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

Epsians #4

Epsians #4 is now out. Here’s the table of contents:

Li Zeng, Cui Dan
The Shaping of Chinese Modern Poetry by English Romantic Poetry: A Case Study of Xiang Zhu’s Poetry / 1

 Liu Chun
“Undo Thin Hearte”: The Treatment of the Ubi Sunt Theme in Medieval Penitential Lyrics / 23

Zhang Pinggong
Literary Work vs. Cultural Assumption: Illustrating Some Caribbean and English Writers and Texts / 35

J.H. Prynne
John Keats, ‘Ode on a Grecian Urn’:Study Note /49

Wang Zuyou
The English Language Haiku Poet and Mentor: An Interview with Lenard D. Moore / 87

Li Zhimin
Editorial Memoir: A Life Choice /101

Ou Hong
Some Notes on EPSIANS /109

Click the image above for a .pdf of the issue (from Jacket2).

Interview with Robert Hammond Dorsett on Wen Yiduo’s Stagnant Water

book cover: Stagnant Water and Other PoemsRobert Hammond Dorsett, translator of the newly released Stagnant Water & Other Poems by Wen Yiduo 聞一多 (1899 – 1946), agreed to answer a few of my questions by way of interview:

Can you describe how you got interested in Chinese / poetry / translation and in Wen Yiduo  in particular?

An undergraduate course, entitled Keats and His Circle, started my interest: I have read and written poems ever since. After my residency in pediatrics, my wife, daughter and I traveled to Hong Kong, where I studied at the Yale-in-China program at the Chinese University. It was there I was introduced to Wen Yiduo, and, from then till now, I have carried his poems about, making notes and deciding on interpretations. It was only after I left medicine, decades later, that I had enough time to prepare my poems and translations for publication.


Do you see any parallels between Wen Yiduo’s time and place and ours?

There are so many parallels, as well as differences, that it is difficult for me to answer simply; I’d rather say it is at the depth of the poems of Wen Yiduo that I encounter the same loss, regret, love, outrage at suffering and so forth that is common to humanity. It is from there, from the human realm, the poems emanate their immediacy. I can say I find a Wen Yiduo poem as fresh and current as any poem written now in English.


I find a tight condensation in your English, often more condensed than I find Wen Yiduo’s Chinese to be. Can you say something about the audience you have in mind for Stagnant Water, and what you imagine that audience’s expectations to be?

Condensation in poetry, that is condensation that does not hinder either rhythm or clarity of voice, is, for me, a desideratum. I try to approach translation much the same way a composer approaches transcription—as a reconstruction rather than a substitution. The key to Wen Yiduo, for me, is voice; I first decide who the speaker is, whether the voice is general or specific, and, if specific, who the speaker is, to whom she or he is speaking, under what conditions etc., and I try not to use any language that an ordinary person in that same situation wouldn’t use. I have attempted not to make the foreign sound strange. I made these translations for anyone who loves poetry.

Thanks to Robert Hammond Dorsett for his answers!

Click the image for ordering information on the book.