Tag Archives: Yin Lichuan

Poetry Translations: Yin Lichuan

Poetry Translations is an ongoing series of — you guessed it — poetry translations designed to lighten the mood here a bit, and perhaps even make you think. We’ll translate modern Chinese poetry (anything in 白话 is up for grabs, for classical poetry look elsewhere) without commentary and leave you to do the deep thinkin’.

Today’s poems come from the poet/writer/filmmaker Yin Lichuan’s blog (a tip of the hat to Danwei is in order for listing it among their Model Worker blogs) and some websites that collect her work. According to the China Daily, Lin “is now well known within China for her novels, poetry and essays, such as A Little More Comfort, and Fucker.” She is considered part of the “Lower Body Poets” movement. Recently, she’s also expanded into film with 2006’s award-winning The Park and 2008’s Knitting.

At age thirty I asked
Why are you living. To see you go to college
I’ve been to college, mom
So why are you living again. Your eyes are open
We have not spoken for a long time. A woman
How can she be another woman’s
mother. Raising the same body
I should do things you haven’t, mother
You were once so beautiful, right up until you had me
Since I’ve known you, you’re no longer wanton
For another woman
Was doing this worth it
You became an empty old lady
A discarded fan. How could one prove
It was you who gave birth to me, mother.
On the road home I glimpse
The back of an old woman lifting a vegetable basket
Mother, who could be more unfamiliar than you

So Quiet
If you say to someone, It’s snowing, it’s snowing! It’s snowing…
They say, Ah, really! How troublesome, how will I get to work…
Luckily I don’t know people like that
The people I know are all unconventional enough, childlike enough.
Just enough.
The first snow also came in the evening.
Last night was like a fairy tale.
On Peace Street, turning to the street, stopping, buying a cigarette.
Silvery-blue snowflakes, gently floating down, without making a sound.
The night is deep, deep deep.*

[*There are a number of ways to read this phrase “夜深深深”, another might be “Late nights are profound”]

Getting Better
Sick for a while. Come outside, spring has come!
[When] In dark places it always seems more gloomy and cold.
In these times especially, [you] realize the preciousness of the sun.

Old Woman
Every day I go downstairs to buy cigarettes
An old lady and her pushcart
Are standing every day on the road I cross
The pushcart is made of bamboo, very old
It could carry trash, it could carry a child
Is it used for carrying trash or carrying a child?
It’s always empty
I don’t know
if she’s a grandmother or someone who searches through garbage for odds and ends

Life as Serious as it Ought to Be
I casually glanced at him
I married in passing*
We acted foolishly in passing
And never had a child
I boiled some soups at random
We lived in passing
Had a few casual friends
Time strolled by in passing
And we grew old in passing
Then through incurable illness
Became a model in passing
“A loving husband and wife”
…happy and auspicious life
We simply die
The sun glances in passing
on an empty terrace

[What we’ve translated as “in passing” here is 顺便, which means “in passing”, “conveniently”, “on the way”, as in, ‘I can pick up a newspaper for you on my way to the drug store’. As an adverb, it implies that one is doing something casually, because it is convenient in the moment to do so.]

Note: While we strive for perfection in all of our translations, keep in mind that the intended meaning of poetry can be difficult to determine. Also keep in mind that in translating works of art, one is often forced to choose between communicating the precise meaning of the original or communicating its linguistic beauty at the expense of precision. Here, we strive for first and foremost for precision, since beauty is subjective anyway. Consider it another reason to start learning Chinese if you haven’t yet.