation shifts have demonstrated how the blurring of the borders between subjects and objects determines a world in which action is reserved for objects. Consider, once again, Where the Sea Stands Still—the work that in many aspects can be considered the utmost realization of this form of poetics. In the first part all the objects are, in fact, presented as subjects: blue is always higher just as your weariness has chosen the sea just as a man’s gaze compels the sea to be twice as desolate going back as ever to that carved stone ear drumbeats are destroyed where tiny coral corpses fall in a snowstorm gaudy speckles on dead fish like the sky that holds all your lust go back to the limit like limitlessness going back to the cliffs stormheads all around your pipes doomed to go on playing after your death tunes of corruption deep in the flesh as blue is recognized at last the wounded sea a million candles stands dazzlingly still Where the Sea Stands Still (Yang 1999, 139)

Thus, blue is always higher, your weariness has chosen; a man’s gaze compels the sea, coral corpses fall, the sky that holds all your lust, and a million candles stands dazzling still, but the most obvious subject, the I, is absent. You is present only in the form of the possessive pronoun your, not as a subject. The technique, already used in previous works, but here exaggerated, is to ascribe the action to the object, not to an observing I, while the syntax robs the poem of its subjectivity by ascribing human actions to the environment. In the second part of the first section the syntax is entirely devoted to substantivation, through the form DET + 的 + NOUN, where the determinant is often constituted by a verb and object. For example, the line segment below “madness that belittles the poets again” is constructed in Chinese as follows: 再次 (adv., again) 贬低 (verb, belittles) 诗人 (object,


chapter four

the poets) 的 疯狂 (noun, madness). The frequency of this construction in this poem is significantly high: reality madness that belittles the poets again … hate ashes that united early spring thick smoke spat from stamens … the pure terror of wishing this one day bitter grief that used up each day … the non-licit deaths of young children … a chance enmity the enmity of all your future in the darkness … Where the Sea Stands Still (Yang 1998a, 510)

Rhythmically the poem stresses the nouns rather than the verbs. The option adopted by the translator Brian Holton to convey this feature stresses the compound noun images: non-licit deaths; snow-white sickroom; ghost-white bird; rust-blackened mouthful; in-breath and out wind; snow-white heels; recalled-again chalk; snow-white poison milk; death-like instant; planed-down nuts; thousand-part encyclopaedia; snow-white skin; chewed-up pink jelly; eye-socket; long-dead light. The reader is no longer kept informed of a plot; she is required to participate, to act out that process of perceiving the interplay between the lines. Yang Lian’s poetry is thus designed to avoid discursive rhetoric and explanatory procedures, to leave the lines with very little plot, and to present objects and subjects as contemporaneously living in the same space. This kind of poetic project discloses some absence of life, of truth, and meaning, that is semantically communicated through themes of loss, empti­ness and death. The pathos of loss and bleakness are explicitly stated. Death, as extreme absence, is “the death of presence and the death of meaning that must accompany the death of voice” (Mills-Courts 1990, 7). Language is where one finds absence, loss and death: light on the bodies of the living is long dead so blankness is painted everywhere         “Absence” (Yang 1999, 83) The mask comes into being from the blank page conceals the blank

Reading Yang Lian’s Poetry through Translation


yet there is only the blank ‘Masks 1’ (Yang 1998a, 235)

However, as Mills-Court (1990) points out in relation to Heidegger’s and Derrida’s philosophy of language, for Yang Lian too ‘absence’ (the blank) is never nothingness. Despite its semantics of death, the flow of language brings forth life and meaning: Death is too quiet, so everything reverberates noisily “The Book of Crying and Forgetting” (Yang 1990b, 18)

Everything begins with the awareness of death. The dead, in Yang Lian’s poetry, is a trope evoking the unity of presence and absence (the dead talks, the living dead, the dead in exile, etc). The word has the ghost-like prerogative of being both dead and alive. The dead, like other correlatives such as ‘the ruins’, ‘the grave’, ‘the tombstone’, ‘a burying’, ‘an epitaph’, etc., is not the emblem of a simple death. It must be perceived as a privileged site which offers the possibility of cohabitation with meaning and the absence of meaning. The crocodile-words are frightening because they announce the peril of death, but the mystery of words lies in the workings of poetry. Poetry, as a tombstone, is an activity that exposes the absence, but, at the same time, gives visibility, and marks a presence that seems lost: closest to the dead is a poem by someone living a possible grave hidden in the sky ‘Neighbours IV’ (Yang 1999, 35) the tombstone’s statement shines absolutely clear ‘Museum windows carved with the names of different oceans’ (Yang 1999, 67)

The ruins, the tombstone, sites of death, mark a death, revealing the presence. In the perplexity of meaning, this poem activates meaning: yes death the mother-like eye has perfumed the tree it’s death in a mother’s eye that gives birth to a poem of summer ‘The shape of ghosts. 4’ (Yang 1999, 91)



Chapter Five

Conclusions In these chapters, poetry translation has been explored as a process that re-activates and gives access to the source text. On the basis of a conception of poetic language that is not just referential, but has to be hermeneutically activated by the translator in order to accomplish its function, I have proposed the formula of the ‘chiasmus cross’ as an appropriate representation of the relationship between a translation and the source poem. I have also proposed a triangular method of comparative analysis that is able to eschew dichotomous views on translation while generating empirical reflections on actual translations and their significance as artistic objects, with specific textual devices. By comparing and describing different translations, I have looked at a number of poems by Yang Lian, detailing certain linguistic mechanisms that provide an almost palpable experience of ways of knowing the text. In an attempt to minimize bias, I have proceeded from the location of shifts between two translations to a rather elementary textual analysis, which nevertheless allows for a first realization of the functioning of the poetic text. The initial hypothesis sees the text as a coherent ensemble of words, which is meant to signify ideas and provoke states of mind. I have looked at the poem as a world in which there is, among all the other inhabitants, a persona who speaks to somebody who is supposed to be listening—the reader. In this exercise, pragmatics has been particularly useful, contributing to an awareness of how some textual devices may produce aesthetic effects. Each textual element of the poem brings with it a particular set of possibilities, entailing rich variations in logical links, with which the readertranslator engages, continuously interacting with them, in the structuring and re-structuring of the poem. The analysis and description of translations draw attention to four main textual features: 1) greater number of personal pronouns in translation determine a higher degree of involvement of the persona and of the reader; 2) shifts in the spatio-temporal setting define a more anchored space and time as opposed to a more abstract spatio-temporal dimension; 3) lexical shifts point to an ambiguous semantic choice in the Chinese poems; 4) shifts in prosody result in


chapter five

reduced repetitions and a reduced degree of linguistic unconventionality in translation. As the final step of the hermeneutical exploration presented in this study, I have used the knowledge thus acquired to undertake a critical reading of a larger portion of Yang Lian’s work. Approaching Yang Lian’s work from the perspective of the most recurring shifts in translation, this study has been able to discuss the temporal and spatial simultaneity in his poetry as one relevant textual device illuminating his poetic project in all its singularity. In this regard, a certain conception of poetic creation has become distinguishable, one that I have defined as being in a state of ‘continuous contingency’ with works from different literary and cultural systems, at any point in time, as selected by the poet, according to his own poetic affinities. By virtue of such a continuous contingency, the words of others become this poet’s words, and in an ever-changing process of reelaboration, creative energy transforms stale language in poetry. In illustrating certain usage of personal pronouns it has been possible to reconstruct various phases in this poet's work: from the persona's central and affirmative function in the poetic composition, to a more doubtful attitude towards the possibility of presence in the poetic process, to a complete bewilderment at the frightening mechanism of language that at once threatens and allures subjectivity. In the end, within such a negative poetic space, void of subjectivity, and marked by death and rupture, there is a flashing moment of potential. Obscure associations and apparent lack of connections between words, lines and stanzas, turn out to be fundamental devices in Yang Lian's poetic project, in which the reader is asked to work meaning out, while the poet waits and looks on. Although the whole exploration has revealed aspects of Yang Lian’s poetics that can be considered of primary interest for a critical appreciation of this writer’s work, this study has focused not on literary criticism per se, but on verifying the validity of translation as a heuristic means to access the source text. Overall, I have attempted to overcome the resilient conflict between theory and practice in translation studies, as well as to maintain a dynamic relationship between theoretical issues and their practical applications.1 1 Emilio Mattioli recognizes two separate and conflicting tendencies in translation studies (or ‘translatology’, as he calls it): one tendency towards the purely theoretical, and another that focuses on discussing specific problems of translation. He also sees this conflict mirrored in the sphere of poetry translation, between linguistic and aesthetic approaches (Mattioli 1989, 29). Jeremy Munday also speaks of “the artificial gap between



What I have not done is explore the public life of translation—that is, its industrial and commercial functions, within the publishing industry. A study of the factors that have played a role in the production, publication and reception of English translations of contemporary Chinese poetry would, however, be rewarding, because it would illuminate modalities and expectations of reception that create dominant patterns of discourse, which, in turn, may affect translation practice. In other words, an inquiry into the politics of translation would link the private to the public, and give physicality to the individual human agents involved in the translation of Chinese poetry, from the editor, to the publisher, to the translator and the reader. This may be a possible avenue for future research. This study has also not tried to evaluate translations according to historically determined literary tastes or aesthetic convictions, nor has it provided instruction on the ways translators may approach specific problems in Chinese poetic texts. Surveying criteria for an evaluation of English translations of contemporary Chinese poetry may also indicate a direction for further research; it is one that would, however, be less illuminating for the source text and more concerned with the preconceived rules of the translating context. This final section will draw a few more open, hypothetical, provisional conclusions, and address collateral considerations on issues of poetry reading and poetry translation, which regularly surface in discussions on the topic. Reading, translation and criticism are all variants of an epistemological act directed towards the text; however, upon closer examination, it is clear that each of these variants has its own distinct conceptual inclination. Poetry, in particular, poses problems of meaning for the reader, who mobilizes her intellect in order to solve them and find the coherence of the poem as a whole. It is this activity that contributes to the experience of reading poetry, making it possible for a temporally and spatially distant text, resonant with a distant cultural and literal tradition, to achieve some kind of synchronicity in the mind of the reader. At the risk of stating the obvious, translation is different from reading, in the sense that it is written and, therefore, involved in the process of transferring a reading to another reader. Criticism, too, delivers a reading in writing, but it does so from a site located both within and outside the poem. After reading and finding practice and theory” in translation studies (2001, 15). I believe, however, that dialogue in the theory-practice conflict is conducted in those studies based on functionalism, pragmatics, psycholinguistics and discourse analysis.


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the code, after having activated the original with a hermeneutical effort, the translator still has to write what s/he has read into the source text. S/ he cannot just translate the text literally, because that would not represent what s/he has experienced in reading the poem. S/he has to make decisions as to what needs to be rendered and what needs to be left out. Because this operation consists of an actual writing and is, therefore, not an ideal or an idea of the original, it is never all neutral or innocent. In fact, whether literary, political, ethical or philosophical, a translator’s thinking breaks through, making translation the expression not just of the translator’s understanding of the source text, but also of her own agenda, as well as her general conditions, ideological orientations, personal taste, etc. Consequently, translation A is different from translation B, and both, A and B, are different from translation C, and so on and so forth. Each translator sees the source poem in her own terms, which are irreducible to the original. However, if it is true that the original is never totally exhausted by the contingency of any particular translation because each translation heightens some aspects and adumbrates some others, it is also true that each of these translations contributes to the poem’s life, and each of them brings with it its heuristic contribution in knowing the source text. The translator chooses, corrects and abandons; using the tools available to her, she establishes a relationship with the textual elements of the original. The poem reveals itself and, at the same time, also conceals itself. Rich and open, the poem sends signals, ready to live in a new reading. Simultaneously, it teases whoever tries to appropriate it once and for all. That is why there is often anxiety or fear of misinterpretation, or of not being able to make the reader of translation understand. Perhaps because of the elusiveness of the poetic text, for the sensation of having to choose one in front of plurality, or perhaps because of what Mattioli calls the “ingenuous view of translation”, in which a word in the source text has to correspond with a word in the target text (Mattioli 1989, 30), many have doubted the very possibility of poetry translation, perpetrating that very common “prejudicial objection” (ibid.) of the untranslatability of poetry.2

2 Conversely, a theoretical framework such as the one adopted in this book, which aims to discard the idea that translation is hierarchically derivative and, instead, views it as entertaining an isomorphic relationship with the original, would naturally confute the argument of untranslatability, and therefore help the translator to relinquish some of her anxiety about the act of translation. Furthermore, an “ingenuous view of translation”



Peter Robinson (2010, 49), for instance, defines poetry translation as a “paradox” because, while it has been practised for centuries, it is, in his view, essentially impossible. A large number of translators have similarly expressed frustration about the futility of their activity, and many scholars have agreed that poetry translation represents a “contradiction in terms” (Rose 1997, 5). Some theorists, in order to solve this contradiction, have resorted to the term ‘creative transposition’ to differentiate poetry translation from translation ingenuously conceived as an operation with a 1:1 ratio. Roman Jakobson, for example, while affirming that “poetry by definition is untranslatable”, also makes the concession that “creative transposition is possible” because “cognitive experience … is conveyable in any existing language” (Jakobson 1959, 118 and 115). Boase-Beier interprets this statement as meaning that “‘cognitive experience’ is universal, as are certain characteristics of poetry such as its concern with style and pattern” (2006, 13). There is, however, a difference between being ‘conveyable’ and being ‘universal’; this point can be made using the same case that Jakobson takes as a clear example of untranslatability: the pun.3 There is an example of cultural specificity in line 13 of Poem 1, in which the poet constructs a phonetic pun with the item li 梨. As explained in Chapter Three, li 梨 (‘pear’) is used for its phonological resemblance to the words to leave, also pronounced li. If a similar linguistic mechanism is used to render the line in English as ‘enters into leaves’, instead of ‘enters into a pear’, it is possible to retain both the pun and the original sound. Jakobson’s argument that cognitive experience is, in this case, conveyable—that is, translatable—is affirmed. This, however, does not exactly provide evidence to support a universal. It only proves that this specific poetic aspect has been reactivated, and that it cannot be called exclusively Chinese anymore, but rather that it has been translated into English. We do not know if the effect of such a translation on the target reader is the same as the one experienced by the source reader of the original poem. However, we can understand what has happened, because we have a flexible mind and the ability to understand the other beyond what we have in common. In fact, not only are we by no means destined to remain would, of course, also imply not just the untranslatability of poetry, but also of language in general (see also Robinson 2010). 3 Jakobson argues that the pun “reigns over poetic art”, and that “poetry is by definition untranslatable” (Jakobson 1959, 118). Similarly, Catford (1965) has noted that linguistic untranslatability occurs typically in cases where an ambiguity peculiar to the source text is a functionally relevant feature—e.g., in puns, often used in poetry (Catford 1965, 94).


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forever trapped in our cultural (closed) context, but we can understand difference, and flex, bend towards it and take it with us. Thus, suspending a decision on the matter of the existence of universals, it is important to add that the original text does not have to share common states of mind or similar cognitive experiences with the target reader in order to be translatable. The original only requires translation in order to live in another language, its translation being hermeneutical activation that is never definitive, omnicomprehensive or totalizing. Translation does not aim to provide information about the original, but to activate the linguistic performativity of the source poem—that is, the experience of the source poem in the target language. By activating the source poem’s linguistic performativity, translation, of course, also performs in the target language, thus, reconciling that Jakobsonian distinction between interlingual and intralingual translations. Indeed, both of these translating activities necessarily come to supplement each other in poetry translation. For this reason, translation not only affects the target language by activating certain linguistic mechanisms that are seen as ideated in the source text, but it also becomes a heuristic means to analyse the relationship between language and poetics. But if translation has a heuristic inclination to access the text, as well as the theory and practice of poetry, to what extent can we say that translation furnishes access to the poem’s foreign culture? If every translator necessarily mediates the source text and its culture from her/his specific cultural background, then is it not the translator’s reading that is necessarily partial and culturally bound? These are pertinent questions that have been discussed in a variety of contexts, especially in culturalist studies concerned with the politics of translation and with practical methods of translating. I will here address this issue again with some practical examples. In the course of the exploration presented in this study, the discussion has touched upon some fascinating translating techniques, one of which has received much scholarly attention, especially in connection with the translation of classical Chinese poetry. This is so-called ‘etymological literalism’, which has been occasionally used in the translations of Yang Lian’s poems.4

4 See Chapter Three, pp. 63 and translation B of Poem 5 in the Appendix.



There is no doubt that etymological literalism, as a translation technique for Chinese classical poetry, has had a tremendous impact on the way modern Anglo-American poetry has engaged with the Imagist movement and with modernist poetry.5 It was notoriously practiced by poets such as Pound and Lowell on the lines showed by Fenollosa in his method of reading Chinese characters.6 Nevertheless, as Bynner asserts with regard to Lowell’s translations: I used to argue with Miss Lowell and Mrs. Ayscough against their exaggerated use of root-meanings in Chinese characters … Poets write for people, not for etymologists. (Bynner 1978, 7–8)

The risk with such exaggerations is, of course, an over-exoticization of the source text, and this is not exclusive to one technique only. Christiane Nord (1997) comments that, in general, “documentary translation” (including literal, interlinear and philological techniques) can also be exoticizing, since it recuperates local specificity, but also tends to fix it as foreign (49–50). Thus, the point is not to disagree with the culturalist approach, but to see if it can keep its promises. If, on the one hand, we attempt to situate our reading along the lines suggested by Anthony Kwame Appiah (1993), for example, we would opt for a very ‘thick’ description, full of annotations and glosses that allow one to locate the source text in a rich cultural and linguistic context, and to understand and mediate it. However, while all this would surely prevent cultural specificity from being domesticated or oversimplified, it would also require difference to be viewed as otherness and, to some degree, as exotic. Another quite frequent objection made to such an approach is that it does not take into account the participatory engagement of the reader in the reading process, or that “the search of contexts which allows the source text to make sense could be part of the aim of the text” (BoaseBeier 2006, 82). Consequently, all other forms of ambiguity (e.g., syntactical gaps, metaphoric compounds, etymological links, etc.) should be left 5 In 1921, Florence Ayscough noted the following: “… it is a curious fact that there has lately sprung up in America and England a type of poetry which is so closely allied to the Chinese in method and intention as to be very striking” (Ayscough 1921, xxi). 6 Fenollosa’s essay The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry articulates the idea that, in Chinese characters, the etymology is “constantly visible”, and because of such visual-pictorial richness, they constitute an ideal language for poetry (1936, 29, 35). For an exploration of the exploitation of Chinese characters’ etymology for poetic purposes, see also Bruno 2012.


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ambiguous in translation, since, as seen in Yang Lian’s poetic project, that indeterminacy represents a constitutive element that demands a particular way of comprehending it. Footnotes and glosses are not necessarily, by definition, non-performative. There are poetic texts that may be performed precisely through an array of footnotes or other referential material. Furthermore, there are several variants and combinations of techniques, as well as many new opportunities that are offered today by technology, which help bring together various strategies of translating and still preserve the performative and participatory experience for the reader.7 In 1960, in the Introduction to the anthology The Poem Itself, the poettranslator Stanley Burnshaw wrote: … a great deal more would have to be added before an English-speaking reader could begin to experience Mallarmé … the method had to be expanded, the line-by-line rendition enriched, at least with alternate equivalents where necessary … other clues had also to be given: to telescoped images, private allusions, specialised symbols, systems of belief, and similar problems. And what of the poems as a work of sonal art? For a reader who wishes to hear and pronounce the original, however approximately, any number of interesting points might be signalled; not only of rime, assonance, meter, and strophe, but of graces, stops, turns, and the sonal felicities of the whole. To be faithful to its intent, the method had to be enlarged into a literal rendering plus commentary—into a discussion aimed at enabling the reader both to understand the poem and to begin to experience it as a poem. (Burnshaw 1960, 361)

For Burnshaw, experiencing a poem as a poem in translation means to enlarge, to exceed the method to comprehend all the beautiful things he could experience in his reading of the original. With regard to Chinese poetry, Brian Holton and John Cayley have both expressed interest in the sound-related aspects of poetry translation, although taking rather different paths in their translating strategy. Commenting on his Scottish translations of some poems by Du Fu, Brian Holton explains his “unconventional” strategy of translating place names for their “euphony”, or for their “vivid evocation of a landform”: “... pinyin may give the reader historical information, but translated place names have a literary function. They evoke” (Holton 2010, 25). Thus, for example, Holton translates the name of the old Chinese capital Chang’an into the Scottish “Citie o Peace” (City of Peace). 7 I am thinking, in particular, of the possibilities offered by hypertext in bringing to the reader not only contextual links, but also visual and sound performance of the text.



In “Between Here and Nowhere”, John Cayley argues that “the crux of translation is transliteration or more generally, transcription” (Cayley 1999, 6). For example, he provides a … ‘homeophonic’ (similar sound) translation, where an attempt has been made to preserve the sound of the poem’s (modern) Chinese reading, but in English words (without any special regard to the sense of the English).

Thus, Cayley threads syllables or part-syllable-sounds from the original Chinese classical poem into words of the English version: for example, ‘kong’ becomes “eCHO evening”, ‘shan’ becomes “anCient As returN”, and so on (Cayley 1999, 16).8 It is clear that, at least for these translators, the kind of understanding required by poetry is less a matter of sense, expression or description and more a matter of performing the source text, with name translation in the case of Holton, and with the incorporation of original sounds in the case of Cayley. No preoccupation is shown towards contextual information about the original; however, both translation techniques show a very personal engagement with the poem, its evocative “euphony” (Holton) or its sound substance (Cayley). What must be stressed, though, is that the question does not concern the legitimization of any specific technique. Whatever the translation strategy used, however successful a specific translation may be, a technique cannot be transformed into a theoretical answer (Mattioli 1989, 32); a successful translation cannot be regarded as the model to which all translations must conform, because every translation is always instantspecific and, as such, can only work as an example. Examining other translators’ techniques and solutions can clearly extend our spectrum of possible choices but, when we are faced with the task of translating a poem, we will always begin a very personal journey into the world of the poem.

8 As Cayley adds in a note, “homeophonic translation has been explored by a number of poets, including, famously, Louis Zukofsky, … Robert Kelly … and Richard Caddel” (Cayley 1999, n. 15).

Comparative Analysis



Comparative Analysis The Corpus This Appendix contains one sample of the comparative analysis conducted between nine Chinese poems by Yang Lian and two English translations for each of the poems.1 It also contains the other eight sets of texts, but without analysis, for which I refer to my PhD thesis (Bruno 2003a). The selection of the texts has been determined not by the Chinese texts themselves, but by the availability of at least two translations published from 1983 to 1995. Most recently, more translations have become available,2 providing even richer research material. This study has, however, limited the compilation of the corpus to the years 1983−1995, so as to be able to extract findings that may be observed historically. Enlarging the corpus to include all English translations of Yang’s work to date would, of course, provide more multifarious data; however, it would also render the corpus less historically coherent, for the translations would, in both theory and practice, be too distant from each other to say anything about possible translation tendencies. Minimally two translations of a given poem are needed for the comparative model proposed. More than two translations will further amplify textual possibilities, thus strenghtening the theoretical notion of translation as a hermeneutical act, but will not add much at the methodological level. Indeed, only two translations are needed to illustrate the generic applicability of the model presented in this study.3 The corpus contains the following texts: 1 The sample has been singled out because it presents a fair amount of the most recurrent shifts in the corpus. 2 Post-1995 book-length English translations of Yang Lian’s poetry include Brian Holton’s Notes of a Blissful Ghost (Yang 2002a); Mabel Lee’s Yi (Yang 2002b); Holton’s Concentric Circles (Yang 2005); Jacob Edmond and Hilary Chung’s Unreal City: A Chinese Poet in Auckland (Yang 2006); and Holton’s Lee Valley Poems (Yang 2009). 3 According to Todorov, research does not demand including of all the examples of a phenomenon in order to describe it. In fact, it has to consider a limited number of events, make a general hypothesis, verify it with other examples, and then either correct it or refute it (quoted by Anceschi 1989, 65).

120 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10. 11. 12. 13. 14. 15. 16. 17. 18. 19. 20. 21. 22. 23. 24. 25. 26. 27.

appendix 流亡之书, Líuwáng zhi shū, from the collection无人称, Wú rén chēng (Yang 1998a, 310) Translation A by Mabel Lee (Yang 1990, 14) Translation B by Brian Holton (Yang 1994, 37−9) 镜, Jìng, from the collection Wú rén chēng (Yang Lian 1998a, 289−90) Translation A by Brian Holton (Yang 1994, 20−1) Translation B by Fang Dai, Dennis Ding, Edward Morin (Morin 1990, 139) 鳄鱼, Èyú, from the collection Wú rén chēng (Yang 1998a, 271) Translation A by Mabel Lee (Yang 1990a, 85) Translation B by Brian Holton (Yang 1994, 7) 诗的祭奠, Shī de jìdìan, from the collection 太阳, Tàiyáng (Soong and Minford 1984, 255) Translation A by John Minford and Seán Golden (Soong and Minford 1984, 254−55) Translation B by Tony Barnstone and Liu Newton (Barnstone 1993, 52−3) 午夜的庆典, Wŭyè de qìngdiăn, from the collection 礼魂, Lĭ hún (Yang 1998a, 66−8) Translation A by Alisa Joyce and John Minford (Yang 1985, 156−58) Translation B by Donald Finkel and Li Guohua (Finkel 1991, 99−101) 从我窗口望出去的街道, Cóng wŏ chuāngkŏu wàng chūqù de jiēdào, from the collection Wú rén chēng (Yang 1998a, 377) Translation A by Michelle Yeh, (Yeh 1992, 219−20) Translation B by Brian Holton (Yang 1994, 103) 死诗人的城, Sĭ shīrén de chéng, from the collection Wú rén chēng (Yang 1998a, 349) Translation A by Li Xia (Li 1995, 153) Translation B by Brian Holton (Yang 1994, 73) 其时其地, Qí shí qí dì, from the collection Wú rén chēng (Yang 1998a, 285−86) Translation A by Brian Holton (Yang 1994, 17) Translation B by Fang Dai, Dennis Ding, Edward Morin (Morin 1990, 143) 老故事(五), Lăo gùshì (wŭ), from the collection Wú rén chēng (Yang 1998a, 333) Translation A by Brian Holton (Yang 1994, 58−9) Translation B by Mabel Lee (Yang 1990, 34)

Poem 1 is reported in this Appendix as a sample for this analysis. A number of Yang Lian’s poems have been published in English translation by John Minford, Seán Golden, Pang Bingjun and Alisa Joyce in the periodical Renditions (Yang 1983 and 1985), edited in Hong Kong, and then collected in two anthologies: Trees on the Mountain: An Anthology of New Chinese Writing (Soong and Minford 1984) and Seeds of Fire: Chinese Voices of Conscience (Barmé and Minford 1989)

Comparative Analysis


In 1990, the Australian publisher Wild Peony brought out an English translation of Yang Lian’s poetry collection entitled Masks and Crocodile, translated and prefaced by Mabel Lee (Yang 1990a). In the same year, again in Australia and by the same translator, Mabel Lee, The Dead in Exile was published (Yang 1990b). Eight poems have been translated by Fang Dai, Dennis Ding and Edward Morin, in The Red Azalea: Chinese Poetry since the Cultural Revolution (Morin 1990). Donald Finkel and Li Guohua have translated the five sections of the poem-cycle “Norlang” in A Splintered Mirror. Chinese Poetry from the Democracy Movement (Finkel 1991). Michelle Yeh has translated three poems by Yang Lian in her Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry (Yeh 1992). Seven other poems are included in Tony Barnstone’s Out of the Howling Storm (Barnstone 1993). Six books of translations of Yang Lian’ poems have been published by Brian Holton. All the texts by this translator included here are taken from the collection Non-Person Singular (Yang 1994). Li Xia has translated some poems from the poem cycle Illusion City in the literary journal Asian and African Studies (Li 1995). One translator, Brian Holton, has been particularly prolific. In this corpus, he is represented seven times, accounting for 29.39% of the English translations. Mabel Lee is represented three times, but she only accounts for a little more than 0.8%. One translator is represented twice: John Minford, who translated the poem “Homage to Poetry” with Seán Golden, and the poem “Midnight Celebration” with Alisa Joyce, accounting for 11.17% of the translations. Edward Morin, Fang Dai and Dennis Ding, working as a group, translated “An Elegy for Poetry” and “The Time, the Place”, and are also represented twice (12.85%). At the other end of the scale, Tony Barnstone with Liu Newton (10.32%), Donald Finkel with Li Guohua (10.74%), Michelle Yeh (0.3%) and Li Xia (0.4%) are all represented once. These imbalances are inevitable since some translators have translated more than others, and some poems are considerably longer than others (although none of the poems in the study exceeds 481 words). The direction of the translations is either Chinese language–English mother-tongue, or Chinese mother-tongue–English language of usage. Chinese and English have different word formation patterns; what is often translated as one English word may be written as a single character or,



more commonly, as two characters in Chinese. When compared with each half of the English corpus, the Chinese corpus is, therefore, smaller in size, but not in terms of the number of words. Greater expansion of the corpus may be induced by processes such as explicitation, a phenomenon that is thought to be typical of translation. Parameters of Analysis In the comparative analysis of the selected texts, this study has categorized differences in translation, according to the system of categorization provided by Kitty van Leuven-Zwart, as discussed in detail in Chapter Two. However, since the research presented in this study has different priorities from that conducted by Van Leuven-Zwart, I have opted for a simplification in the structure of analysis, so that it will not to be overshadowed by too many details. The unit of comparison adopted here is almost invariably the poem line.4 First, it features the Chinese text with the Chinese characters; second, the Pinyin transliteration of the Chinese characters;5 and third the two translations (A and B). The elements identified as the locations of the shifts are underlined and briefly explained, according to Van LeuvenZwart’s categorization of shifts. This includes three main groups: grammatical shifts, semantic shifts and stylistic shifts. Grammatical Shifts Grammatical shifts pertain to the organization of word classes and they are divided accordingly into the subcategories of function words, verbs and classes. The subcategory of function words investigates those words the purpose of which is to contribute to the syntax, holding together all the content words in a sentence. They include the addition, deletion or changing of conjunctions, pronouns, and prepositions, and the specification of nouns by way of determiners, such as demonstratives and possessives.

4 There is only one exception: Poem 5 “Wŭyè de qìngdiăn”. In this case, the unit is reduced to a segment of the line, for the extensive length of the line in Chinese would make shifts more difficult to visualize. 5 This has been added to give the reader who does not know Chinese an approximation of the sound of the original.

Comparative Analysis


In the section on verbs, the material in the corpus is explored from the perspective of the tense, aspect, person and voice of verbs (active, passive, reflexive). Finally, the subcategory of classes investigates shifts in the change of grammatical class—that is, when a verb is rendered by a noun, an adjective by an adverb, etc. It follows that shifts of this kind also involve syntaxtical constructions, phrasal or sentential. Semantic Shifts Semantic shifts concern what in traditional linguistics is called ‘lexical semantics’, and what is more familiarly called ‘the meaning of the word’.6 They are catalogued in the following three groups: (1) specifications; (2) generalizations; and (3) mutations. When a translation interprets the semantic weight of a word, or explains an obscure element, by way of lexical specification, the shift is catalogued as a specification.7 Specification within both the single word item and predicate are included, according to the formula ‘X is a form/ class/mode of Y’, in which X stands for one English translation and Y for either the other English translation, or the Chinese text. Similarly, when an element is rendered in a more objective or abstract way, according to the formula ‘X is a generalization of Y’, that element is catalogued as semantic generalization. Finally, under the heading of mutations, this study considers changes in which it is not possible to find an element of similarity between an element of one English translation and the corresponding element of the other English translation. Stylistic Shifts This section identifies shifts in style according to the formula ‘X is a stylistic form or variant of Y’. Stylistic shifts are divided into two main groups: social and expressive. Shifts are catalogued as social, when they pertain to differences of register (e.g., formal/informal, official/colloquial, polite/impolite, distant/famil6 On the definition of ‘lexical semantics’ given by classical linguistics, see Yip Po-Ching (2000, 2−10). On the alternative and more inclusive use of the term, see Dorothy Kenny (2001, 1−21). 7 Specifications can also be called ‘hyponymies’. For a definition of the hyponymic relationships between lexical items, see Ronald Carter (1998, 21).



iar, technical/non-technical, etc.); time (archaism, neologism); text-specific elements (providing information about a text-type: letter, fairytales, jokes, etc.); or culture-specific elements (providing information about a country, culture or social characteristic, foreign borrowings, etc.). Stylistic shifts are catalogued as expressive, when they involve differences in the choice of expressive tools, such as: sound repetitions (allitera­ tion, assonance, consonance, onomatopoeia, rhyme), lexical repeti­­tions (anaphora, epistrophe; syntactic—parallelism, antithesis), verse form (meter; number of words and lines cut—if a line is syntactically complete, end-stopped or presents enjambments; punctuation marks), stylistic implicitation (ellipsis) and explicitation, tropes (metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, oxymoron, pleonasm, tautology, paradox, hyperbole, litotes), and so on. At the end of the analysed poem, a summary is given, in which there are listed: (a) the total number of lines and characters in the Chinese text, and (b) the total number of words in translations A and B. The summary also reports the number of shifts according to shift types. Sample Poems No. 1 流亡之书 líu wáng zhi shū A: The Book of Exile B: The Book of Exile 1. A: B:

你不在这里 nĭ bú zài zhè lĭ You are not here you are not here

2. A: B:

刚刚写下就被一阵狂风卷走 gānggāng xĭexià jiù bèi yìzhén kuángfēng juănzŏu Just written are swept off by a wild wind just written is blown away by the gale

3. A: B:

空白如死鸟在你脸上飞翔 kòngbái rú síniăo zài nĭ liăn shàng fēixiáng Emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face is blank as if a dead bird circled above your face

这笔迹   zhè bĭ jī Marks of this pen   this pen mark

Comparative Analysis 4. A: B:

送葬的月亮一只断手 sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu Funereal moon is a broken hand the funeral-following moon a broken hand

5. A: B:

把你的日子向回翻动 bánĭ de rìzi xiànghúi fāndòng Turning back your days turns your days backward

6. A: B:

翻到你缺席的那一页 fāndào nĭ qūexí de nàyí yè Back to the page when you do not exist turns to the page where you are absent

7. A: B:

你一边书写一边 nĭ yìbiān shūxĭe yìbiān In writing You as you write so you are

8. A: B:

欣赏自己被删去 xīnshăng zìjĭ bèi shānqù Bask in your own deletion a connoisseur of your own excision

9. A: B:

像别人的声音 xiàng biéren de shēngyīn Like another’s voice like the sound of someone else

10. 碎骨头随随便便啐到角落里 suì gútou súisui biànbian cuìdào jiăoluò lĭ A: Bits of bones are spat carelessly into a corner B: crushed bones casually spat into a corner 11. A: B:

水和水摩擦的空洞声音 shŭi hé shŭi mōcā de kōngdòng shēngyīn Hollow sound of water brushing water the hollow sound of water clashing on water

12. 随随便便移入呼吸 súisui biànbian yírù hūxī A: Carelessly enters breathing B: casually moving into a breath



appendix 13. A: B:

移入一只梨就不看别人 yírù yìzhī lí jiù búkàn bíeren Enters a pear and ceases to look at others into a pear so no one else is seen

14. A: B:

一地头颅都是你 yídì tóulú dōu shì nĭ Skulls all over the ground are you the skulls on the ground are all you

15. A: B:

在字里行间一夜衰老 zài zì lĭ háng jiān yíyè shuāilăo In words and lines you grow old in a night growing old overnight between the words, the lines

16. A: B:

你的诗隐身穿过世界 nĭ de shī yĭnshēn chuānguò shìjìe Your poetry invisibly traversing the world your poem has invisibly pierced the world

Translation A by Mabel Lee Translation B by Brian Holton Grammatical Shifts Function Words Poem 1, line 3: Translation A: Translation B: Shift: Poem 1, line 4: Translation A: Translation B: Shift:

空白如死鸟在你脸上飞翔 kòngbái rú síniăo zài nĭ liăn shàng fēixiáng Emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face is blank as if a dead bird circled above your face grammar / function word / addition / cond. conj. 送葬的月亮一只断手 sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu Funereal moon is a broken hand the funeral-following moon a broken hand grammar / function word / addition / article

In the example above, the presence or absence of the article ‘the’ also determines a shift in grammatical classes. In translation A, the line could be intended as an apposition of the previous line, “Emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face”. In translation B, the funeral-following moon becomes the subject of the next line, which is “turns your days backward”.

Comparative Analysis Poem 1, line 7: Translation A: Translation B: Shift: Poem 1, line 11: Translation A: Translation B: Shift:


你一边书写一边 nĭ yìbiān shūxĭe yìbiān In writing You so you are as you write grammar / function word / addition / personal pronoun 水和水摩擦的空洞声音 shŭi hé shŭi mōcā de kōngdòng shēngyīn Hollow sound of water brushing water the hollow sound of water clashing on water grammar / function word / addition / article

Poem 1, line 13: 移入一只梨就不看别人 yírù yìzhī lí jiù búkàn bíeren Translation A: Enters a pear and ceases to look at others Translation B: into a pear so no one else is seen Shift: grammar / function word / change / res. conjunction Poem 1, line 15: 在字里行间一夜衰老 zài zì lĭ háng jiān yíyè shuāilăo Translation A: In words and lines you grow old in a night Translation B: growing old overnight between the words, the lines Shift: grammar / function word / addition / personal pronoun Verbs Poem 1, line 3: Translation A: Translation B: Shift: Poem 1, line 4: Translation A: Poem 1, line 5: Translation A: Translation B: Shift:

空白如死鸟在你脸上飞翔 kòngbái rú síniăo zài nĭ liăn shàng fēixiáng Emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face is blank as if a dead bird circled above your face grammar / verb / change / tense / hypothetical 送葬的月亮一只断手 sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu Funereal moon is a broken hand 把你的日子向回翻动 bánĭ de rìzi xiànghúi fāndòng Turning back your days turns your days backward grammar / verb / change / tense / present in main clause


appendix Poem 1, line 15: Translation A: Translation B: Shift: Poem 1, line 16: Translation A: Translation B: Shift:


zài zì lĭ háng jiān yíyè shuāilăo In words and lines you grow old in a night growing old overnight between the words, the lines grammar / verb / change / tense / gerund 你的诗隐身穿过世界 nĭ de shī yĭnshēn chuānguò shìjìe Your poem invisibly traversing the world your poem has invisibly pierced the world grammar / verb / change / tense / gerund

Classes In the next example, translator A refers this to pen, while translator B refers this to pen mark. The attention is thus shifted; in translation A, it is directed to the pen, while in translation B, is directed to its mark. The word order of the Chinese line is: this + pen + mark. Poem 1, line 1: Translation A: Translation B: Shift:

你不在这里    这笔迹 nĭ bú zài zhè lĭ    zhè bĭ jī Marks of this pen You are not here you are not here this pen mark grammar / class / change / determiner

Below, translator A intends kòngbái (‘emptiness’) to be the subject, while translator B intends it to be a verb. Consequentially, in translation B the verb circled refers to dead bird, not to kòngbái: Poem 1, line 3: Translation A: Translation B: Shift: Poem 1, line 4: Translation A: Translation B: Shift:

空白如死鸟在你脸上飞翔 kòngbái rú síniăo zài nĭ liăn shàng fēixiáng Emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face is blank as if a dead bird circled above your face grammar / class / change / verb grammar / class / change / referent 送葬的月亮一只断手 sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu Funereal moon is a broken hand the funeral-following moon a broken hand grammar / class / change / subject

Comparative Analysis Poem 1, line 10: Translation A: Translation B: Shift:


碎骨头随随便便啐到角落里 suì gútou súisui biànbian cuìdào jiăoluò lĭ Bits of bones are spat carelessly into a corner crushed bones casually spat into a corner grammar / class / change / noun

Semantic Shifts Specifications Poem 1, line 3: Translation A: Translation B: Shift: Poem 1, line 6: Translation A: Translation B: Poem 1, line 13: Translation A: Translation B: Shift:

空白如死鸟在你脸上飞翔 kòngbái rú síniăo zài nĭ liăn shàng fēixiáng Emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face is blank as if a dead bird circled above your face semantic / specification 翻到你缺席的那一页 fāndào nĭ qūexí de nàyí yè Back to the page when you do not exist turns to the page where you are absent 移入一只梨就不看别人 yírù yìzhī lí jiù búkàn bíeren Enters a pear and ceases to look at others into a pear so no one else is seen semantic / specification

Generalization Poem 1, line 4: Translation A: Translation B: Shift:

送葬的月亮一只断手 sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu Funereal moon is a broken hand the funeral-following moon a broken hand semantic / generalization

Stylistic Shifts Sound Repetitions The last word of the second line, juănzŏu, is in assonance with the last word of the fourth line, duànshŏu. This is not reflected in the translations.


appendix Poem 1, line 2: poem 1, line 4: Shift:

刚刚写下就被一阵狂风卷走 gānggāng xĭexià jiù bèi yìzhén kuángfēng juănzŏu 送葬的月亮一只断手 sòngzàng de yùeliàng yìzhī duànshŏu stylistic / sound repetition / deletion

In the following line, the assonance created by suì, súisui and cuì is partially reflected in the recurrence of the letter ‘c’ in translation B, but not in translation A. Poem 1, line 10: Translation A: Translation B: Shift:

碎骨头随随便便啐到角落里 suì gútou súisui biànbian cuìdào jiăoluò lĭ Bits of bones are spat carelessly into a corner crushed bones casually spat into a corner stylistic / sound repetition / deletion

Tropes The Chinese poem’s second line is the longest of the whole composition. This might be interpreted as an iconic feature associating the motion of the wind in the action of the verb juăn (‘to blow’ or ‘to sweep’). Poem 1, line 2: Shift:

刚刚写下就被一阵狂风卷走 gānggāng xĭexià jiù bèi yìzhén kuángfēng juănzŏu stylistic / iconic feature / deletion

In the Chinese source text, line 13 presents a case of homophony where the word 梨lí (‘pear’) is employed for its assonance with the word 离lí (‘to leave’). Poem 1, line 13: Shift:

移入一只梨就不看别人 yírù yìzhī lí jiù búkàn bíeren stylistic / phonetic trope / deletion

Summary Source text, Poem 1: 16 lines + title; 147 Chinese characters Translation A: 110 words Translation B: 118 words

Comparative Analysis Grammatical Shifts Function Words

−− addition conjunctions: 2 −− addition pronouns: 2 −− addition articles: 2 Verbs −− addition verbs: 1 −− change tense: 5 Classes −− change: 4 Semantic Shifts Specifications: 4 Generalizations: 1 Stylistic Shifts Sounds repetitions – deletion: 2 Tropes – deletion: 2 No. 2 镜 Jìng Mirror The Mirror 1. A: B:

倘若现实 能够从幻象开始 tăngruò xiànshí nénggòu cōng huànxiàng kāishĭ suppose reality could begin from illusion If reality could start from fantasy

2. A: B:

玻璃就是唯一的风景 bōli jiù shì wéi yī de fēngjĭng glass is the only landscape Then glass would be our only scenery



appendix 3. A: B:

门开着 水银的瀑布声 mén kāi zhe shuĭyín de pùbù shēng as the door opens the sound of a quicksilver waterfall The door opens to the noise of a mercury waterfall

4. A: B:

白昼弯曲后 báizhòu wānqū hòu after daylight meanderings After the white daytime comes full circle

5. A: B:

与黑夜结盟的另一个白昼 yŭ hēi yè jiéméng de lìng yī ge báizhòu another daylight in league with the dark Another white daytime allied with dark night

6. A: B:

从睫毛开始 月下 cōng jiémáo kāishĭ yuè xià starting from the eyelashes under the moon Began from eyelashes under the moon

7. A: B:

鹅卵石有淡黄的借据般的光泽 éluănshí yŏu dàn huáng de jiè jù bān guāngzé cobblestones have the pale yellow gleam of IOUs Goose-egg shaped pebbles shed yellow light pale as a pawn ticket

8. A: B:

房间里的房间 fángjiān lĭ de fángjiān a room within a room In this room within a room

9. A: B:

拍卖无声进行 pāimài wúshēng jìnxíng an auction goes silently on A noiseless auction is in session

10. A: B:

眼睛和半身像交换刻毒的愿望 yănjing hé bànshēnxiàng jiāohuàn kèdú de yuànwàng the eyes and the half-length portrait swap spiteful desires Eyes exchange vicious desires with busts

11. A: B:

蚂蚁爬过嘴角细碎的皱纹 măyĭ pá guò zuĭjiăo xì suì de zhòuwén broken laugh-lines climbed by ants Ants crawl over thin broken wrinkles near the corner of the mouth

Comparative Analysis 12. A: B:

野草横生 yĕ căo héngshēng weeds proliferating Wild grass grows in all directions

13. A: B:

为皮肤和泥土深处那同一副枯骨 wèi pífū hé nítŭ shēnchù nà tóngyī fù kū gŭ for the same dry bones in the depths of soil and skin Chased by the same deeply buried decomposing skeleton

14. A: B:

追逐 像准备冬眠的蛇 zhuīzhú xiàng zhŭnbèi dōngmián de shé pursue like a snake preparing for hibernation Under both skin and clay like snakes preparing for hibernation

15. A: B:

血是萧瑟的红叶淋 xuè shì xiāosè de hóngyè lín blood is a forest of red leaves bleakly rustling The blood is a red-leaves wood rustling in the wind

16. A: B:

每照亮一次死亡一次 mĕi zhàoliàng yī cì jiù sĭwáng yī cì each illumination a dying And dies every time light shines upon it

银的稍纵即逝的飞鸟 17. 玻璃的沼泽 bōli de zhăozé shuĭyín de shāo zòng jí shì de fēi nĭao a quicksilver bird gone in an instant A: the swamp of glass B: In the swamp of glass the fleet mercury bird 18. A: B:

俯身之际 脸僵硬成石 fŭ shēn zhi jì liăn jiāngyìng chéng shí as you lean into it  the face stiffens, turns to stone Stoops low   its face petrified

19. A: B:

岁月布下迷宫让自己失传 suìyè bù xià mí gōng ràng zìjĭ shīchuán yourself lost to history by the maze spread by the years Time creates a labyrinth in which to lose itself

20. 我们在地平线下漂流 wŏmen zài dìpíngxiàn xià piāoliú A: we drift below the horizon B: We are floating under the horizon



appendix 21. A: B:

圆睁双眼 yuán zhēng shuāng yăn open our eyes wide Both eyes bulging

22. 如鱼的四肢互相纠缠 rŭ yú de sìzhī hùxiāng jiūchán A: entwined in four fishlike limbs B: Our four fishlike limbs entangle one another 世界高悬在头上 23. 穿过桥洞 chuānguò qiáodòng shìjiè gāo xuán zài tóu shàng A: pass under the arch of a bridge the world suspended high above us B: As we pass below the bridge, the world hangs high overhead 24. 谁窥见自己 shéi kuījiàn zijĭ A: whoever catches a glimpse of himself B: Whoever peers into his own self 25. 谁就得悲惨地诞生 shéi jiù dĕi bēicăn de dànshēng A: has tragically to be brought to life B: Will have to be born tragically Translation A by Brian Holton Translation B by Edward Morin, Fang Dai and Dennis Ding No. 3 鳄鱼 (七) èyú (qī) A: Crocodile (7) B: Crocodile 1. 鳄鱼像一个字紧闭鼻孔 èyú xiàng yīge zì jĭnbì bíkŏng A: The crocodile’s nostrils shut like a word B: the crocodile, nostrils shut tight as a word 2. A: B:

不屑理你 bù xiè lĭ nĭ ignoring you disdains to notice you

Comparative Analysis 3. A: B:

仅仅在这页白纸上浮沉 jĭnjĭn zài zhèyè bái zhĭ shàng fúchén floating and sinking on the page of white paper just sinks or floats at the surface of this white page

4. A: B:

你绝望呼救 nĭ juéwàng hūjiù despairing you call for help in dispair you cry for help

5. A: B:

用潜伏已久的字 yòng qiánfú yĭ jiŭ de zì and with long submerged words with long-submerged words

6. A: B:

没入满是鳄鱼的水中 mòrù măn shì èyú de shŭi zhōng sink into crocodile waters sink into water full of crocodiles

Translation A by Mabel Lee Translation B by Brian Holton No. 4 诗的祭奠 shī de jìdìan A: Homage to Poetry B: An Elegy for Poetry 1. 苍老的世纪露出它的额角 cānglăo de shìjì lùchū tā de éjiăo A: The aged century bares its brow B: The decrepit century’s bony brow protrudes 2. A: B:

抖动受伤的肩膀 dŏudòng shòushāng de jiānbăng Shakes its wounded shoulders; and its wounded shoulders shiver.

3. A: B:

雪盖满废墟上─ 白色的不安 xuĕ gàimăn fèixū shàng—báisè de bù ān Snow covers the ruins—white and restless Snow buries the ruins—below this whiteness an undertow



appendix 4. A: B:

像浪花,在黑黝黝的丛林间移动 xiàng lànghuā, zài hēi yŏuyŏu de cónglín jīan yídòng Like surf—moving among the pitchblack trees; of uneasiness, through the deep shadows of trees it drifts,

5. A: B:

迷途的声音从岁月那边传来 mítú de shēngyīn cóng sùiyùe nàbian chuánlái A lost voice transmitted across time and a stray voice is broadcast across time.

6. A: B:

没有道路 méiyŏu dàolù There is no road There is no way

7. A: B:

通过这由于死亡而神奇的土地 tōngguò zhè yóuyú sĭwáng ér shénqí de tŭdì Through this land that death has lent mystery. through this land which death has made an enigma.

8. A: B:

苍老的世纪哄骗着它的孩子 cānglăo de shìjì hŏngpìan zhe tā de háizi The aged century cheats its children The decrepit century deceives its children,

9. A: B:

到处抛下无法辨认的字迹 dào chù pāo xià wúfă biànrèn de zìjī Leaving everywhere riddles leaving unreadable calligraphy and snow

10. A: B:

石头的雪,修改着被装饰的肮脏 shítóu de xŭe, xīugăi zhe bèi zhūangshì de āngzāng Snow on the stone, to patch the ornamented filth. on the stones everywhere to augment the ornamental decay.

11. A: B:

我在手里攥紧自己的诗章 wŏ zài shŏu li zùanjĭn zìjĭ de shīzhāng I clutch my poems in my hand. My hands cling to sheaf of my poems.

12. A: B:

召引我吧! 那不知姓名的时刻 zhàoyĭn wŏ ba! nà bù zhī xìngmíng de shíkè Call me! In that nameless moment When my unnamed moment arrives, call me!

Comparative Analysis 13. A: B:

风的小船载着历史匆匆划过 fēng de xiăochúan zài zhe lìshĭ cōngcōng húaguò The little boat of the wind bearing history scudded But the wind’s small skiff scuds off bearing history

14. A: B:

在我身后─ 影子般的 zài wŏ shēnhòu—yĭngzi bān de Behind me—shadowlike, and on my heels like a shadow

15. A: B:

跟着一个结束 gēnzhe yī ge jīeshù Complete with endings. an ending follows.

16. A: B:

于是,我懂得这一切 yúshì, wŏ dŏngde zhè yīqiè So—I know all this: Now I understand it all.

17. 呜咽不是拒绝,少女的手指和 wūyè bùshì jùjué, shăo nŭ de shŏuzhī hé A: Weeping is no rebellion, the young girl’s fingers and B: To sob out loud refutes nothing when the fingers of young girls 18. 谦恭的桃金娘在紫红色荆丛中沉没 qiāngōng de táojīnniáng zài zĭhóngsè jīng cóng zhōng chénmò A: The shy myrtle sink into a grove of purple thorns; B: and the shy myrtle are drowned in purple thorn brush. 19. 陨石似的目光在无限大海上溅落 yŭnshí sìde mùguāng zài wúxiàn dàhăi shàng jiànluò A: Meteor-eyes splash into the boundless ocean; B: From the eyes meteors streak into the endless sea 20. 我懂得每个灵魂终将重新升起 wŏ dŏngde mĕige línghún zhōng jiāng chóngxīn shēngqĭ A: I know that ultimately every soul will rise once more B: but I know that in the end all souls will rise again, 21. 带着新鲜湿润的海的气息 dàizhe xīn xián shīrùn de hăi de qìxī A: Exhaling the fresh moist breath of the sea, B: soaked with the fresh breath of the sea,



appendix 22. 带永恒的微笑和永不跪倒的声音 dài yŏnghéng de wēixiào hé yŏng bù guìdăo de shēngyīn A: Eternal smile, voice of unyielding defiance, B: with eternal smiles, with voices that refuse humiliation, 23. 升向天蓝的纯净的世界 shēng xiàng tīan lán de chúnjìng de shìjiè A: Up into an azure world; B: and climb into blue heaven. 24. 我将高声朗诵自己的诗篇 wŏ jiāng gāoshēng lăngsòng zìjĭ de shīpiān A: And I shall sing my songs aloud. B: There I can read out my poems. 25. 我将相信所有冰凌都是太阳 wŏ jiāng xiāngxìn suŏyŏu bīng líng dōu shì tàiyāng A: I shall believe each icicle the sun, B: I will believe every icicle is a sun, 26. 这废墟,因为我,布满奇异的光 zhè fèixū, yīnwei wŏ, bù măn qíyì de gūang A: Suffuse this ruin with a weird light, B: that because of me an eerie light will permeate these ruins 27. 岩石累累的荒野中我听到歌声 yánshí lĕilĕi de huāngyĕ zhōng wŏ tīngdào gēshēng A: And in this wasteland piled with stones hear a song. B: and I’ll hear music from this wasteland of stones. 28. 饱满的蓓蕾的乳房哺育着我 băomăn de bèilĕi de rŭfáng bŭyù zhe wŏ A: Full breasts shall nurse me; B: I’ll suckle from swollen buds like breasts 29. 我将有新生的尊严和神圣的爱情 wŏ jiāng yŏu xīnshēng de zūnyán hé shén shèng de àiqíng A: I shall earn the dignity of a new life, a sacred love, B: and have renewed dignity and a holy love. 30. 在洁白的田野上我要袒露 一颗心灵 zài jiébái de tiānyĕ shàng wŏ yào tănlù yī kē xīnlíng A: In fields of purest white lay bare my heart, B: I’ll bare my heart in these clean white snowfields

Comparative Analysis 31. 在洁白的天空上我要袒露 一颗心灵 zài jiébái de tiānkōng shàng wŏ yào tănlù yī kē xīnlíng A: In pure white sky lay bare my heart, B: as I do in the clean white sky 32. 并向苍老的世纪挑战 bīng xiàng cānglăo de shìjì tiāozhàn A: Challenge the aged century— B: and as a poet 33. 因为我是诗人 yīnwei wŏ shì shīrén A: For I am a poet. B: challenge this decrepit century. 34. 我是诗人 wŏ shì shīrén A: I am a poet. B: As a poet 35. 我要让玫瑰开放,玫瑰就会开放 wŏ yào ràng méigui kāifàng, méigui jiù huì kāifàng A: I will the rose to bloom and it blooms; B: when I want the rose to bloom, it will blossom; 36. 自由会回来,带着它的小贝壳 zìyóu huì huílái, dàizhe tā de xiăo bèiké A: Freedom will return, bringing its little shell, B: freedom will come back carrying a small shell 37. 里面一阵风暴发出回响 lĭmiàn yī zhèn fēngbào fāchū huíxiăng A: And within it the echoing roar of the storm. B: where you can hear echoes of a howling storm. 38. 黎明会回来,曙光的钥匙 límíng huì huílái, shŭguāng de yàoshi A: Daybreak will come, the key of dawn B: Daybreak will return, the key of dawn will unlock 39. 在林莽间旋转,成熟的果子投射出火焰 zài línmăng jiān xuánzhuăn, chéng shú de guŏzi tōushè chū huŏyàn A: Turn in the tangled trees, ripe fruits flame. B: the wailing forest, and ripe fruits will shoot out flame.



appendix 40. 我也会回来,重新挖掘痛苦的命运 wŏ yĕ huì húilái, chóngxīn wājué tòngkŭ de mìngyùn A: I will return, reopen the furrow of suffering, B: I too will return, exhume my suffering again, 41. 在白雪隐没的地方开始耕耘 zài báixŭe yĭnmò de dìfāng kāishĭ gēngyún A: Begin to plough this land deep in snow. B: and begin to plough this land drifted in snow. Translation A by John Minford and Seán Golden Translation B by Tony Barnstone and Liu Newton

No. 5 (I) 午夜的庆典 wŭyè de qìngdiăn A: Midnight Celebration B: Celebration at midnight 开歌路 kāi gē lù A: 1. Introit B: Blazing the Trail

1. 领:午夜降临了,斑斓的黑暗展开它的虎皮,金灿灿闪 耀着

lĭng: wŭyè jiànglín le, bānlán de hēi’àn zhănkāi tā de hŭpí, jīn càncàn de shănyào zhe 绿色。遥远。青草的芳香使我们感动,露水打湿天空, lùsè. yáoyuăn. qīngcăo de fāngxiāng shĭ wŏmen găndòng, lùshui dă shī tīankōng, 我们是被谁集合起来的呢? wŏmen shì bèi shéi jíhé qĭlái de ne? A: Lead: Midnight has fallen, brilliant darkness unfolds its tigerskin, radiates a brilliant green. Distance. The fragrance of the grass touches our hearts, the dew dampens the heavens. Who has gathered us together? B: Solo: Midnight has fallen. Darkness spreads its tiger pelt, streaked with glowing gold. The green’s so far away. The fragrant grass has stirred us. Dew spatters the sky. Who called us here?

Comparative Analysis


2. A: B:

合:哦,这么多人,这么多人! hé: ò, zhème duō rén, zhème duō rén! Chorus: Oh, so many! So many! Chorus: So many people. O so many people!


领:星座倾斜了,不知不觉的睡眠被松涛充满。风吹过 lĭng: xīngzuò qīngxié le, bùzhī-bùjué de shuìmián bèi sōngtāo chōngmăn. fēng chuī guò

陌生的手臂,我们紧紧挤在一起,梦见篝火,又大又 亮。

4. A: B:

合:哦,这么多人,这么多人! hé: ò, zhème duō rén, zhème duō rén! Chorus: Oh, so many! so many! Chorus: So many people. O so many people!

mòshēng de shŏubei, wŏmen jĭnjĭn jĭ zài yīqĭ, mèngjian gōuhuŏ, yòu dà yòu liàng. 孩子也睡了。 háizimen yĕ shuì le. A: Lead: The constellations have tilted, imperceptibly sleep fills with the wind soughing in the pines, blowing through strange arms. We are squeezed tightly together, dreaming of a bonfire, big and bright. The children also sleep. B: Solo: The constellations have tilted. Our sleep is suffused with the soughing of wind among pines. The breeze caresses strange arms. We ­huddle together, dreaming of a great, bright bonfire. The children are also sleeping.

5. 领:灵魂颤栗着,灵魂渴望着,在漆黑的树叶间寻找一快 lĭng: línghún zhànlì zhe, línghún kĕwàng zhe, zài qīhēi de shùyè jiān xúnzhăo yī kuài 空地。在晕眩的沉默后面,有一个声音,徐徐松弛 kòngdì. zài yūn xuàn de chénmò hòumian, yŏu yī ge shēngyīn, xúxú sōngchí 成月色,那就是我们一直追求的光明马? chéng yuèsè, nà jiù shì wŏmen yī zhí zhuīqiú de guāngmíng ma? A: Lead: Our souls tremble, they thirst, searching for a space amidst the pitch-black leaves. Behind the vertiginous silence there is a sound, slowly melting into moonlight. Is this then the light we have been searching for? B: Solo: The soul grieves, the soul yearns for space in the leaf-choked darkness. A voice emerges from the giddy silence and melts into moonlight. Is this the light we’ve been seeking?


appendix 6. A: B:

合:哦,这么多人,这么多人! hé: ò, zhème duō rén, zhème duō rén! Chorus: Oh, so many! So many! Chorus: So many people. O so many people!

Translation A by Alisa Joyce and John Minford Translation B by Donald Finkel and Li Guohua No. 5 (II) 穿花 chuān huā A: Piercing the Flower B: Piercing the Flower 1. 诺日朗的宣喻 nuòrìlăng de xuān yù: A: This is the proclamation of Norlang: B: Nuo-ri-lang proclaims: 2. 唯一的道路是一条透明的路 wéi yī de dàolù shì yī tiáo tòumíng de lù A: The one road is a transparent road B: The only path is the transparent path. 3. A: B:

唯一的道路是一条柔软的路 wéi yī de dàolù shì yī tiáo róuruăn de lù The only road is a supple road The only path is the yielding path.

4. A: B:


5. A: B:

夕阳沉淀了,血流消融了 xīyáng chéndiàn le, xuè liú xiāoróng le The sunset has precipitated the flow of blood has melted The sun has set, the blood has thawed.

wŏ shuō, gēnsuí nà gŭ zàngē de quánshuĭ ba I say this: follow that stream of praise I say to you, follow that river of tribute.

6. 瀑布和雪山的向导 pùbù hé xuĕ shān de xiàngdăo

Comparative Analysis


A: Guide of the waterfall  of the snow mountain B: The spirits of mountain peaks and waterfalls, 7. A: B:


8. A: B:

从四面八方,跳舞而来,沐浴而来 cóng sìmiàn-bāfāng, tiàowŭ ér lái, mùyù ér lái Come from every corner,  dancing  to bathe come dancing from every side, freshly bathed,

xiàoróng dàngyàng tănlù yòuhuò de nŭxìng Women  smiling  rippling  naked  alluring women with gleaming smiles and inviting eyes

9. 超越虚幻,分享我的纯真 chāoyuè xūhuàn, fēnxiăng wŏ de chúnzhēn A: Transcend illusion  partake of my purity B: to transcend illusion, to share purity and my truth. Translation A by Alisa Joyce and John Minford Translation B by Donald Finkel and Li Guohua No. 5 (III) 煞鼓 shā gŭ A: Coda B: Muffling the Drum 1. 此刻,高原如猛虎,被透明的手指无垠的爱抚 cĭkè, gāoyuán rú mĕng hŭ , bèi tòumíng de shŏuzhí wúyín de àifŭ A: Now  the plateau like a raging tiger  receives the infinite caress of transparent fingers B: Right now the mountain is a ferocious tiger stroked by a vast translu cent hand


appendix 2. A: B:


3. A: B:


4. A: B:

树根像粗大的脚踝倔强的走着,孩子在流离中笑着 shù gēn xiàng cūdà de jiăohuái juéjiàng de zŏu zhe, háizi zài liúlí zhōng xiào zhe Tree roots  like thick ankles  keep stubbornly walking The homeless children  smile Tree roots stride like gigantic feet. Children roam about, laughing.

5. A: B:


6. A: B:


cĭkè, lángjí de sēnlín màn yán bèi róulìn de mĕi, cànlàn ér yánjùn de mĕi Now  The tousled forest spreads its ravaged beauty,  resplendent, stark beauty Right now the sprawling forest’s full of trampled beauty—stern and dazzling beauty— xiàng shānhóng, xiàng cūnzhuāng suìshí léiléi de huĭmiè gōngbù yŭzhòu de héxié Announcing  to the mountain torrent  to the gravel-heaped destruction of the village  the harmony of the universe revealing the harmony of the universe to the mountain torrents, to the glinting rubble of ruined villages

zūnyán hé xìnggé cóng sĭwáng lĭ zhànqĭ, línglán huā chuīzòu wŏ de shénshèng Pride identity  rise up from within death  the lily plays the music of my divinity Lilies-of-the-valley chant of my holiness. I gather my character and my dignity from the dead. wŏ de guāng, jíshĭ yŭnluò zhe nĭmen shí yĕ zhào liàng zhe nĭmen My light  illumines you  even in your meteoric  fall My light, even as it fails, brightens your golden summons.

Comparative Analysis


7. A: B:

那个金黄的召唤,把苦涩交给海,海永不平静 nà ge jīnhuáng de zhàohuàn, ba kŭsè jiāo gĕi hăi, hăi yŏng bù píngjìng A golden summons  returns anguish to the sea  the never-tranquil sea Leave bitterness to the sea, which is never at peace.

8. A: B:

在黑夜之上,在遗忘之上,在梦呓的呢喃和微微呼喊上 zài hēi yè zhi shàng, zài yíwàng zhi shàng, zài mèngyì de nínán hé wēiwēi hūhăn zhi shàng Over the black night  over oblivion  over the twittering, faint cry of dream talk Right now, beyond the dark night, beyond oblivion, beyond the murmuring dreams and the whispered summons,

9. A: B:

此刻,在世界中央。我说:活下去─ 人们 cĭkè, zài shìjiè zhōngyāng. wŏ shūo: huó xiàqù – rénmen Now  in the centre of the universe  I say: live on -– from the middle of the world I say to you: live on, my people.

10. A: B:

天地开创了。鸟儿啼叫着。一切仅仅是启示 tiāndì kāichuàng le. niăor tí jiào zhe. yīqiè, jĭnjĭn shì qĭshì Heaven and earth have begun.  Birds are calling. All  nearly  a revelation Heaven and earth have been created. The birds are twittering. All this is merely a revelation.

Translation A by Alisa Joyce and John Minford Translation B by Donald Finkel and Li Guohua No. 6 从我窗口望出去的街道 cóng wŏ chuāngkŏu wàng chūqù de jiēdào A: The Street outside My Window B: The Street I See from My Window 1. 从我窗口望出去的街道总是不下雨 cóng wŏ chuāngkŏu wàng chūqù de jiēdào zŏngshì bù xiàyŭ


appendix A: It never rains on the street outside my window. B: on the street I see from my window it never rains 2. 它镇静得像一把梳子 tā zhènjìng de xiàng yī ba shūzi A: As quiet as a comb B: it lies by my windowsill 3. A: B:

搁在窗台上 gē zài chuāngtái shàng It sits by my windowsill, composed and calm as a comb

4. A: B:

它在等待 一个不声不响的女人 tā zài dĕngdài yī ge bù shēng bù xiăng de nŭrén Waiting for a silent woman waiting for a silent woman

5. 像只累了的海鸥从海边飞来 xiàng zhī lèi le de hăi’ōu cóng hăibiān fēilái A: Like a tired gull flying from the sea B: flying in from shore like a tired seagull 6: A: B:

像粒石子两手抱紧自己 xiàng lì shízĭ liăng shŏu bàojĭn zìjĭ Or a stone hugging itself. hands hugging herself as tight as a pebble

7. A: B:

她背上 翻毛的灰色口袋里 tā bèi shàng fān máo de huīsè kŏudài li In the worn gray pack on her back, on her back in a furry grey satchel

8. A: B:

一只柠檬在悄悄改变形状 yī zhī níngméng zài qiāoqiāo găibiàn xíngzhuàng A lemon is changing shape. a lemon quietly changing shape

9. A: B:

从我窗口望出去的街道白雪皑皑 cóng wŏ chuāngkŏu wàng chūqù de jiēdào báixuĕ ái’ái The street outside my window is covered with snow the street I see from my window is white with snow

街上只有 10. 整个冬天 zhĕnggè dōngtiān jiē shàng zhī yŏu

Comparative Analysis A: All winter long, I have seen only B: all winter on the street only 11. A: B:

七只野猫和一个睡破汽车的男人 qī zhī yĕmāo hé yī ge shuì pò qìchē de nánrén Seven stray cats and a man sleeping in a run-down car— seven stray cats and a man sleeping in an abandoned car

12. A: B:

或者八双一模一样的眼睛 huòzhĕ bā shuāng yī mó yīyàng de yănjing Eight identical pairs of eyes, or eight identical pairs of eyes

13. 像被打空的麦粒毫无怨意 xiàng bèi dă kōng de màilì háo wú yuànyì A: Ungrudging like threshed wheat grains. B: empty husks, utterly free of resentment 14. A: B:

他们亲热得使我相信 tāmen qīnrè de shĭ wŏ xiāngxìn Their intimacy makes me believe so affectionate I am convinced

15. 他们已许下互相用尸体充饥的诺言 tāmen yĭ xŭ xià hùxiāng yòng shītĭ chōngjī de nuòyán A: They have promised to feed each other with their corpses B: they have promised to feed each other with their corpses 16. 和犹如保证的 最温柔地伏摸 hé yóurú băozhèng de zùi wēnróu de fŭ mō A: And guaranteed their gentlest touch. B: and, like a guarantee the gentlest of touching Translation A by Michelle Yeh Translation B by Brian Holton No. 7 死 诗人 的 城 sĭ shīrén de chéng A: The Dead Poets’ City B: City of Dead Poets 1. 并非只有活过的人 才配去死 bìng fēi zhĭyŏu huó guò de rén cái pèi qù sĭ



appendix A: Not only those who have lived deserve to die B: by no means only those who have lived deserve to die 2. A: B:

那些一生埋在寂静下的名字 nà xiē yīshēng mái zài jìjìng xià de míngzi Those whose names are buried in the silence of their one life those names buried lifelong beneath silence

3. A: B:

签署了寂静 这座被你亲手瓜分的城 qiānshŭ le jìjìng zhè zuò bèi nĭ qīnshŏu guāfēn de chéng Signed silence this city partitioned by your own hand have signed the silence this city you split with your own hand

4. A: B:

一条空旷的街伪装成送葬的队伍 yī tiáo kōngkuàng de jiē wĕizhuāng chéng sòngzàng de duìwŭ An empty street disguised as a funeral procession a deserted street pretending to be a funeral procession

5. A: B:

而月光铁一般坚硬 ér yuèguāng tiĕ yībān jiānyìng The moonlight is hard and sharp as iron and moonlight hard as iron

6. A: B:

白铁皮的手心里骨头框框响 báitiĕ pí de shŏuxīn li gūtou kuāngkuāng xiăng In palms like white metal bones creak bones clang in galvanised palms

7. A: B:

早被忘记的窗外 小鼓咚咚响 zăo bèi wàngjì de chuāng wài xiăogŭ dōngdōng xiăng The early forgotten outdoors the little drum beat outside long-forgotten windows snare drums rattle

8. A: B:

你生前删掉的每个字回来删掉你 nĭ shēng qián shān diào de mĕi ge zì huílai shān diào nĭ Every word you have deleted in your lifetime has returned to delete you every word you deleted in your life comes back to delete you

9. A: B:

毫不吝惜地删 狠很的删 háo bù lìnxī de shān hĕnhĕn de shān Delete mercilessly delete viciously unstintingly deletes wolfishly deletes

10. 删去世界后 标本中的脸更近更清晰 shān qù shìjiè hòu biāobĕn zhōng de liăn gēng jìn gēng qīngxī

Comparative Analysis


A: When the world is deleted the face in the fossil grows nearer and clearer B: the world deleted the face among the specimens is closer, clearer 11. A: B:

删去眼睛 目光就擦亮沿途的玻璃 shān qù yănjing mùguāng jiù cāliàng yántú de bōli Delete the eyes then eyelight will polish the glass in the path delete the eyes vision will sharpen the glass along the way

12. 雕刻一只线条纤细的鸟 diāokè yī zhĭ xiàntiáo xiānxì de niăo A: Engrave a bird in thin lines B: with delicate lines engrave a bird 13. A: B:

像你看着它被打碎的那一只 xiàng nĭ kàn zhe tā bèi dăsuì de nà yī zhĭ Like the one you saw broken like one that was shattered as you watched

14. A: B:

被揉皱 丢弃 墙角腐烂的手稿上 bèi róu zhòu diūqì qiángjiăo fŭlàn de shŏugăo shàng Folded abandoned on the decayed manuscript in the corner crumpled discarded on a manuscript rotting in a corner

15. A: B:

你最后的死已经很熟悉 nĭ zùi hòu de sĭ yĭjīng hĕn shúxī Your final death is already very familiar your final death is intimately familiar with

16. 一间等待移出死亡残害的老屋子 yī jiàn dĕngdài yí chū sĭwáng cánhái de lăo wūzi A: An antiquated room waiting to vacate the wreck B: An old room from which the wreckage of death waits to be removed Translation A by Li Xia Translation B by Brian Holton No. 8 其时其地 qí shí qí dì A: The Time, the Place B: The Time and the Place 1. 那座我回不去的老房子 nà zuò wŏ húi bù qù de lăo fángzi


appendix A: that old house I can’t go back to B: I can’t go back to that old house 2. A: B:

你也回不去了 虽然 ní yĕ húi bù qù le sūirán you can’t go back to now either even though Any more than you can even though

3. A: B:

那盏灯通宵亮着 听着窗外 nà zhăn dēng tōngxiāo liàng zhe tīng zhe chuāng wài as that lamp lights the whole evening up hearing outside the window A lamp shines there all night Hearing the tall dark shadow

4. A: B:

白杨高大的黑影 báiyáng gāo dà de hēi yĭng the polars’ tall black shadows Of the white polar outside the window

5. A: B:

你还在等 一阵荒凉的脚步声 ní hái zài dĕng yī zhèn huāngliáng de jiăobù shēng you’re still waiting for the desolate spatter of footsteps You’re still expecting some crescendo of eerie footsteps

6. A: B:

整个秋天 只有风来拜访 zhĕngge qiūtiān zhĭyŏu fēng lái bàifăng the entire autumn only the wind came visiting Through all autumn only the wind has come to call

7. A: B:

一一翻动那些红瓦 yīyī fān dòng nà xiē hóng wă upturning the red tiles one by one Turning over those red tiles one after another

8. A: B:

十月的连翘花黯淡如败壁颓垣 shíyuè de liánqiáo huā àndàn rú bài bì tuí yuán October’s forsythia blooms faint as the crumbling of ruined walls The Lianchi flowers which in October looks dismal as broken walls

9. A: B:

却在一个晚上突入你的梦境 què zài yī ge wănshang tū rù ní de mèngjìng yet on one evening it came charging into your dream Suddenly invade your dreams one night

10. 那时 谁将茕茕独自开放 nàshí shéi jiāng qióngqióng dúzì kāifàng

Comparative Analysis A: then who made the solitary brightness bloom B: And for the occasion blossom elegantly all by themselves 11. A: B:

在一座我回不去的熟悉的老房子 zài yī zuò wŏ húi bù qù de shúxī de lăo fángzi in a familiar old house I can’t go back to? At the old house which I know well but can’t go back to visit

12. A: B:

你回不去 陌生的旧日子 ní húi bù qù mòshēng de jiùrìzi you can’t go back to those bygone days You cannot go back either to old days that grow unfamiliar

13. A: B:

音乐的心悄悄停了 yīnyuè de xīn qiāoqiāo tíng le the music’s heart has quietly stopped The heart of music stopped beating without notice

14. A: B:

房子藏进它自己的忘却里 fángzi cáng jìn tā zìjĭ de wàngquè li the room conceals itself in its own forgetting The house hid in its own oblivion

15. A: B:

绿或睡眠包裹的树 一旦惊醒 lù huò shuìmián bāoguŏ de shù yī dàn jīngxing trees wrapped in green or sleep once awakened are Trees wrapped in green or sleep once awakened

16. A: B:

已片片凋零 yĭ piànpiàn diāolíng all withered, all fallen, all scattered have already withered one leaf after another

17. 旧日子还在 我们的手消失之处 jiùrìzi hái zài wŏmen de shŏu xiāoshī zhi chŭ A: bygone days still exist the place where our hands disappeared B: The old days still reside where our hands disappear 18. 名字 移开 谨守同一禁忌 míngzi yí kāi jĭn shŏu tōngyī jìnjì A: names move carefully obeying identical taboos B: Names removed cautiously respect the same taboo 19. 但每个清晨当鸟叫了 dàn mĕi ge qīngchén dàng niăo jiào le



appendix A: but early each morning as the birds sang B: But when birds start singing every morning 20. 你是否记得有一个黑暗 ní shì fŏu jìde yŏu yī ge hēi’àn A: did you remember there had been a darkness B: Do you or don’t you remember there’s a darkness 21. A: B:

自沉默中升起     倾倒出越来越远的 zì chénmò zhòng shēngqĭ qīngdăo chū yuè lái yuè yuăn de rising from silence overturning the ever farther Risen from silence pouring out a more and more

22. 地平线   另外星球上深黄波荡的水纹 dìpíngxiàn lìngwài xīngqiú shàng shēn huáng bōdàng de shuĭ wén A: horizon? on another planet the brown surge of rippling waters B: Remote horizon deep yellow undulating ridges on other planets 23. 所有路溶解 suŏyŏu lù róngjiĕ A: all roads dissolve B: All roads have dissolved 24. 这成了唯一的归途 zhè chéng le wéiyī de guītú A: This has become the only way home B: This track becomes the only way to return Translation A by Brian Holton Translation B by Fang Dai, Dennis Ding and Edward Morin No. 9 老故事(五) lăo gùshì (wŭ) A: Old Story 5 B: Old Story – 5 1. A: B:

当你醒时天空僵硬 dāng ní xĭng shí tiānkōng jīangyìng as you wake the sky is rigid When you awaken the sky is stiff

2. 一生写下的字迹群星散去 yīshēng xiĕ xià de zìjī qún xīng sàn qù

Comparative Analysis A: stars scatter a lifetime’s handwriting B: The traces of words written in a lifetime scatter like stars 3. A: B:

骨节里阵阵风声 gŭjié li zhènzhèn fēngshēng in your joints the sound of blustery wind In bone joints gusts of howling wind

4. A: B:

你被翻动 如一页疯狂的白纸 ní bèi fāndòng rú yī yè fēngkuáng de báizhĭ you’re turned over like an insane sheet of white paper You are turned Like a page of demented white paper

5. A: B:

记忆中的名字都不看你 jìyì zhōng de míngzi dōu bù kàn ní names in your memory ignore you Names in memories do not look at you

6. A: B:

两扇相邻的窗户 liăng shàn xiàng lín de chuānghu two neighbouring windows Two adjoining windows

7. A: B:

推开你脸上两个无关的春天 tuī kāi ní liăn shàng liăng ge wúguān de chūntiān push two irrelevant springtimes open in your face Open two unrelated springtimes on your face

8. A: B:

老太阳说 凡距离皆无垠 lăo tàiyáng shuō fán jùlí jiē wúyín old sun says every distance is limitless The old sun says All distance is limitless

9. A: B:

你的呼吸之外 遍布胆小的死者 ní de hūxī zhi wài biànbù dănxiăo de sĭzhĕ beyond your breathing the timid dead are everywhere Beyond your brathing Spread everywhere are the timid dead

10. A: B:

逃犯一再更换地址 táofàn yī zài gēng huàn dìzhĭ escaped convicts time and again change addresses Escape prisoners once again changing addresses

11. 树木不可触摸的绿更换日子 shùmù bù kĕ chù mō de lù gēng huàn rìzi



appendix A: the untouchable green of the trees changes days B: Unreachable green of trees changing days 12. A: B:

凡致命的蓝皆漆黑 fán zhìmìng de lán jiē qīhēi every fatal blue is pitch black Fatal blue is totally black

13. A: B:

老太阳坠入蛆虫潮湿的眼神 lăo tàiyáng zhuì rù qū chóng cháoshī de yănshén old sun sinks into the moist look of maggots Old sun drops into moist maggot-infested eyes

14. A: B:

谁都不在这里 你钉在 shéi dōu bù zài zhèli ní dīng zài there’s no one here you are nailed to No-one is here You are nailed into

15. A: B:

没人讲述的故事上 méi rén jiăngshù de gùshi shàng a story no one tells A story about nobodies

16. 每天复活 玷污着白昼 mĕi tiān fùhuó diànwū zhe báizhòu A: resurrected each morning to sully the daylight B: Each day you return to life To tarnish the daylight Translation A by Brian Holton Translation B by Mabel Lee

Concluding Remarks The comparison between the Chinese texts and their translations makes the task of identifying certain textual devices and aesthetic features in the source text easier. It is, for example, more easily noticeable that the source text presents an abstract or universal vocabulary, or concrete or culture-specific imagery, or that the line structure employs fewer or different prepositional phrases, etc. Hence, the comparative analysis documents a number of issues linked to the process of cultural transfer and the nature of poetic language in general. Although the comparative analysis is conducted on a relatively small number of poems in the rather extensive oeuvre of Yang Lian, neveretheless the consistency of the shifts found in this mini-corpus points to the recurrence of specific patterns of stylistic techniques that are likely to constitute this writer’s specific approach to poetic writing.

Comparative Analysis


An analysis of the grammatical elements reveals that translations, when compared with the original texts, have a relatively lower ratio of content words to functional words. Indeed, this study identifies a considerable number of shifts as additions of prepositions, pronouns, adverbs, etc. Many shifts pertaining to the category of function words increase cohesion and, consequently, also the number of explanations. Frequent shifts pertain to the rendering of a more conventional, prose-like narrative. In line 3 of Poem 1, for example, whereas the source text displays no enjambment or change of subject, translation B provides a more continuous narrative, by connecting line 3 to line 2. Thus, what is rendered by translator A as “Emptiness like a dead bird soars across your face”, is rendered by translator B as “is blank as if a dead bird circled above your face”, justifying the line’s syntax by introducing if. Similarly, in line 4 of the same poem, “the funeralfollowing moon a broken hand”, is rendered in translation A as “funeral moon is a broken hand”, by adding a copula. At a macro level, these shifts may result in a more rational text than the original. As for the addition of personal pronouns, this may have a considerable impact on the degree of subjectvtity in the overall text. The study of lexical items shows that cases of semantic specification outnumber cases of generalization. To give an example from Poem 1, translator A explains 缺席 qūexí (‘absent’), in line 6, by translating it as do not exist. These types of shifts, when accumulated, may have an impact on the text’s degree of emotionality, therefore resulting in a shift at the textual macro level. A further consideration derived from an observation of the semantic shifts concerns the concept of ‘literality’. ‘Literal meaning’ is usually defined as referring to the primary meaning given to a word in the dictionary, and it is often confused with what is aptly called ‘salient meaning’, “the most conventional, familiar, and/or frequent meaning of a lexical unit in a given speech community” (Ran 2006, 131−51). An empirical demonstration of this conceptual problem is provided by two words in lines 1 and 2 of Poem 5(III): 透明 tòumíng (line 1) and 蹂躏 róulìn (line 2). Translation A renders these two words according to their ‘literal meaning’ and conventional usage (tòumíng as ‘transparent’ and róulìn as ‘ravaged’). However, translation B’s attention to the etymological formation in the two Chinese words results in an even more literal rendition. Bearing in mind that the second character of the binomial tòumíng is the one used for ‘light’, translators B decide to use ‘translucent’. In this way, they capitalizes upon the formal structure of the target term in a way that is analogous to the way the original author capitalized upon the potential of the Chinese morphological pattern. This is even more evident in the case of róulìn, in which the graphic expressivity of the radical zú 足 (foot) is carried over in the word ‘trampled’ but is normalized in translation A. It appears that Li Xia’s version of Poem 7 adopts a translation strategy that aims for the literal. Consider, for example, the following renditions: she choses one life to translate 一生 yīshēng (‘lifelong’), hard and sharp for 坚硬 jiānyìng (‘hard’), white metal for 白铁 báitiĕ (‘galvanized’), outdoors for 窗外 chuāng wài (‘outside’), little drum for 小鼓 xiăogŭ (‘drum’), eyelight for 目光 mùguāng (‘vision’), and finally in the path to translate 沿途 yántú (‘along the way’). Li Xia’s



technique seems to be that of translating both characters of the binomial compound, rather than taking them as one single word. Generally speaking, this strategy has the overall effect of ‘exoticizing’ the target text, in a manner similar to the one used by Imagist poets at the beginning of the twentieth century. Despite the exoticism of the aforementioned strategy, there are cases in which the translation of each character, as opposed to the translation of the word compound, may have unexpected advantages. For example, in the case of this poem, one life, instead of ‘lifelong’, comes to emphasize the dichotomous opposition between the two kinds of lives and the two kinds of deaths mused upon in the poem. The translation of báitiĕ as white metal has the advantage of containing a reference to the colour white, thereby highlighting the association made in the poem with the moonlight—that is to say that the skin of the hand appears white because of the moonlight. This is not present in the more technical ‘galvanized’, which draws attention to the electrochemical process. On the other hand, the use of a more specialized term, such as ‘galvanized’, but also the scientific specimens (line 10), may have the aim of ‘cooling down’ the tone of the overall poem. One final instance of interest in relation to the lexicon is to be found in the use of homophony. For example, in Poem 5(III), lines 2 and 5, the use of the binomial compound 漫延 màn-yán, instead of 蔓延 mànyán, and the use of the trinomial compound 铃蓝花 líng-lán-huā, instead of 铃兰花 línglánhuā, show an anomaly in the choice of characters, which may indicate a creative use of language. This could be equalled by an unconventional spelling of words in English. In general, this study has not recorded any colloquialisms employed in the source text, or any particularly elevated lexicon or structure, and very few culture-specific elements. One of the textual devices that is in the source text aims to create a contrast, or a balance, between abstract and concrete vocabulary. This produces a kind of counterpoint, or dichotomous poetics, where the motives of life/reality and writing/poetry are contrasted. The syntax of line 8, in poem 7: “every word you deleted in your life comes back to delete you”, in which the former subject becomes the object and the former object becomes the subject, reproduces this kind of counterpoint as well. Sometimes the original text is simplified in a more predictable way. The prosody of the poem may have been sacrificed, or content interpretation privileged over formal significance. Repetitions and parallelisms are deleted or smoothed down, particularly when they might sound too insistent, according to the latinpetrarcan rhetorical rule of variatio. For example, in line 9 of Poem 1, the word 声音 shēngyīn (‘voice’, ‘sound’) is in echo-rhyme with line 11. However, this kind of sound repetition has been avoided in the translations. In Poem 7, rhythm is conveyed in the repetitions of certain words, or parts of words: 寂静 jìjìng in lines 2 and 3; 铁 tiĕ in lines 5 and 6; 响xiăng in lines 6 and 7; 你nĭ repeated at the beginning and at the end of line 8; 删 shān in lines 8, 9, 10 and 11; 死 sĭ in lines 15 and 16. This poem is structured in two stanzas of eight lines each. The same structure is encountered in Poem 1 and 6, while Poem 3 also presents two identical stanzas, in this case of three lines each; Poem 9 comprises a total of 16 lines.

Comparative Analysis


A different tendency from the one recognized in the majority of the translations examined is shown in translation A of Poem 6, in which a higher number of semantic generalizations and a general tendency to reduce the length of the sentence in the target language is recognizable. This is achieved not only by lexical choice, but also by deleting conjunctions (line 12), prepositions (lines 6 and 16) and adverbs (lines 8 and 13), and by nominalizing verbal clauses (the title and line 1). Very few shifts have been encountered in the category of the usually predominant function words. Some peculiar shifts have been recorded in the rendition of the following recurrent construction in Yang Lian’s poems: Subject + Subordinate Clause (Comparison Verb + O) + V + O This occurs in the sentence: 高原如猛虎,被透明的手指无垠的爱抚 the plateau, like a raging tiger, receives the infinite caress of transparent fingers This syntactical structure can also be interpreted as: S + Comparison Verb + O (S + V + O) the mountain is (like) a ferocious tiger stroked by a vast translucent hand This kind of difference can produce various effects. Above all, it leads to an increased rationalization of the metaphor in so far as it now becomes restricted to the object of the similitude, and is no longer extended to the subject. Consequently, it extends the distance between the reader and the poetic world. In addition, the different interpretation at the grammatical level can produce a shift in imagery. A comparison between translations A and B of lines 5 and 6 in Poem 6 provides a clear example of this: 像只累的海鸥从海边飞来/ 像粒石子两手抱紧自己 A: Like a tired gull flying from the sea/ or a stone hugging itself B: flying in from shore like a tired seagull/ hands hugging herself as tight as a pebble Shifts pertaining to the stylistic subcategories of parallel constructions (in which are also included cases of simple repetition) may diminish the stress of some lines. Some of these shifts are strictly related to the various constraints of the languages concerned. For example, in Poem 6, whereas in Chinese it is possible to keep the same unaltered clause in the title, and the first and ninth lines (从我 窗口望出去的街道), in English, its combination with meteorological phenomena requires the introduction of the subject it (“It never rains”), and consequently, what in the title is rendered as a noun (“The Street Outside My Window”), in the first line must become a locative clause (“on the street outside my window”). With respect to punctuation marks, this study has described as shifts the deletions of the blank spaces frequently used in the Chinese text as rhythmic pauses. The example of line 4 in Poem 6 can be regarded as a textbook example of the stylistic significance of such spaces:


appendix 它在等待


Waiting for a silent woman

The blank here emphasizes the semantic meaning of the line, where the action of waiting is stressed by a physical space on the page. It appears that shifts typically occur when there is a moment of uncertainty in the source text; a gap; or an ambiguity that leads to different interpretations in the translations. This last consideration indicates that perhaps the experiment is successful, because Yang Lian’s poetry is modernistic in nature, thus offering a very good case for this kind of descriptive analysis. On a much more limited scale, I have tested this methodology on other poetic texts from other languages, but, admittedly, the samples have always been modern or contemporary texts. In a couple of instances I have also used translations of classical Chinese poetry, although it could be argued that this form of poetry takes an approach to creativity that is similar to modernist poetry. Overall, it is clear that the textual features highlighted in this analysis can be considered aesthetically relevant. They can be viewed as specific textual details upon which the creativity of the poetic text may depend. In addition, these findings could also be used in future research on the history of English aesthetics.

Portraits of the Translators Tony Barnstone Tony Barnstone is a poet, and son of the poet and translator Willis Barnstone. He is Albert Upton Professor of English Language and Literature at Whittier College, in California, and the author of four pluri-awarded books of poetry, and the editor of five anthologies of translations of Chinese poetry: Chinese Erotic Poems (2007), The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry (2005), The Art of Writing: Teachings of the Chinese Masters (1996), Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese Poetry (1993), and Laughing Lost in the Mountains: Poems of Wang Wei (1991). He has also published three world literature textbooks. As he states in an autobiographical article published on the Internet (http://, while on a one-year teaching trip in Beijing, he became acquainted with some Chinese ‘underground poets’ from the Misty School (in particular, Bei Dao, Beiling 贝岭, Yang Lian and Mang Ke 芒克) and decided to “promote their poetry” in translation. His decision to edit an anthology of their poetry, however, was only made after the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests: In a strange land, surviving in a foreign tongue, their work unknown, these poets were in dire straights, and my decision to put together an anthology was motivated by a desire to help them in their exile by presenting their work in English. I will say, also, that Out of the Howling Storm was a book I wrote in my late 20s, and that for the most part I've avoided translating contemporary Chinese poetry for the past 20 years, choosing instead to focus on older work because there are structural elements in classical Chi-

Comparative Analysis


nese poetry that make me more comfortable with the translation process (the end-stopped lines, the rhetorical parallelism, the limited literary vocabulary, and so on).  However, I was particularly interested in the experimental elements of contemporary Chinese poetry at that time, and as I say in my introduction I saw it as part of a back-and-forth with western Modernist poetry in which Pound, Williams and others were influenced deeply by classical Chinese use of images and parallelism and then the Misty poets were influenced by the currents of Modernism that they encountered in translation.  The use of fragmentation, image rhyme, generative ambiguity, puns and implication, make for very interesting parallels.8 Like most translators-poets, Barnstone appears to have conceived a target text that conforms to his idea of poetry. In an interview conducted by (but unfortunately no longer available), he stated that his poetry expresses the need to “create a sense of deepening, of intensity in tone and image.” His interest in Chinese poetry began with an extensive reading of the classics of Chinese literature, which had a significant influence on his own poetry.9 Dennis Ding10 Dennis Ding was born in south-west China and graduated with a degree in foreign language and literature from Guizhou University. He has taught English for several years at Guizhou University, where he is currently Chair of the Department of Foreign Languages. He has translated numerous literary works from English to Chinese, such as material by T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Robert Frost, William Carlos William, Theodore Roethke, Saul Bellow, Ernest Hemingway and other popular novelists. He has studied as a visiting scholar at Oakland University, in Michigan (1985−1986) and at Oxford University, in England (1988). He contributed to the translation of contemporary Chinese poetry for the anthology The Red Azalea (Morin 1990). Fang Dai11 Fang Dai was born in Shanghai and graduated from secondary school during the Cultural Revolution. In 1982, he graduated with a degree in Chinese literature and language from East China Normal University. Soon after graduation, he obtained a fellowship to study comparative literature abroad. Since 1983, he has been living in the United States, first in Ann Arbour, Michigan, and most recently in New York City, where he teaches Chinese literature at Hunter College. He is the author of three novels in Chinese (The Third Desire, The Curtain of Night and Boasters’

8 This quotation is an excerpt from e-mail correspondence dated 22 December 2010. 9 Ibid. 10 I have not been able to establish personal contact with this translator. The following biographical notes are taken from the website: (accessed on 17 October 2010). 11 Ibid.



Room 303) and has contributed to the translation of contemporary Chinese poetry for the anthology The Red Azalea (Morin 1990). Donald Finkel Donald Alexander Finkel was a poet and sculptor who died in 2008, aged 79. In 1952, Finkel graduated with a degree in philosophy from Columbia University, but continued his studies with a master’s degree in English. He taught for 31 years at Washington University in St. Louis and was poet-in-residence there until his death. Of his fifteen books, two have been nominated for the National Book Critics’ Circle Award, another was a finalist for the National Book Award, and one received the Dictionary of Literary Biography’s 1994 Yearbook Award. His poetry is characterized by lengthy free verse, generally in a colloquial style. He was cotranslator for the anthology A Splintered Mirror. In this case, as in all of the other cases in which translators are also poets in their own right, the reading of communal translations is likely to encourage a focus on the individual artistic abilities of the translator/ anthologist/poet.12 Seán Golden Seán Golden was born in London, in 1948, to Irish parents who emigrated to the USA. He graduated from Holy Cross College, and received an MA and a PhD. from the University of Connecticut, specializing in modernism and the works of James Joyce. He taught Irish and Modern literature at the University of Notre Dame before going to China in 1980 and teaching there for about three years. At present, he is Full Professor of Eastern Asia Studies, and Director of the Institute for International and Intercultural Studies at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. He edited Soft Day: A Miscellany of Contemporary Irish Writing with Peter Fallon in 1980. He collaborated to the translation of 100 Modern Chinese Poems, including some of Yang Lian’s poems, and an anthology of Gu Cheng’s 顾城 poetry. He has also translated Xunzi’s 荀子 The Art of War and Laozi’s 老子 Daode jing 道德经 into Catalan and is working on Catalan translations of Da xue 大学, Zhong yong 中庸 and Xiao jing 孝经. His translations of Yang Lian’s poems have been anthologized, together with other authors’ works, in Trees on the Mountain: An Anthology of New Chinese Writing, Seeds of Fire: Chinese Voices of Conscience and The Columbia Anthology of Modern Chinese Literature. He has also published articles on translator training and on the difficulties of cross-cultural transfer in the translation of texts widely separated in space and time (such as ancient Chinese texts in modern European ­languages), as well as articles and books on Chinese political thought and con­tem­porary Chinese politics and international relations. Golden became involved in translating contemporary Chinese literature in the early 1980s, while resident in China. He wanted to disseminate the work of younger Chinese writers and artists outside of China and save them from obliv12 Information on this poet has been found in various articles. Cf also the author’s profile available on: (accessed on 18 October 2010).

Comparative Analysis


ion. That made his work during that time a very intense and politicized experience. In the last two decades, Golden has been more involved with classical Chinese: By the end of the '80s, with the death of some members of the group, with the massacre in Beijing in 1989, and with Gu Cheng’s murder of his wife and his own suicide, just two weeks after being with me here in Barcelona, I distanced myself from such a close involvement with contemporary matters and began working with classical texts. Over the last few years I have begun working with contemporary Chinese writers again, but not in the field of literature.13 Brian Holton Brian Holton was born in 1949, in Galashiels, in the Scottish Border country, but grew up partly in Nigeria, the son of an Irish father who was bilingual in English and French, fluent in Hausa and West African Pidgin, and competent in Yoruba; his mother was a natural Border Scots speaker. After an old-fashioned Scottish education in classical Greek, French and Latin, he studied Chinese at the universities of Edinburgh and Durham, two institutions where he later taught Chinese language and literature. He was the first programme director of the ChineseEnglish/English-Chinese translation programme at Newcastle University; he then went on to teach translation for ten years at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. He plays Scottish and Irish traditional music on whistles, smallpipes, guitar, bouzouki and dulcimer. He began publishing his Scots translations of the classical Chinese novel Shuihu Zhuan 水浒传 (Water Margin) in 1981, but has so far been unable to find a publisher willing to take the book on. In 1992 he began a continuing working relationship with the poet Yang Lian, which has so far resulted in a dozen books of translated poetry, including five main collections: Non-Person Singular (Wellsweep 1994), Where the Sea Stands Still (Bloodaxe Books 1999), Notes of a Blissful Ghost (Renditions 2002), Concentric Circles (2005) and Lee Valley Poems (2009). Holton’s translation of Where the Sea Stands Still was a UK Poetry Book Society Recommended Translation for 1999. He has always discussed his draft translations with the poet. In his essay “Translating Yang Lian”, published as postface in Where the Sea Stands Still, he says: When we discuss these English poems, Yang and I talk of them as ‘ours’, not ‘his’ or ‘mine’, and in fact they are a collaborative effort. Once a near-final draft has emerged, it goes back to him for a detailed reading. His comments and ideas are noted, acted on or debated, and in this way we slowly come to a final version.

13 This quotation is an excerpt from an e-mail interview dated 20 December 2010.



In general, it can be said that Holton’s strengths lie in his attention to the acoustic dimension of the poem, as well as its iconicity. He also translated Where the Sea Stands Still into a Scottish version. In his essay “Translating Transgression”, which opens the anthology Notes of a Blissful Ghost, he writes: As I translate, it is rhythm which guides me, and as I revise, I am feeling for the music in the line, the music that will in some way replicate something of the rolling power of Yang’s own lines. As revealed in a private conversation, Holton decided to study Chinese after reading Waley's translations of classical poetry, in his final year of high school. Besotted by poetry as a child, he nevertheless began to pay attention to contemporary Chinese poetry only in 1989, when John Cayley asked him to translate a few Yang Lian’s poems for the Under-Sky Underground anthology (WellSweep 1994). There is for me a deep joy in translation, the same joy a musician feels in a well-executed tune, or a tailor in a well-fitting jacket: the craftsman's delight in extending his or her range, and the deep joy of taking a risk with a difficult text, and seeing it come out well.14 He is currently working with W. N. Herbert on a new anthology of contemporary Chinese poetry for Bloodaxe Books. Alisa Joyce15 Alisa Joyce studied Chinese at Middlebury College in the United States and at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. She also taught English at Peking Normal University. Mabel Lee Mabel Lee was born in Australia and grew up in a bilingual household, speaking Cantonese and English. She enrolled as an undergraduate in Chinese Studies at the University of Sydney, studying predominantly Chinese classical texts. She then continued her studies with a PhD on late-Qing intellectual history, with a focus on economic thought. Mabel Lee is currently Adjunct Professor of Chinese Studies at the School of Languages & Cultures at the University of Sydney, and Honorary Professor in the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences at the Open University of Hong Kong. Her scholarly publications focus on the literature and intellectual history of China from the late nineteenth to the early twentieth century, but since the 1990s she has also turned to introducing contemporary Chinese writers to the Englishspeaking world. 14 I personally interviewed Brian Holton in the summer of 2001, when he was working and living in Hong Kong. I conducted a second interview by email, on 28 December 2010. 15 Unfortunately, this is the only piece of information I have managed to retrieve on this translator.

Comparative Analysis


Her activity as a literary translator began when Yang Lian, who arrived in Australia in the mid-1980s, asked her to translate two of his cycles of poems. She has since translated three collections of poetry by Yang Lian: Masks and Crocodile and The Dead in Exile were both published in 1990, and Yi, although translated since 1990, found a publisher only in 2002. In early 1991, together with Yang Lian, Mabel Lee first met the playwright Gao Xingjian in Paris. Gao Xingjian presented her with a copy of his novel Soul Mountain. Lee’s translation of Soul Mountain (July 2000) brought her inter­ national recognition when, three months later, Gao Xingjian was declared the 2000 Nobel Laureate for Literature. She went on to translate Gao’s second novel, One Man’s Bible (September 2002); a collection of his short stories, Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather (February 2004); and a book of critical essays The Case for Literature (2006). Mabel Lee is co-founder and now sole director of Wild Peony Pty Ltd, which has produced 38 titles and marketed them internationally through the University of Hawaii Press. Wild Peony publications are aimed at promoting a better understanding of Asian cultures in the English-speaking world, and at promoting the work of Australian academics, writers and translators. Recognizing the primary importance of translation in promoting cross-cultural understanding, Wild Peony publishes a large number of literary translations from Japanese, Chinese and Korean texts. Lee is also an editorial adviser at Southerly, and serves on the editorial boards of the Sydney-based Literature & Aesthetics, the Hong Kong-based Renditions: A Chinese-English Translation Magazine, and the Purdue University-based Comparative Literature and Culture. “I am not a professional translator”, she stated in a paper presented at the Open University of Hong Kong: I have never accepted a publisher’s commission for a translation. I have only translated works that resonate linguistically, intellectually and aesthetically with me. That I started translating the work of Yang Lian and Gao Xingjian is related to China’s historical circumstances, and to various chance occurrences. It was also my task to find publishers during the 1990s, and that was a time when publishers in the English-speaking world had no interest in publishing Chinese authors, and even less interest in publishing translations of their work … Without ever having read a single work on translation theory, or even thought about the act of translation, I had established an international reputation as a translator through having translated Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain. Since then, I have reflected on how I had trained myself in the art of translation, and how I had been drawn to translating the work of these two Chinese writers when translation did nothing to enhance my career as an academic.16

16 I interviewed Mabel Lee by e-mail between December 2010 and January 2011. This quotation is taken from “My Experience as a Literary Translator: A Case Study”, a paper delivered at the Open University of Hong Kong, on 10 January 2011.



Li Guohua17 Li Guohua. Co-translator with Donald Finkel. Li Xia Li Xia is Senior lecturer in Chinese at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, at the University of Newcastle, Australia. Her research interests include Chinese literature and literary criticism, comparative literature and linguistics, and the theory and practice of translation. She has published various articles and translations, and two books entitled Ying’er. The Kingdom of Daughters (1995) and Essays, Interviews, Recollections and Unpublished Material of Gu Cheng. 20th Century Chinese Poet: The Poetics of Death (1999).18 Liu Newton Newton X. Liu was born in Shaanxi Province. After graduating with a degree in Chemistry from Jilin University, he worked for three years as a lab technician.  Upon moving to the USA, he switched to the study of rhetoric. He obtained his doctorate from the University of California at Berkeley, having produced a thesis entitled Poetry as Modernization: “Misty Poetry” of the Cultural Revolution. He taught English composition at Berkeley as a graduate student. He has written several travel-inspired pieces, and also fiction, poetry and essays, and continues to translate contemporary Chinese poetry and essays. He co-founded and currently serves as Vice-president of Bridge to Asia, a non-profit organization that promotes the development of education in Asia.  Newton Liu co-translated a number of contemporary Chinese poems together with Tony Barnstone, for the anthology Out of the Howling Storm. In the course of electronic correspondence,19 Newton Liu stated that his interest in contemporary Chinese poetry began as the result of his reaction to the Cultural Revolution when he was still a child. Misty Poetry, in particular, “was like nutrition to my hungered heart and soul”. He cherished the language, the passion, and the aspirations of that generation of poets, and wanted to share all of this with the English-speaking readership. In addition to the purpose of disseminating contemporary Chinese poetry, Newton Liu also pursued poetry translation as an activity that would facilitate the process of learning and mastering English. John Minford John Minford was born in Birmingham, England, in 1946. He received a classical education in Greek and Latin literature, before studying Chinese at Oxford University under the tutorship of David Hawkes, the famous sinologist and trans17 I have not been able to establish contact with Li Guohua, nor have I found any information on his life or career. 18 This information was taken from Li Xia’s website: staff/profile/li.xia.html (accessed on 11 November 2010). All attempts to contact this translator have been unsuccessful. 19 Dated 8 January 2011.

Comparative Analysis


lator of classical Chinese poetry. He then continued his studies, obtaining a PhD from the Australian National University, where he is currently the Head of the China and Korea Centre. He has also been an editor at Renditions, a general editor at Renditions Paperbacks, and the Director of the Research Centre for Translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. His translations include the last 40 chapters of The Story of the Stone, published by Penguin Classics; Xunzi’s The Art of War; and the martial-arts classic The Deer and the Cauldron. He is coeditor of the anthologies Trees on the Mountain and Seeds of Fire. Most recently, he has been commissioned by Viking/Penguin for new translations of the Chinese classics The Book of Changes and the Daode jing by Laozi. Minford became involved with the translation of contemporary Chinese poetry in the early 1980s, while living in China (Tianjin, 1980-2), where he met Yang Lian through his father. From 1982 to 1986 he was able to translate and publish a number of young writers, in his capacity as an editor at Renditions: I very much enjoyed the experience of entering into a creative collaboration with these brave young talents, and became a close friend of both Yang Lian and Gu Cheng, both of whom I invited to New Zealand.  That period was an exciting time for creative artists generally within the PRC. After the disaster of 1989, and the subsequent 'rise' of the neo-capitalist Police State China, I have distanced myself progressively further and further from the contemporary scene. In retropsect, much of the artistic drive and excitement of the poetry of that period (the 1980s) stemmed from the political context.20 He has, however, continued to translate, most recently the work of the Hong Kong poet Leung Ping-kuan 梁秉钧. Edward Morin Edward Morin, originally from Chicago, has a Master’s degree in English from the University of Chicago and a PhD in English from Loyola University (Chicago). He lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has taught English and creative writing at four universities in the United States, most recently at Wayne State University, in Detroit. His co-translations with Lefteris Pavlides of modern Greek poems have appeared in Crosscurrents, Chariton Review, New Letters, Webster Review, and other magazines. A large number of his own poems have been published in many North American magazines, and in the single-authored collection entitled The Dust of Our City (1978). He has also written and performed songs, some of which are available on the cassette Transportation: Hot Tunes and Blues from Motor City (Redbud Productions, 1988). He is editor and co-translator of the anthology The Red Azalea (1990).21 20 This quotation is an excerpt from an e-mail interview dated 19 December 2010. 21 These biographical notes are from the website a-poetry-congeries-with-john-hoppenthaler/498-cai-qijiao-poetry-in-translation(accessed on October 2010). I have not been able to establish personal contact with this translator.



Michelle Yeh Michelle Yeh received her BA in English from National Taiwan University and her Master’s degree and doctorate in comparative literature from the University of Southern California. She is a professor in the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at the University of California, Davis. She translated three poems by Yang Lian in her Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry (1992). She is also the author of Modern Chinese Poetry: Theory and Practice since 1917 (1991), four books in Chinese, and the chapter on the modern and contemporary period in The Cambridge History of Chinese Literature (2010). Among her translations and edited books are: Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry (1992), No Trace of the Gardener: Poems of Yang Mu (co-translated with Lawrence R. Smith, 1998), Frontier Taiwan: An Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry (co edited with N.G.D. Malmqvist, 2001), Sailing to Formosa (2006) and A Lifetime Is a Promise to Keep: Poems of Huang Xiang (2009). Yeh views the act of translating contemporary Chinese poetry as a “natural extension” of her studies, which cover the entire history of modern poetry from China and Taiwan.22 Yang Lian Yang Lian was born in Bern, Switzerland in 1955, the son of a diplomat. In the year of his birth, he and his family returned to Beijing, China. During the Cultural Revolution, he was sent down to rural Guanxi province. He returned to Beijing in 1977 and, in 1979, he began contributing to the literary magazine Jintian (Today), founded by Bei Dao and Mang Ke one year earlier. The first translations of Yang Lian’s poems were made by John Minford, who was then the editor of the translation magazine Renditions. In the Summer of 1988, Yang Lian travelled to Australia to take part in various cultural events. Invited by John Minford to visit the University of Auckland, he left Australia for New Zealand in the beginning of 1989. With the June Fourth military crackdown, Yang Lian began his “floating life”. Soon after the massacre, because of his outspoken support for the protesters in Tiananmen, two of his collections, 黄 Huang (Yellow) and 人的自觉 Ren de zijue (The Self-Awakening of Man) were banned and destroyed. Consequently, he decided to become a citizen of New Zealand, and has since resided in Australia, Germany, the United States and the UK. He currently lives in London with his wife, Youyou 友友. His period of exile ended in 1993, when he made a short trip back to China. Yang Lian should be regarded as a successful poet. He has been widely translated and was awarded the Italian Flaiano International Prize for Poetry in 1999 and the Premio Nonino in 2012. A major part of his work has been collected in three volumes, all published by Shanghai wenyi chuban she: Dahai dingzhi zhi chu. Yang Lian zuopin. 1982−1997 (Where the Sea Stands Still. Works by Yang Lian. 1982−1997); Guihua. Zhili de 22 This statement was made by the scholar in the course of e-mail correspondence on 29 December 2010.

Comparative Analysis


kongjian. Yang Lian zuopin. 1982−1997 (Ghostspeak. The Intellectual Space. Works by Yang Lian. 1983−1997); and Xinfu guihun shouji. Yang Lian zuopin. 1998−2002 (Happy Ghost Notes. Works by Yang Lian. 1998−2002). At the end of 2010, Beijing Hua xia chuban she published the autobiographical collection Xushi shi (Narrative Poems).23

23 An excellent source on Yang Lian’s work is the website http://www.nzepc.auckland., produced for the New Zealand Electronic Poetry Centre by Hilary Chung, Head of the School of Asian Studies at the University of Auckland. More information is also available on Yang Lian’s webpage: index.html (accessed on 3 April 2011).



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Index Note: Extended discussion of topics is indicated by bold face. Sporadic treatment of a subject across a series of pages is indicated by the word passim. “Absence” (Quexi 缺席) (poem by Yang Lian), 106 absence (the blank): death as extreme absence, 106–107; and the loss of truth, and meaning, 106–107; and poetry imaged as a tombstone, 107, See also emptiness/absence; exile acoustics, “euphony” in the evocative translations of Holton, 116; as feature of Yang’s poems, 69–72; as a feature of Cayley’s translations, 116–117, 162 adequate translation, 5, 16–18 aesthetics: of Chineseness, 7, 27; and fluency, 9n2, 41, 45, 65–66; and literary taste as outside the parameters of this study, 111; revealed by critical activity of translation, 1, 3–4, 18n9, 24n8, 27, 34–35, 45, 73, 110, 154–158; and the selection of poetry for translation, 163; the temporal aesthetic of the Book of Changes, 86–87, 89, 100; of textual devices, 109, 157–158 ambiguity: as a feature of Yang Lian’s work, 7, 115, 158, 159; created by non-univocal signs, 61–62; and the cultural specificity of poetic language, 2; discouraged by lexical specification, 79; evoked by the awareness of death, 107; of polysemic puns, 60, 79, 89, 93, 104, 113; produced by Chinese figurative constructions, 57–58, 109; of the semantic relations between words of different languages, 19–20, 31; temporal ambiguity, 42–44; of the text world created by a collage of images, 50–51; and the textual energy of knots of language, 72–73, 104 Appiah, Kwame Anthony, 115 architranseme (ATR), 16–18 Attridge, Derek, 64 autumn. See seasons Baker, Mona, 23n15, 31n4 Barnstone, Tony (translator): biographical details, 158–159; co-translation of poem no. 4 “An Elegy for Poetry”, 135–140;

translation viewed as forgery by, 2 Barthes, Roland: on the denotation and connotation, 19; on reading as a creative activity, 11–12, 76n2, 91n21 Bei Dao 北岛, 93, 158, 166 Beiling 贝岭 , 158 Benjamin, Walter, 1, 13–15 Berman, Antoine, 1 Bigongiari, Piero, 88n13 bird (image), range of connotations in poem no. 1, 56, 60–61 Blum-Kulka, Shoshana, 17n7, 31n4 Boase-Beier, Jean, 1, 18–19n9, 26n23, 113, 115 Book of Changes (Yi jing 易经), 86–87, 89, 100, 165 Bruno, Cosima, 6, 23n14, 90n19, 115n6 Burnshaw, Stanley, on translation as a heuristic tool for appreciating a source text, 116 Bynner, Witter, on etymological literalism, 115 Cao Xueqin 曹雪芹, 92 Carter, Ronald, 59n17, 123n7 Catford, J.C., 17n7, 113n3 Cayley, John and homeophonic translation, 116–117 “Cement man” (Shuini ren 水泥人) (poem by Yang Lian), 67–68 change: the temporal aesthetic of the Book of Changes, 86–87, 89, 100. See also mutation/mutability characters/ideograms: classical poetic technique of the visual interplay between, 90–92; etymologically literalist reading of, 30n1, 92, 114–115; individual translation of vs. word compounds, 156; semantic function as monosyllabic lexemes and in multisyllabic compounds, 62–64; Yang’s sense of spatial consciousness of, 60 chiasmus (cross, translation formula), 3, 10, 14–15, 24n16, 27, 109 Chinesesness: the challenge of conveying



cultural and aesthetic details of, 7, 27; made accessible by translation, 7, 113; and the poetics of the texts under scrutiny, 26. See also cultural specificity Chung, Hilary, 167n23 Cigada, Sergio, 4 circularity, 84–85 City of Dead Poets (Si shiren de cheng 死诗 人的城) (CD-ROM), 69–70. See also poem no. 7 cognitive study of poetry, 1, 18–19n9, 26n23, 113, 115 common denominator (architranseme), 16–18 Concentric Circles (Tongxin yuan 同心圆), 91n22, 119n2, 161 connotation: and simultaneity, 18–19; and the word ‘exile’, 76, 103 context: and the continuous contingency of language, 59–60, 93; contrasted with timeless universality, 45; and deixis, 32; and the hermeneutical process of translation, 7, 9, 14, 18, 29–30, 76, 113; and the identity of the self, 104–105; intertextual resonance, 88–90; of performance on listeners’ perceptions, 72; and rhythm, 69–70; role in the equivalence of translations, 24n16, 27; and ‘thick translation’, 115 contextualization: of actual writers and actual readers of literary texts, 76; avoided in translation strategies, 117; and the danger of exoticism, 114–115, 155–156 continuous contingency: Yang Lian’s conception of poetry in, 59–64, 88–93, 110; of linguistic signs and subjective experience, 7, 46, 93, 104, 112. See also simultaneity creativity/creative process: and the abstraction of reality to an ‘intellectual space’, 92–93; and ‘exile’, 76; indicated by translation shifts, 17n7, 25, 30–31, 73, 158; and the poet’s subjectivity, 95–97; of reading and translation, 1, 3, 7, 11–13, 15–16; transformative power of poetry to transform stale language, 110 critical activity of translation: and aesthetic appreciation of the source text, 1, 3–4, 15n6, 24n16, 27, 34–35, 45, 73, 110, 154– 158; and the comparison of pairs of source texts and target texts, 1, 3, 4, 6; and the creation of meaning, 15–16; and

the distinct conceptual inclinations of reading, translation and criticism, 7, 111; revealed by knots of language, 25–26; stylistic criticism, 41–42 ‘Crocodile 1’ (Eyu. Yi 鳄鱼.一) (poem by Yang Lian), 94 ‘Crocodile 18’ (Eyu. Shiba 鳄鱼.十八) (poem by Yang Lian), 99 crocodile words, 94, 97, 107 cultural specificity: of puns, 112–113; revealed by comparative analysis, 2, 7, 26, 115, 154. See also Chineseness Dai, Fang, (translator): biographical details, 159–160; co-translation of poem no. 2 “The Mirror”, 131–134; and poem no. 8 “The Time, and the Place,” 149–152 dark/darkness (image), 43–44, 54, 81, 106, 132, 140–141, 145, 150, 152 De Beaugrande, Robert, 4, 24n17 De Campos, Haroldo, 1, 15, 23 death, as a framework for Yang Lian’s poetry, 60n18; as a privileged site of mean­ing, 107; as extreme absence, 106– 107; “funeral-following moon a broken hand”/ “funereal moon is a broken hand”, 48–49, 55, 79, 83, 126, 127, 129, 155; and the threatening play of language, 94, 97–98, 107. See also poem no. 7 deixis (deictic analysis): defined, 32; and the ‘immediacy’ of the real evoked by, 46; negation of elements of, 48–49; subjectivity revealed by analysis of, 6, 26, 4849, 77; timeless dimension opposed to, 42 deletion: consumption by crocodile words, 94, 97, 107; ‘deleting time’, 90, 92n24; erasure by the wind, 47, 49, 80, 85; ex­pressed by the counterpoint of abstract and concrete vocabulary, 156; and the negation of deictic elements, 48–49, See also emptiness/absence Descriptive Translation Studies, 24 dictionary definitions: and lexical shifts, 59–60, 62, 155; unity of the sign implied by, 18–19; and Van Leuven-Zwart’s methodology, 21 Ding, Dennis (translator): biographical details, 159; co-translation of poem no. 2 “The Mirror”, 131–134; co-translation of poem no. 8 “The Time, and the Place”, 149–152 Du Fu 杜甫, 92, 116

index Eco, Umberto: on textual indeterminancy, 11n4, 13; on translation, 17, 19–20 Edmond, Jacob, 52n12, 119n2 Eliot, T.S., 92, 159 Elytis, Odysseas, 92 emptiness/absence: 48–49, 66; expressive quality of blank space, 66–68; and the negation of affirmed personas, 34, 66–67. See also deletion; exile; kòngbái; kōngxū equivalence in translation, 16–17, 60; hermeneutical openness of source texts, 22, 24, 27; and the idea of the immutable original, 10–15; impossibility of, 19–20; and the need for a metalanguage, 16–18, 21; and puns, 60. See also puns, simultaneity; translation etymological literalism, 30n1, 90, 92, 114–115, 155–157 euphony, 116 exile: 48–49, 66; and the poetic process, 76, 103, See also absence (the blank); emptiness/absence; poem no. 1 exoticizing translation, 30n1, 92, 114–115, 155–157 Fenollosa, Ernest, 115, 115n6 figurative language, 54–64 Finkel, Donald (translator): biographical details, 160; co-translation of poem no. 5 “Celebration at midnight”, 52, 140–145 Fludernik, Monika, 34, 76 free verse, 64 Frey, Hans-Jost, 13, 14, 16 Gao Xingjian 高行健, 58n16, 103n30, 163 Gasset, José Ortega Y., 19 ghost (image), 91–92, 106–107, 167 Golden, Seán (translator): biographical details, 160–161; co-translation of poem no. 4 “Homage to Poetry”, 135–140; (critic): 36, 79, 89 Green, Keith, 32n7 ‘Heaven.I’ (Tian. Diyi 天.第一) (poem by Yang Lian), 86 ‘Heaven.III’ (Tian. Disan 天.第三) (poem by Yang Lian), 98 Hermans, Theo, 9n1, 14, 30n1 Holton, Brian (translator): biographical details, 161–162; on translating Yang Lian’s poetry, 68, 162; translation of “Knowledge”, 68f3.2; translation strategy


of, 116–117; translation of poem no. 1 “The Book of Exile”, 124–126; translation of poem no. 2 “Mirror”, 131–134; translation of poem no. 3 ‘Crocodile’, 134–135; translation of poem no. 6 “The Street I See from My Window”, 145–147; translation of poem no. 7 “The City of Dead Poets”, 147–149; translation of poem no. 8 “The Time, the Place,” 149–152; translation of poem no. 9 “Old Story 5”, 152–154; translation of ‘Spring, or a river’s pain in your love’, 80–81; Where the Sea Stands Still (trans. Brian Holton), 67–68, 102–103, 105–106 homophony, 156 Hoshino, Chiho (video performance artist), 69 hyponymies. See specifications illusion: and the poetic process, 101–102, 143; of space, 67, 131; of time, 87 Illusion City (Huangxiang zhong de chengshi 幻象中的城市) (collection of poetry by Yang Lian), 91, 101–102 Imagist poets: formulation of Image by, 83–84, 159; individual character focus vs. binomial compounds, 115, 155–156 impersonal pronouns, 35–37, 96, 99–102 In Person (DVD), 69 In Search of a Theory of Translation (Toury), 4, 6, 17n7, 24n16-17, 31n4 “Inside Chinese” (Zhongwen zhi nei 中文之 内) (essay by Yang Lian), 61 “Intellectual Space” (Zhili de kongjian 智力 的空间) (essay by Yang Lian), 93n25 interlingual vs. intralingual translations, 113–114 intertextuality: as a means for conjugating subjectivity, 100–103, 104, 110; double strategy employed by Yang Lian, 88–91; language as dialogue with the past, 7, 68, 91–92; and phosphorescence, 90 Jakobson, Roman, 113–114 Joyce, Alisa (translator): 162; co-translation of poem no. 5 “Midnight celebration”, 140–145 Kafka, Franz, 91 kenning, 68 knots (of language): as clusters of textual energy, 25, 72, 104; revealed by the anal-



ysis of two translations, 25; ‘textual knots’, 25n20 “Knowledge” (Shi 识) (poem by Yang Lian), 68, 68f3.1–2 kòngbái 空白 (blank): as an attributive verb (‘is blank’), 48, 56, 61, 126–129 passim; used as an element of intertextuality to recall kōngxū (‘emptiness’), 61, 89–90, 91, 126–129, See also emptiness/absence kongxu 空虚 (emptiness), 91 Koster, Cees, 5, 17n7, 24n17, 25n22, 30, 31n5 Kubin, Wolfgang, on the untranslatability of Yang Lian’s poetry, 2, 61 Lakoff, George, 54n13 Lambert, José, 5 language: indeterminancy of, 12, 19, 115; and signs/signification, 12–13, 18, Larcher, David, 69–70 Lee, Mabel (translator): 88n15, 96, biographical details, 162–163; translation of poem no. 1 “The Book of Exile”, 124–126; translation of poem no. 3 ‘Crocodile (7)’, 134– 135; translation of poem no. 9 “Old Story — 5”, 152–154 Lefevere, André, 4, 24n17, 30n1 Leibniz, Gottfried and the Relationists’ concept of a possible world, 31n5 Levý, Jiři, 26n23, 45n11 Lewis, Philip E., on translation shifts as a ‘textual knot’, 25n20, 72 lexis/lexical specification, 59–64, 79–80, 155 Li Bai 李白, 92 Li, Guohua (translator): 164; co-translation of poem no. 5 “Celebration at midnight”, 140–145 li 梨 (pear), as a pun in poem no. 1, 46, 60, 79, 113, 130 Li, Xia (translator): 164; interview with Yang Lian, 101; translation of poem no. 7 “The Dead Poets’ City”, 147–149; translation strategy of, 155–156 linearity: addressed in typographical layout, 68, 71; of the flow of speech contrasted with the fractured rhythm in Yang’s poetry, 65; and the idea that intertextuality radiates in a stellar way (and not linearly), 90n20; of time evoked by the linear presentation of images, 79; of time minimized by the juxtaposition of unbound segments of time, 82–83; of time minimized by the structure of the poem cycle, 84; of time minimized in

favour of space, 104; and the treatment of prosody as visual space, 86–87 linguistic approach, used in triangular comparative analysis, 5, 7, 25 linguistic devices, and the expression of subjective voice, 6–7, 26, 77 literal translation, impossibility of, 30 literary pragmatics, 6–7, 26 literary texts: contextualization of actual writer and actual reader of, 76; distinguished from non-literary texts, 18–19n9; translation as an added value to, 1 Liu, Newton (translator): biographical details, 164; co-translation of poem no. 4 “An Elegy for Poetry”, 135–140 Lowell, Amy, 114, 115 Mang Ke 芒克, 158, 166 “marks of this pen”/ “this pen mark” (zhe bi ji 这笔迹), 47, 48–49, 66, 124, 128 ‘Masks 1’ (Mianju. Yi 面具.一) (poem by Yang Lian), 107 ‘Masks 3’ (Mianju. San 面具.三) (poem by Yang Lian), 81 Mattioli, Emilio, 110n1, 112, 117 Meschonnic, Henri, 67 metalanguage, 5, 16–18, 21 metaphor, compound metaphors and the evocation of simultaneity of meaning, 55–56, 61, 83, 89, 115; kennings, 68 Miko, František, 17n7 Minford, John (translator), biographical details, 164–165; co-translation of poem no. 4 “Homage to Poetry”, 135–140; poem no. 5 “Midnight celebration”, 140–145; (critic): 36 “Missing” (Shizong 失踪) (poem by Yang Lian), 100 Misty Poetry (menglong shi 朦胧诗), 158, 159, 164 modernist poetics: creative approach of, 158; Yang Lian’s synthesis of ideas of, 92, 159, See also Pound, Ezra moon (image), 47–49, 55, 60, 79, 83, 89–90, 125–129, 132, 155 Morin, Edward (translator): biographical details, 165; co-translation of poem no. 2 “The Mirror”, 131–134; of poem no. 8 “The Time, and the Place”, 149–152 “Mother” (Muqin 母亲) (poem by Yang Lian), 101 Munday, Jeremy, 110n1

index ‘Museum windows carved with the names of different oceans’ (Ke you bu tong haiyang mingcheng de bowuguan chuanghu 刻有不同海洋名称的博物馆窗户) (poem by Yang Lian), 107 music, sonata form, 84 mutation/mutability: the sea as a metaphor for, 102–103; and semantic shifts, 123, See also change ‘Neighbours IV’ [Linju. Si 邻居(四)] (poem by Yang Lian), 107 neologisms, 62–63, 124 “Next Door” (Ge bi 隔壁) (poem by Yang Lian), 69n24, 101 Nida, Eugene A., 20 Nietzsche, Friedrich, 91 Ning Feng 宁峰, 86–87, 98 Non-Person Singular (Wu ren cheng 无人 称), 100–102, 161 Nord, Christiane, 115 Norlang/Nuo-ri-lang 诺日朗, 52, 142 open/openness: and fear of misinterpretation by translators, 112; indeterminancy of language as a modern condition, 19–20, 27; opposed to dichotomizing tendency of poetry criticism, 21–22, 21 originality, of every performance and reading, 71–72, 111–112 Owen, Stephen, 2 page (image), 49. See also pen Parks, Tim, 5, 25 pear, see lí pen (image), “marks of this pen”/ “this pen mark”, 47, 48–49, 66, 124, 128; pen marks blown away iconically described by typographical layout, 85, 130. See also visuality performativity: linguistic performativity of translation, 23, 27–28, 113–115; reading acts and performance of authorship, 71; textual only vs. acoustic aspects, 69–72 persona, as a textual entity, 32–38; visibility of as fundamental to creation of a text world, 33–36, 109 personal pronouns: description of use of, 32–38; and the expression of self and other, 36; subjectivity through, 94–103; you, addressee, ní 你, 34–36 phosphorescence, 90 poem no. 1 “Líuwáng zhi shū” 流亡之书 (The Book of Exile): translation, 124–126;


analysis of, 126–131; connotations of the word ‘exile’ in, 61, 76; connotations of the word lí (pear) in, 60, 79; “marks of this pen”/ “this pen mark”, 47, 48–49, 66, 124, 128; personal prounoun you, ad­dressee within, 33–35, 66–67; prosody of, 64, 85; simultaneity evoked by compound metaphors in, 55; sound play in, 70–71; specification revealed in diverse translation of kòngbái (blank), 56, 61, 89, 126–129 passim; temporal shifts between the two translations of, 39–40, 45, 80 poem no. 2 “Jìng” 镜 (Mirror/The Mirror): analysis of, 36, 44–45, 55–56, 67, 78; prosody of, 65; systematic shift in place specification in translations of, 49–51; translation, 131–134 poem no. 3 “È yú (qī)” 鳄鱼 (七) (Crocodile (7)/Crocodile), analysis of, 40–41, 51, 66, 94, 97, 107; the danger of crocodile words, 94; effect of punctuation in translations of, 66; prosody of, 65; translation, 134–135 poem no. 4 “Shī de jìdìan” 诗的祭奠 (Homage to Poetry/An Elegy for Poetry): analysis of, 41–42, 45, 51–52, 56, 62, 67, 77; metaphoric combinations in, 83; prosody of, 65; sound images in, 7; the subjective creative power of the poet, 95, 97n27; translation, 135–140 poem no. 5 “Wŭyé de qińgdiǎn” 午夜的庆 典 (Midnight celebration/Celebration at midnight): analysis, 22–24, 35–36, 52, 54, 155, 156; prosody of, 65; translation, 140– 145 poem no. 6 “Cóng wǒ chuāgkǒu wàng chūqù de jiēdào” 从我窗口望出去的街道 (The Street outside My Window/ The Street I See from My Window): analysis of, 33, 52–53, 56–58, 67, 157–158; prosody of, 64; translation, 145–147 poem no. 7 “Sǐ shīrén de chéng” 死诗人的 城 (The Dead Poets’ City/City of Dead Poets): analysis of, 53–54; prosody of, 64, 71; translation, 147–149. See also death poem no. 8 “Qí shí qí dì” 其时其地 (The Time, the Place/The Time and the Place), analysis of, 42–44, 53; prosody of, 65; translation, 149–152 poem no. 9 “Lǎo gùshì (wŭ)” 老故事 (五) (Old Story — 5), analysis of, 56, 79–80; prosody of, 64; translation, 152–154 poetic features of Yang Lian’s work, 7, 104



“Poetry, Deleting Time” (Shi, quxiao shijian 诗,取消时间) (essay by Yang Lian), 90, 92n24 poetry reading. See reading poetry translation. See translation Popovič, Anton, 4, 17n7, 26n23 Pound, Ezra: etymological literalism of reading Chinese characters, 30n2, 92, 115; formulation of Image, 83–84, 159; on the symbolic function of signs, 90n17; translation views of, 1, 15 Pozzanna, Claudia, 93, 95 pronouns. See impersonal pronouns; personal pronouns prosody, 64–65, 73, 85–86, 109–110 punctuation marks, and blank space, 65–66, 157–158 simultaneity discouraged by, 66; translations shifts associated with, 31 puns: Chinese classical poetic technique of the visual interplay between characters, 90–92; lí (pear/leave), 46, 60, 79, 113, 130; and simultanaeity, 60, 79, 89; and subjectivity, 77; untranslatability of, 112–113. See also equivalence in translation; simultaneity Qu Yuan 屈原, 92 Raman, Selden, 12, 18 Ran, Yongping on literal vs. salient meaning, 155 readers: as authors, 12–13; contextualization of actual writer and actual reader of literary texts, 76; performative and participatory experience of, 18–19n9, 106, 111–112, 115; reader-oriented theories, 15–16; reader/persona distance, 34–38; reader-response school, 15n6 reading: as a creative activity, 3, 7, 11–13, 24; of literary texts distinguished from reading of non-literary texts, 18; poetry reading as a hermeneutic act, 68–72, 71–72; translation as a form of, 25; and the units of time, space, and subjectivity, 27 “Reading ‘The Gate of Hell’” (Du Diyu zhi men 读《地狱之门》) (poem by Yang Lian), 91, 101 “Requiem, or river running back” (Anhun qu, huo daoliu de he 安魂曲,或倒流 的河) (poem by Yang Lian), 81–82 rhythm: 69–72, 85; fractured quality of deleted in translation, 65–66, 156; free verse, 64; and performance, 69–70

Robinson, Peter, 2n1, 30, 113 Rodin, Auguste, 91 Rose, Marilyn Gaddis, 1, 2, 113 Scott, Clive, 1 sea (image), as an image of mutability, 56, 102–103, 105, 137, 145, 157 seasons: simultaneity patterned by the cycle of the seasons, 82–83; wind (image) associated with autumn, 43–44, 50, 150 “Self” (Zi 自) (poem by Yang Lian), 97 Sell, Roger D., 26 semantic shifts: role of time in conveying, 44–46; semantic specification vs. generalization, 18, 61–62, 131, 155, 157; types of, 123, 129–130 Semino, Elena, 6, 31n5, 32 shifts. See translation shifts signs, classical poetic technique of the visual interplay between characters, 90–92 simile: metaphor explained in terms of, 56, 61; used to make figurative constructions using rú 如 and xiàng 像, 56–59 simultaneity: as a poetic feature of Yang Lian’s work, 760–61, 110; and connotation, 18–19, 60; discouraged by lexical specification, 79; discouraged by punctuation, 66; evoked by compound metaphors and similes, 55–56, 61, 82–83; expressed by monologue and juxtaposed images, 40–41, 55–56; of possible translations revealed by comparative triangular analysis, 5, 21–22, 24; and puns, 60, 79, 89; and the temporal sparseness of Chinese verbal clauses, 41–43, 80; and the timeless re-creation of tradition, 91–92; and the principle of yin and yang, 86–87. See also continuous contingency, equivalence in translation, puns singularity, 5, 73–74 Sixteeners, (Shiliu hang 十六行) (Yang Lian’s poetry-cycle) 65 “Someone Who Dies in Illusions” (Si yu huanxiang de ren 死于幻想的人) (poem by Yang Lian), 69n24, 101 sonata form, 84 “Soul” (Linghun 灵魂), 96 sound-play, 70–71, 89, 116–117; and poetry reading, 68–70

index source (original) and target (translation) relations: and the critical activity of translation, 1, 3, 4, 25–26, 27; dependent status of the original, 14–15, 20–21; as problematic, 5; and textual knots, 25, 72, 104; translated poems viewed as ‘metapoems’, 4; translation as a heuristic tool for appreciating a source text, 1, 3–6, 13–16, 110–111, 115–116. See also texts, translation space: in Yang Lian’s poetry, 47–54, 68, 85, 85n9–93 passim specifications, introduced, 123 ‘Spring, or a river’s pain in your love’ (Chuntian, huo zai ni de ai li you yi tiao he de tengtong 春天,或在你的爱里 有一条的疼痛) (poem by Yang Lian), 80–81 Stecconi, Ubaldo, 11n3, 24n16 stylistic shifts, parameters of, 123–124 Su Dongpo 苏东坡, 92 subjectivity: as constantly relational, 104– 105; and intertextuality, 100–103, 104, 110; objects presented as subjects, 105; and personal pronouns, 32–38, 94–103; revealed by deictic analysis, 6, 26, 48–49, 77; subjective experience and continuous contingency, 7, 46, 93, 104 temporality: Yang Lian’s poetics of time, 38–47, 78–87; and continuous contingency, 91–93; evocation of the metaphysical dimension of no-time, 82–83; ‘immediacy’ of the real evoked by deixis, 45–46; and the inherently consecutive nature of language, 79; and the linear presentation of images, 79; “Poetry, Deleting Time”, 90, 92n24; the spatiotemporal dimension of printed poems, 80, 85–86; temporal sparseness of Chinese verbal clauses, 41–43, 80; timespace continuum in Yang Lian’s poetry, 68, 84–87 tertium compartionis, 17 text world: introduced as a concept, 31–32, 31n5; created by a collage of images in poem no. 2, 50–54; persona visibility as fundamental to creation of, 33–36109; use of figurative language to project, 54–64 texts, literary texts distinguished from nonliterary texts, 18–19n9; semiotic theories


of, 11–13. See also source (original) and target (translation) relations “The ‘Book of Change’, You, and Other Things” (Yi jing, ni ji qita, 易经、你及 其他) (poem by Yang Lian), 100 “The Book of Crying and Forgetting” (Ku wang shu 哭忘书) (poem by Yang Lian), 107 “The Garden on a Winter’s Day” (Dongri huayuan 冬日花园) (poem by Yang Lian), 69n24, 94 ‘The shape of ghosts. 4’ (Guihun de xingshi 鬼魂的形式) (poem by Yang Lian), 107 third text, as a hypothetical translation, 5, 16–18, 27 ‘Thunder.V’ (Lei. Di wu 雷.第五) (poem by Yang Lian), 83 ‘Thunder.VIII’ (Lei. Di ba 雷.第八) (poem by Yang Lian), 91 Tiananmen Square protests: 2, 76, 158, 166 Todorov, Tzvetan, 119n3 tombstone (image), 107–108 Toury, Gideon, 4, 5, 6, 17n7, 24n16–17, 31n4 Translating Poetry. Seven Strategies and a Blueprint (Lefevere), 4 Translating Style: The English Modernists and their Italian Translations (Parks), 25 translation: and the aesthetic appreciation of the source text, 1, 3–4, 15n6, 24n16, 27, 34–35, 45, 73, 110, 154–158; annotations, 115; apologetic justifications for, 2; authenticity of, 9–10; the exoticizing effect of literal translation, 114–115, 156– 157; fluency, 9n2, 41, 45, 65–66; homeophonic translation, 116, 117n8; impossibility, 30; ‘ingenuous’ view of, 112, 112n2; instant-specific nature of, 117; into electronic multimedia, 69–70; linguistic performativity of, 23, 27–28, 113–114; and the use of unconventional spelling, 156, See also equivalence in translation; source (original) and target (translation) relations; ‘thick translation’, 115 translation formulas, chiasmus (cross), 3, 10, 14–15, 24n16, 27, 109 translation shifts: and creativity/creative process, 25, 30–31, 154–158; in distance, 49–52; and the figurative construction of Chinese text, 57–59; “marks of this pen”/ “this pen mark”, 47, 48–49, 66, 124, 128; overview of theories of, 17n7; overview of types of, 72–73, 122–124; seman-



tic specification vs. generalization, 18, 61–62, 155 translation universals, as a hypothesis, 23, 23n16, 31, 73 translators: individual agency of, 29–30, 110–111; misreading, 29–30; textual choices made by, 25–26, 73 triangular comparative analysis, 22, 27, 31, 109; and linguistics, 5, 25–26 “truth”: language as a transparent medium for the expression of, 12, 102, 106 typography and the significance of layout, 66–68, 80, 85–86, 130 Van Gogh, Vincent, 91 Van Gorp, Hendrik, 5 Van Leuven-Zwart, Kitty M.: architranseme (ATR) devised by, 5, 6, 16–18; categories used for translation comparison, 25, 122–124; dichotomous understanding of translation shifts, 21 Vanderauwera, Ria, 5, 31n5 Venuti, Lawrence, 9n2 verbs, verb tense and aspectual elements of, 31, 38–47, 77–78, 123 visuality: formulation of Image by Imagist poets, 83–84, 159; as iconicity, 85, 130, 162; and the individual character focus of Imagist poets, 155–156; page (image), 49; wind (image), 49, 85; and the significance of layout, 66–68, 80, 85–86, 130; simultaneity expressed by juxtaposed images, 40–41, 55–56, 83; ‘thinking in characters’, 90 Werth, Paul, 31n6, 32n6, 52–53, 57n15 Where the Sea Stands Still (Dahai tingzhi zhi chu 大海停止之处), 67–68, 90, 102–103, 162; prosody, 84; subject/object blurring in, 105–106 “Why It Certainly Is Sanwen” (Weishenme yiding shi sanwen 为什么一定是散文) (essay by Yang Lian), 61 Widdowson, Peter, 12, 18 wind (image): associated with autumn, 43–44, 50, 150; and erasure/deletion, 47, 49, 80, 85, 153; iconic action of reflected in typographical layout, 85, 130. See also visuality writing: “funeral-following moon a broken hand”/ “funereal moon is a broken hand”, 48–49, 55, 79, 83, 126, 127, 129, 155;

life/reality and writing/poetry in counterpoint, 61, 103–104, 156; “marks of this pen”/ “this pen mark”, 48–49, 66, 124; and the relationship between language and subjectivity, 94 Yang Lian 杨炼: biographical details, 2–3, 166–167; and the challenge of translating his poetry, 2, 61; external reality and spiritual search expressed by personal pronouns, 36; recitation of poems by, 69; on the spatial consciousness of the ‘character’, 60; on spatiality, 53, 59. See also temporality Yang Lian—poems: “Absence”, 106; “Ce­ment Man”, 67–68; ‘Crocodile 1’, 94; ‘Crocodile.18’, 99; ‘Heaven.I’ 86; ‘Masks.1’, 107; ‘Masks.3’, 81; “Missing”, 100; “Moth­er”, 101; ‘Museum windows carved with the names of different oceans’, 107; ‘Neigh­bours IV’, 107; “Next Door”, 107; “Knowledge”, 68, 68f3.1–2; ‘Requiem, or river running back’, 81–82; “Self”, 97; “Someone Who Dies in Illusions”, 101; “Soul”, 95–96; “The Garden on a Winter’s Day”, 94. See also poems no. 1, no. 2, no. 3, no. 4, no. 5, no. 6, no7, no. 8, no. 9 Yang Lian—poetry collections in translation: the corpus, 119–120; Apologia, 95–96; City of Dead Poets (CD-ROM), 69–70; Concentric Circles, 91n22, 161; Dove si ferma il mare, 65; Illusion City, 91101– 102; In Person (DVD), 69–70; La maison su l’estuaire, 65; Masks and Crocodile, 99, 100, 163; Notes of a Blissful Ghost, 68, 84, 162; online sources of, 167n23; Sixteeners, 65; Where the Sea Stands Still, 67–68, 102–103. See also Yi Yeh, Michelle (translator), 166; translation of poem no. 6 “The Street outside My Window”, 145–147 Yi (poetry collection): “In Symmetry with Death”, 96–97; invented character yi of title of, 88–89, 88f4.1; “The Untrammeled Man Speaks”, 98; ‘Thunder. V’, 83; ‘Thunder.VIII’, 91; treatment of time and space in, 86–87, 91; use of personal pronouns in, 96–98; Yi jing 易经 (Book of Changes), temporal aesthetic of, 86–87, 89, 100 yin-yang 阴阳, 86–87