Saturday, January 25, 2014

"Oh, where's my name among the poets?"

Thinking about the moon--which you cannot help doing if you are reading Classical Chinese poetry in translation, which I have been doing for the past several days--I found this picture of moonrise over my daughter's barn to establish the mood. I have loved this one ever since the poet Laura passed out a linear translation and I made this attempt to honor it.

Here is David Hinton's version of this poem by Tu Fu from The New Directions Anthology of Classical Chinese Poetry, edited by Eliot Weinberger, New Directions, 2003, page 115.


In delicate beach-grass, a slight breeze.
The boat's mast teetering up into solitary
Night, plains open away beneath foundering stars.
A moon emerges and, the river vast, flows.

Will poems bring honor? My career
Lost to age and sickenss, buffeted, adrift
On the wind--is there anything like it? All
Heaven and earth, and one lone sand-gull.  (David Hinton)

and here is Arthur Cooper's version from the Penguin Classics, Li Po and Tu Fu
Penguin, 1973, page 237


    By bent grasses
in a gentle wind
     Under straight mast
I'm alone tonight

     And the stars hang
above the broad plain
      But moon's afloat 
in this Great River:

     Oh, where's my name 
among the poets?
     Official rank?
'Retired for ill-health.'

     Drifting, drifting,
what am I more than
     A single gull
between sky and earth?        (Arthur Cooper)

I find the choices made in lineation very interesting. I also note that Cooper resolves the question:
what kind of gull is a sand-gull? by just saying "gull." Tonight I did a Google Image search for sand gull and got a lot of pictures of all different kinds of gulls, mostly on the beach, or sand. . .

Sill, I think it is a beautiful poem. I urge you to try versions or translations of poems in languages you might have some knowledge of. It is excellent practice!

Don't forget to click the link at the end of the first paragraph above for my version of this poem. I am going to try to find the linear translation that was passed out that night, but it might have succumbed to time and its effects. And here's a photo of a gull I took when my grandsons were tossing bread!


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