Chen Xianfa is a poet, essayist and journalist born in Anhui Province, China, where he still lives. He has published four books of poems: Death in the Spring (1994), Past Life (2005), Engraving the Tombstone (2011) and Poems in Nines (2018) which was awarded the Lu Xun Literature Prize. A Selected Poems appeared in 2019. He has published two collections of essays, Heichiba Notes (2014 and 2021). Other awards include China’s Top Ten Influential Poets (1998-2008), the Hainan Biennial Poetry Prize (2011), Yuan Kejia Poetry Prize (2013), Tian Wen Poetry Prize (2015) and the Chenzi’ang Poetry Prize (2016).
Chen Xianfa: Five Poems translated by Martyn Crucefix and Nancy Feng Liang
A WORLD OF BUTTERFLIES
Suddenly, we will lose
all kinds of ways,
struck dumb in the face of things moving quickly towards us.
Speechless, I stand beside a rock,
and displayed on the rock, a butterfly that seems to be dead,
but in a moment it flutters away.
Butterflies are forever changing in a thousand ways,
while I must remain always the same.
I understand it is only my imagining of her
that is her only prison.
She will eventually leak away in a twinkling of the light.
In the evening, butterflies gather round me –
but is it possible that butterflies can instruct us
on how to adapt to a new world
for which there is no single word,
no sole method, no single way,
yet is composed of a lifetime of weeping and telling?
蝴蝶的世界 A World of Butterflies
傍 晚 ， 蝴 蝶 覆 盖 我
但 蝴 蝶 能 教 会
我 们 如 何 适 应 一 座
个 字 也 没 有
一 种 方 法 也 没 有
却 终 生 如 泣 如 诉 的 新 世 界 吗 ？
October is the time when the village unveils
its chilly, impoverished body.
The blanket of withered grass now stripped away,
a wildfire burning,
the wounds exposed,
a wasteland of baked brick,
its beating heart disclosed.
At this time of year, I often return to my hometown.
I like to climb the slope of the withered
hillside to look down,
on the very day of the Mid-Autumn Festival,
at five or six o’clock in the evening,
when you’d expect to see the creamy-white smoke
of cooking fires rising above the rooftops.
If, at that moment, there are households to be seen, smokeless, fireless,
then the line of descent in that family’s been broken.
These days, there are markedly fewer chimneys smoking.
When the burden on the earth becomes lighter
the grasses grow
especially quickly and more luxuriantly.
The villagers believe those dying wrongfully accused
turn into fireflies.
I have seen places where tombstones are grouped together,
above crumbling entranceways, in the withered reeds,
and in the air, fireflies dancing.
The terrible silence laid down in the breasts of the powerless.
Still a little strength there, after death,
to illuminate these tiny lanterns,
eventually to offer up some reassurance.
While the glimmering lights of the dead dance in the breeze,
the living find some repose,
for a while, if possible, they take their rest.
The dyke-water rising, day after day.
The long streaks of dew are like lightning flashes
on my rolled-up trouser legs.
But this scorching of the evening breeze – how long
will it go on unaltered? The bitter rod
of authority, how much longer without change?
In this dim light, the poor cock’s crowing, the letting down of breast milk,
these dark riverbanks are forever secure.
SICKNESS OF A TEACHER
Very often, I sense a sickness in my own language,
sometimes a sickness of unknown origin.
Gaze at it for a long while, yet there’s no rush to cure it
because the kindness of language ultimately depends upon it.
So then, what can it be, this kindness of language?
It is a freshly cut and fragrant-smelling lemon.
Or it may be that no such lemon exists.
In which case, I must trace her non-existence.
以病为师 Sickness as Teacher
SOLITARY, CERULEAN ISLAND
Italo Calvino says people weighed down by heavy burdens
rush impetuously to what is light,
becoming fragments. In tearing themselves into smaller pieces,
they discover the joy of knowing themselves.
We are only strong enough to secure ourselves
to a single piece, to anchor ourselves
to the splintering of a branch. Writing. Often dreaming –
to gather fleeting, warm currents round misfortune.
I have the sensation of inhabiting
an island surrounded by
a cerulean blue – such a colour as only ever arises
out of profound rejection or deepest ennui.
孤岛的蔚蓝 Solitary, Cerulean, Island
折枝。 写作。 频繁做梦—
Note: These poems by Chen Xianfa were first published in Chinese in 2018. All rights to publication have been secured.
Martyn Crucefix has recently published Cargo of Limbs (Hercules Editions, 2019) and The Lovely Disciplines (Seren, 2017). These Numbered Days, translations of the poems of Peter Huchel (Shearsman, 2019) won the Schlegel-Tieck Translation Prize, 2020. He has also published Daodejing – a new version in English (Enitharmon, 2016). A Rilke Selected will be published by Pushkin Press in 2023. A translation of essays by Lutz Seiler, Sundays I Thought of God, is due from And Other Stories in 2023. He is currently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at The British Library and blogs on poetry, translation and teaching at http://www.martyncrucefix.com
Nancy Feng Liang –is a bilingual poet and translator living in Massachusetts and North Carolina. She has translated Henry David Thoreau’s Wild Fruits into Chinese (published by China’s Culture and Development Press in 2018) and Chen Xianfa’s Poems in Nines (publ. in China by Anhui Education Press, 2018). Her most recent poetry collection, Qi Cun Tie, was published by Taiwan Showwe Press, 2020. She graduated from Harvard University with a Master’s degree in 2004.
A selection of poems by Chen Xianfa tr. by MC and NFL recently won the Columbia Journal 2022 Spring Translation Prize.
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Reblogged this on The Wombwell Rainbow.