Goodman on “Great Romantic” of Chinese poetry, Xu Zhimo

https://i1.wp.com/supchina.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/Xu-Zhimo.jpg?resize=508%2C259Is Xu Zhimo 徐志摩 (1897 – 1931) unknown outside China? In advance of an event at New York’s Renwen Society at the China Institute (now passed) in honor of Xu’s 120th birthday–which was “conducted in Chinese, with no interpretation“–Eleanor Goodman considered for SupChina whether that should be the case.

She writes:

His most famous poem, “Another Farewell to Cambridge” (再别康桥 Zàibié Kāngqiáo, commonly translated as “Saying Goodbye to Cambridge Again,” though there are many translations for this title) is a paean to the River Cam in Cambridge, where he spent a year at King’s College. It begins (translation mine):

Quietly I go,
As quietly as I came;
Quietly I wave
farewell to the western clouds.

The golden willow by the banks
is the bride of the setting sun.
Reflections shimmer on the water
and ripple through my mind.

and continues,

In the poem “By Chance” (偶然 Ǒurán) he writes (my translation again):

I am a cloud in the sky,
that shadows your stirred heart by chance.
No need for you to feel surprise,
still less to be delighted,
in a flash, every trace of me will be gone.

So it seems. Xu wrote what he lived, and lived what he wrote. To be reminded by these poems of Keats or of Shelley (“I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers, / From the seas and the streams; / I bear light shade for the leaves when laid / In their noonday dreams”) is right on target. These Western poets were a direct influence on the Crescent Moon Society, and their Romanticism — a reliance on natural images, gestures toward the sublime, an emphasis on individual sensual experience — became the main model for this innovative group of Chinese poets, Xu primary among them.

Goodman is right, of course, about Xu’s significance to modern Chinese literary history, but I admit I’ve never grieved over his being unknown in English–until now, that is. Reading these fragments of Goodman’s translations, I’m almost ready to change my mind.

Click on the image above to read the piece in full.

Oleander Press’s Selected Poems of Xu Zhimo and Denial of the Translator

PictureOn their promotional webpage for the Selected Poems of Xu Zhimo 徐志摩, Oleander Press cites Andrew Hamilton’s praise for the volume’s “excellent translations.”

Hamilton’s praise, however, must not have registered enough with the Oleander editors, since nowhere in the book do they credit any translator, and on the copyright page the press–not the translator–asserts copyright over the translation.

I’ll quote The Complete Review on a similar case:

Folks, this is not okay. This is not acceptable. This is outrageous.
… any publisher that is commissioning ‘work for hire’ translations, or that retains the translation copyright, is not doing right by authors, translators, readers, or the literary culture in general.
I remind you that PEN explicitly advises translators: “We do not recommend accepting work-for-hire agreements”. No kidding. But translators often don’t have bargaining power; publishers with any sort of integrity shouldn’t even be suggesting it. (Alas, many, many still do — you know who you are, and shame on you.)

My sources tell me that Oleander, a Cambridge UK-based press, is only publishing this book to sell as a souvenir to tourists to their city (a demographic that in recent years has trended Chinese), where Xu famously attended classes for a year. I do not see this as a sufficient excuse for refusing to credit the translator, particularly when they advertise their publication of “excellent” versions.

Xi Chuan on Tagore and Modern Chinese Poetry

In honor of the recently-concluded India-China Writers Dialogues, here’s a re-post from October 7, in the earliest days of the Notes on the Mosquito blog:

I just came across the following video, a lecture by Xi Chuan in English from Spring, 2009, to the Columbia University Alumni Association in Beijing. He discusses the relationship between Xu Zhimo 徐志摩 and Rabindranath Tagore in the context of China, India, and the West and their impact on modern Chinese poetry (with honorable mentions of Kenneth Rexroth, Amy Lowell, and Ezra Pound). He ends with a reading of the poem “My Grandma” 我奶奶 in Chinese, with my English translation read by Austin Woerner.

(apologies to readers in the PRC; I was unable to locate the video on Youku)

Xi Chuan on Tagore and Modern Chinese Poetry

I just came across the following video, a lecture by Xi Chuan in English from Spring, 2009, to the Columbia University Alumni Association in Beijing. He discusses the relationship between Xu Zhimo 徐志摩 and Rabindranath Tagore in the context of China, India, and the West and their impact on modern Chinese poetry (with honorable mentions of Kenneth Rexroth, Amy Lowell, and Ezra Pound). He ends with a reading of the poem “My Grandma” 我奶奶 in Chinese, with my English translation read by Austin Woerner.

(apologies to readers in the PRC; I was unable to locate the video on Youku)