Mindy Zhang on Translating Chinese Poetry

Portrait of Zhang Zao painted by Ma Li

When translating Chinese poetry, ancient or modern, one will find that the ‘subject’ of a sentence is often missing. It shows one feature of the language that allows a verb to function alone, it also reflects one aspect of the Chinese tradition: poets try to express certain emotion or reflection that any reader can respond to personally.

While Ezra Pound and other pioneer poet-translators were able to “make it new” by transforming the old Chinese formal poetry into free verse, what can we do as contemporaries of the Chinese New Poetry which is already free verse? To make new something already supposedly new is a challenge. One way to deal with such problems would be to break the routine strategies in translation practice.