Anthony Madrid on the Shijing’s “Thorn Vine on the Wall” [wag finger like no-no-no]

Writing for The Paris Review, Anthony Madrid remembers misremembering a poem from the Shijing, “the oldest anthology of Chinese poetry,” he explains. “The poems date back to the Zhou dynasty, which fell apart in the year 256 B.C.E. … You’ve probably actually heard of the Shijing, just not under that name. In English, it is usually called The Book of Odes or The Book of Songs or The Confucian Odes or that sort of thing. I’m not fond of any of those Englishings; I think it should be translated literally: The Poetry Classic.”

Madrid offers “the original poem, with Pinyin Romanization, for those of you out there who know what to do with Pinyin Romanization,” but what he’s trying to recall is how Burton Watson translated the poem, “Burton Watson, never better, never more elegant”:

Thorn vine on the wall
must not be stripped:
words in the chamber
must not be told.
What could be told
would be the ugliest tale!

Thorn vine on the wall
must not be pulled down:
words in the chamber
must not be recited.
What could be recited
would be the longest tale!

Thorn vine on the wall
must not be bundled off:
words in the chamber
must not be rehearsed.
What could be rehearsed
would be a shameful tale!

But what he ended up reciting was, instead:

Thorn vine on the wall?
must not be stripped.
Words in the chamber … ?
must not be repeated.
’Cuz what could be repeated … ?
Ugkh. You don’t wanna know.

Thorn vine on the wall?
must not be taken down.
Words in the chamber … ?
Shhh. That’s—not for you.
’Cuz what happened in that chamber … ?
[wag finger like no-no-no]
Uh-uh. Uh-uh.

Thorn vine on the wall?
must not be fucked with.
Words in the chamber … uuuhhh.
’Cuz—that … ?
[waving hand in front of your nose in the Mexican manner of waving off a bad smell]
that? … ooh, ugkh.

Read the whole piece (click the image above) to find out why that might be even better.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

 

What is 9 + 5 ?
Please leave these two fields as-is:
IMPORTANT! To be able to proceed, you need to solve the following simple math (so we know that you are a human) :-)