Portrait: Mr Dreamer of Butterflies After a Long Illness in Bed

by Chen Yuhong

He has wasted away into
a stick of incense
a ribbon of rain
a willow stem
a reed
thin like the winter sun

The resilient antenna
of a ladybird

The literal translation of this poem was made by Chenxin Jiang

The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop


We loved the playfulness of this delicate lyric and it was a pleasure to translate. The name of the subject, 'Mr Dreamer of Butterflies' is like a nom de plume - except it will have been given to him by his friends, probably other poets or artists in his circle.

There's something very touching about the metaphors Chen Yuhong has selected to describe her friend's condition. It's interesting that this is a woman poet writing about a man. And that she uses the final image of a ladybird to indicate his resilience.


  1. May 20th, 2014 at 12:09 pm

    Timothy Street says:

    The literal translation of the last line includes "ladybug" ; in the final version it is "ladybird" - which does not make sense, because birds do not have antennae. 


    'Ladybug' is the ugly American version of ladybird which is why we changed it to the correct, and far more elegant, English version.