Scott L. Satterfield – translation of ‘Bamboo Rill’ by Tang Shunzhi
NOVEMBER 20th 2017
买一花，不自惜；然有竹据其间，或芟而去焉，曰 【毋以是占我花石地】，而京师人苟可致一竹，辄不惜数千钱；然遇霜雪，又槁以死。以其难致而又多槁 死，则人益贵之；而江南人甚或笑之，曰【京师人乃宝吾之所薪】！呜呼！奇花石诚为京师与江南人所贵；然穷其所生之地，则绝徼海外之人视之，吾意其亦无以甚异於竹之在江以南。而绝徼海外，或素不产竹之地，而使其人一旦见竹，吾意其必又有甚於京师人之宝之者，是将不胜笑也。语云 【人去乡则益贱，物去乡则益贵】。以此言之，世之好醜，亦何常之有乎？
I have strolled in the gardens of the capital’s titled and wealthy, and seeing what is collected there – not one rare plant or stone from distant borders across the seas is lacking – only the bamboo cannot be had. We south of the Yangtze cut bamboo for kindling; for the garden we also purchase rare plants and stones from abroad, some spending countless sums for a rock, a fortune to buy a single flower, all without regret. Yet if there is bamboo standing in the midst some would hack it away saying, “This will not occupy my bed of flowers and stone“. But if in the capital people are able to obtain a single bamboo, then the sum of several thousands is not regretted, ever knowing that upon the first frost or snow it will wither and die. Men greatly prize the fragile and unobtainable, yet those from the south would even mock them saying, “So the people of the capital prize our firewood”. How sad! Rare plants and stones are indeed prized by those of the south and the capital, but were their place of origin plumbed and men from those distant borders across the seas look upon them, I believe they would think those less wondrous than the bamboo south of the Yangtze. And in faraway lands across the seas perhaps no place grows bamboo, so I believe those strangers upon suddenly seeing bamboo would invariably prize it more greatly than those living in the capital, and both would laugh without end. It is commonly said, “A man away from home is worthless, a thing away from home is precious”. In view of this, how can there be constancy among people’s likes and dislikes?
My uncle, a gentleman holding the Guanglu position, cultivates a garden on the banks of the Jing stream, everywhere planting bamboo and not other trees. Among the bamboo a small pavilion is set to pass moments of leisure with guests reciting verse and singing within. On occasion he spoke to me, “I can not strive with those of influence in the surpassing of plants and stone, yet only by gathering what is native to this place I need not labor and my garden flourishes thusly; I am complete. In this way I am styled Master of Bamboo Rill. Nephew, you should write down such words for me”.
I replied, “How in fact are you unable to compare with the influential by conveniently gathering what is native to the land? It is not that you alone have a deep affection for the bamboo, but rather are unwilling to pronounce so to others? Long ago men discussed the bamboo, considering that being void of pretty color and fragrance it was not liked; and as its wondrous strangeness is unequal to stone, and its guiling beauty and charming delicacy unequal to the flower, yet it stands forth as a gentleman of pride and independence, aloof from the vulgar. In this, from antiquity to the present, an absolute few have known how to appreciate the bamboo.
And those of the capital, how can they understand and value bamboo, merely wanting to use it as they would a rare plant or rock to vie in display of wealth? Thus as people from the capital prize it, and people south of the Yangtze denigrate it, their failure to understand the bamboo is one and the same. You sir, grew up surrounded by sumptuous circumstance and are able not to become dissolute in its midst; fine clothing, stables, squires, maidservants, singers and dancers, all those things many wealthy men greatly desire you deny; especially do you steadfastly refuse reckless intercourse with others. In manner stern, aloof and unique, for this do you take pleasure in the bamboo, and all those many things that men fancy and like cannot by nature stand among the bamboo! Even if bamboo were not native to this place, you sir would do utmost to gather it here and then take pleasure in it; you, sir, by might can gather together strange plants and stone yet your pleasure would not be found in their midst.
How sad! Before, the bamboo could not be taken from the south but taken now because is it prized. I have thoughts upon thoughts on this.
- Tang Shunzhi (1507-1560)
SEP 4th 2017
A Mean Abode
It is not how high the mountain, if there be spirits within fame follows. It is not how deep the water, if there be dragons within wonder follows. In this mean abode, only my self graces it. Traces of moss cover the steps green, grass shows green through the hung screen. The learned are here for talks and laughter, no unlettered folk come and go. I can play simple melodies, read the scriptures. No strings or flutes troubling the ear, no papers tiring body and soul. Here is as famous men of integrity passed simple lives in mean places far apart.*
So did Confucius ask, “ In what manner is this mean?”
- Liu Yuxi (772–842)
*As Nanyang’s (Henan) Zhu Gelu and as distant Shu (Sichuan) in the West, Yangze’s pavilion.
SEP 1st 2017
The bare paddy field buried in deep snow is an unknown field
The wind of memory blows over the piled snow
The snow drifts
The snow slides
Some more snow falls, some more wind blows
And the drift is shaped into an elephant ear
Now a young elephant has strayed from the herd
For the stray elephant
the snowstorm slowly begins to draw his body
Some more snow falls, some more wind blows
Following the body the snowstorm outlines the trunk
a distress signal is sent out in a low voice
But the wind roughens and blows up the snow
the painstakingly stretched trunk is erased
the body is erased
only one ear is left
The wind blows, ho ho, from the river surface
in the valley twisting
and playing with the elephant
You know, though, one ear to listen is enough
I now touch my own ears
A countless number of ears are asleep
in the deepest place
The forgotten ears
For my stray ears
the snow storm begins to mold my ear
Thus some more snow falls
Thus some more wind blows
Verily I say unto thee, that this night, before the cock crow, thou shalt deny me thrice Matthews 26
Out of the window of twilight
I gaze blankly at the camellia blossoms
There comes a day the camellia sees
through to the bottom of my heart
Caught by the core of the red blossom
through and through I am seen
Being led I stoop under the branches
and step into Caiaphas’ courtyard from the back gate
where he is said to be judged
The high priest Caiaphas’ courtyard is also
filled with camellia blossoms
I watch from the space between the leaves
He denied, saying, I know not what thou sayest
Two thousand year old charcoal burns deep
who betrays and wants death
a crowd of servants and maids gathered
And again he denied with an oath, I do not know the man
A fish swims away from the far away heaving lake of Galilee
I look inside the burning
and see his tear about to overflow
Who left a stumbling stone, here?
For the third time I hear the voice, saying, I know not the man
Another maid said unto them that were there,
This fellow was also with Jesus of Nazareth
That was my voice;
I was there, too
Camellias, wrapped by the dusk, open their crimson petals
I am lost in thought; the cock crow, and the man goes outside,
Unnoticed, two thousand years have passed
Unchanged, something in the shape of a red flower
falls onto the ground passing on
Sins and weaknesses
I go to and from Caiaphas’ courtyard
引っ張る 細い毛根がびりびりと剥がれる 引きながら
わたしは 解いたカズラを束ねて 一つの輪に編んで行
く 最初の輪につぎつぎ絡ませ 縄目を作り隙間を埋め
ながら 偶然にゆだねてオブジェを作る 壁掛けを作っ
と 朝と夕を加え小鳥も加えることになって ドライフ
る それを玄関に飾る 誰にも気づかれない わたしだ
けのオブジェの中で わたしは いまだエバのままであ
り 出る時も入る時も 魂のありかをとわれつづけてい
(Miho Kinnas’s translation of an essay by Akira Kisa, Where Bibliobattles Are was published in Asian Literary Journal Cha in June, 2017. More poems by Ikuko Tanaka in translation can be found at Poetry Kanto.)
MAY 26 2017
Todd Boss attends to how a poem happens. Hence, Motionpoems emphasise movement and kinaesthetic action. His work is also about facilitating meaningful encounters with art. “Constellations” is no exception.
An emphatic voice gives chase to an elusive and energetic star, but only manages to catch a glimpse of it. An apostrophe, short but forceful.
The poem attempts to capture a sublime encounter with a single gesture, somewhere between the impermanence of a shooting star and the constancy of a constellation. An encounter so elusive and fleeting, we can only gesticulate about with language.
To translate this poem on its terms is to appreciate its inherently performative nature—a mimesis demonstrating the temporal nature of an aesthetic encounter. Something that can only be performed, but not fixed, with words. Something impossible without an intimate reading.
An adequate translator is foremost an adequate reader. Reading is more than just understanding the signification of words, but also how they dance and contribute to a dynamic whole. Imagery, form, rhythm and rhyme. These are some of the poetic elements that require breaking down and reconstruction in the target language. Reconstruction because there is no natural or necessary equivalence between languages and their respective cultures. Translation is reading is rewriting.
The original has a lot of style. We have on page, a river of words gushing with too much force. A voice breaks the surface, now and then, when it can; the tone imploring, and desperate. Words are ejaculated, spat in passion. These exclamations are followed by long dashes of silence—as the voice succumbs to the drag of undercurrent emotions precariously balanced between ecstasy and hysteria. The lines of the poem look like an afterimage, a blur of motion. Just like an encounter with the ephemeral.
The river of words flows east, and arrives at a place where they can drop vertically down. In Chinese, words can cascade and fall. Much like stars. They are also complete and whole on their own, not just an assembly of letters. They now hang better in the sky; this being one of the low-hanging fruits. I hang the words up like stars, and build a constellation. Joining them dot-to-dot, I trace their intractable paths in this alternate linguistic universe, probing for my reclusive rocket.
Reclusive rocket. How does one ignore the sweet sounds of alliteration? I took the bait. More than just a falling star, I add the sense of a lone ranger travelling through endless space. Alone. Aloof. I allow some words to break out from the safety of the constellation, with one that ends up alone. Empty. Drawing nothing.
I ask myself if this is too much, but decide no. After all, Boss writes for the displaced.
 Boss, T. (2016). Retrieved May 12, 2017, from https://toddbosspoet.com/about/
 Boss, T. (2009). Retrieved May 12, 2017, from http://howapoemhappens.blogspot.sg/2009/10/todd-boss.html
MAY 22 2017
Lian Hai Guang is currently a postgraduate at Nanyang Technological University’s (NTU) Masters of Translation and Interpretation (MTI) Program, located in Singapore. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
– Todd Boss