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by Chen Yuhong
you had better not appear -
you, superfluous moon
the sky already is too crowded
truth is I'd rather be alone
on the nightest night
the night without a star
looking at you looking at me
we don't really exist
everything can and cannot be seen
on a night like this
what I'm touching is not you -
I can almost feel
- is that your spirit
and everything is uncertain
today, tomorrow, the next instant
do they exist
do the night and the soul really exist
so it's best like this, I'd rather
think of you this way
you, a single-horned
blue moon, an impossible
so you'd better not appear
you'd better appear
on the most night night
The literal translation of this poem was made by Chenxin Jiang
The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop
The first of three poems by Chen Yuhong from her collection Suoyin* that we translated in our second workshop on Taiwanese poetry, this was by far the easiest (and it was something of a shock when we were stumped by the other two).
In keeping with the reticence and understatment of Chen Yuhong's poetry, there is minimal punctuation in the original - and, crucially, no question marks - so we've replicated those absences here.
For 'the most night night' - which crops up twice, but in slightly different forms in the original - we went with 'the nightest night' (which we all felt rather pleased with) the first time, and then 'the most night night' in the last line.
'Single-horned' is like a crescent moon. A 'blue moon' in English is the third full moon in a season that has four full moons; the next one will take place on 21st August 2013. (What other poetry website can offer you not only poetry translated from multiple languages, but helpful astronomical information as well?) However, in Chinese, it means a blue-coloured moon. Either way, being 'blue' and simultaneously crescent is not going to be happen.
What's so appealing about her work is the way her modest poetry uses minimal imagery to probe profound existential questions in a wonderfully light and playful way.
* Chenxin Jiang, Chen's translator, writes:
'Suoyin, the title of this collection, consists of two characters: suo, to search, and yin, to hide or be hidden. The word suoyin first appears in the I Ching, where it denotes the search for obscure or hidden things; but it is also the word for a concordance to an ancient text, usually with extensive commentary - such as the Tang dynasty historian Shima Zhen's masterful suoyin on Shima Qian's classic text "Records of the Grand Historian".
'Chen explains in the preface to Suoyin that she has borrowed the word to describe the poet's search for metaphor (the Chinese word for metaphor, yinyu, contains the character yin, because metaphors are taken as a sort of hidden simile). Each of the poems in her collection is headed either suo (to search) or yin (metaphor). But the collection also doubles as a commentary on an ancient text, since Chen's own poems are interspersed with her translations of fragments of Sappho.'
© Poetry Translation Centre 2004-2013