27 • metaphor

by Chen Yuhong

you suspect love is
a voracious one-armed bandit

you keep on
feeding it a coin a coin a coin a coin a thousand times

love keeps up its response:
no response

a thousand times
love swallows all of you

that hoard of desire -
the rumoured whole moon

has never appeared
not even once

The literal translation of this poem was made by Chenxin Jiang

The final translated version of the poem is by Chenxin Jiang


The shortest of the three poems by Chen Yuhong taken from her prize-winning collection, Suoyin* (which, literally, means 'Annotations'), that we translated in one workshop, this was by far the most difficult to get into reasonable English.

Chenxin (who's lived for a long time in the US) translated 'slot machine' in the literal; but we decided to go with the rather wonderful British term 'one-armed bandit'.

The real stumbling block was the second and third stanzas: 'you repeat...' and 'love repeats...' in the literals, which didn't sound quite right in English. We tried 'you keep on / feeding' and 'love keeps on responding'; then we went back to 'repeat' and 'repeats'; and finally we settled on 'you keep on' and 'love keeps up'.

Instead of 'put a coin in put a coin in put a coin in put a coin in a thousand times' we went for 'feeding a coin a coin a coin a coin a thousand times'.

* 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.'


  1. July 26th, 2011 at 6:56 pm

    Roberto C Garcia says:

    Brilliant translation.  A wonderful image, love as a one armed bandit.  And the lines: "a coin a coin a coin a coin a thousand times" and "loves keeps up its response: no response".

    Has anyone translated Chen Yuhong's entire book into English?  Or is Chenxing Jiang undertaking that endeavor?