On Parting (after Tu Mu)


On Parting (after Tu Mu)

This much fondness numbs me.
I ache behind my drink, and cannot smile.
The candle too, hates parting,
and drips tears for us at dawn.

A non-poet friend asked why I’m dabbling in these adaptations. After all, she said, they’ve already been translated. Why do you breathe, I replied, admittedly a dissatisfying, snarky and evasive answer. So I thought about it. Why, indeed. The usual justifications apply: as exercises in diction and rhythm, it’s fun, it’s challenging. But the truth is I love these poems, these poets, and working through the pieces allows me to inhabit the poems in a way I can’t by simply reading them. And there is a hope, however feeble, of adding to the conversation a slight nuance or a bit of texture without detracting from or eroding the original.

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Much feeling but seem all without feeling
Think feel glass before smile not develop
Candle have heart too reluctant to part
Instead person shed tear at dawn


72 thoughts on “On Parting (after Tu Mu)

  1. Such a beautiful way with words, Bravo … if you have time I too have so to speak put pen to paper. I’m writing a short story called. ” The weary Traveler”. Please if you have a moment visit my blog and let me hear what you think.. Once, again Bravo to you for your post today.. Hugs and Happy Blogging to ya … 🙂


  2. I think of the rationale for doing transcriptions, translations, and adaptations as similar to that for renovating and remodeling rather than building new. The problems and puzzles are akin to those inherent in original works, but never identical, and sometimes require subtler skills that, once honed by use on existing edifices, can be applied to completely new things in a richer way as well. When the original poetry is in another language, the bonus of exposure that many of us would never otherwise have enjoyed means that beautiful works from other cultures and tongues become more widely accessible and appreciated. All beneficial to both writer and reader, if you ask me! 🙂


  3. I agree with kathryningrid completely. I also agree with you, snarky and otherwise. Keep doing what you’re doing. I enjoy your interpretations a great deal.


  4. There is something (soul, beauty) missing from the transliterations from the Chinese poem site. I love your versions and it is interesting to compare the two and see how the same words can be interpreted in such different ways. Your blog has opened up a world of poetry and poets that I’d never come across before and wouldn’t have accessed without a translation. I think you have lots if reasons now to list for your friend : ), thought your reply was great!


  5. The adaptation was, as we have come to expect, exquisite. The explanation of why you do what you do was nonpariel! I’m not so kind to those who ask me why i write haiku. I usually say, “Go ask your mother!” It’s a little phrase I used a lot when we had children. 😛



    • Thanks, Ron. The question was truly an honest one. I don’t ask myself these questions (motivation? what’s that?), and find it somehow refreshing to consider them. But on the other hand, I can hardly wait to use your reply.


  6. There’s nothing new under the sun, if Shakespeare’s correct, anyway. Right, Robert?! FWIW, I add my voice to those who enjoy your adaptations (I like the word adaptations better than translations, personally), as well as “Shutters” and the other pieces that are solely yours. I was reading something that will seem tangential at first, yesterday, by Isaac Asimov, and it was a science fact piece that was talking about the then-current view of science: the very act of measurement alters that which is being measured (then he gave what he called a standard example of dunking a thermometer in a glass of water). It seems to me that adaptations or translations or tributes/homages can’t help but do that as well; as an artist, you process Tu Mu’s thoughts and words through your own life filters and what comes out does have a different temperature, nuance, mode, or tone sometimes.


  7. At any given point I feel, a poem is so open to interpretations – the same poem takes on so many meanings, inhabits so many mental universes and permeates many different emotions. This process becomes even more infused in a translation – a different poem emerges, enriched by new dimensions. Thank you for your adaptation, it enriched me.


  8. Translation is an art in itself and capturing the meaning in the depth of any writing must be incredibly difficult but poetry and prose takes on an emotiona depth. Your work is brilliant despite the authors capacity. It cannot be easy but it must be incredibly rewarding. I am working on a kind of translation from modern stories of my own to a fable or tale form – its not easy particularly the metaphor. Much respect and admiration to you. Thanks for the like on my piece…..especially appreciated because my stuff is so different from the poet space- I too like to move in many spheres PS beer is a damn good drink.


  9. Sorry Robert, dashed iPads! I meant to say Considering Chinese people translate these poems from Classical into colloquial Chinese, I think you’re in good company interpreting these gems in the manner than speaks most to you. We are all certainly richer for it. 🙂


  10. And I do believe that the Chinese language is drawn in permeable images? Open to interpretation. I discovered this when I asked a Chinese acupuncturist to write a particularly impelling phrase she used. And I remember how much I learned from ‘copying’ a Constable landscape as a young student – my world enlarged.


    • Yes, it’s almost metaphoric in nature. I had the good fortune of hearing Arthur Sze lecture on translating Chinese poetry. He discussed the make up of certain words – the character for “autumn” consists of two parts, “tree tip” and “fire.” Fascinating. I’ve been toying of taking up Chinese calligraphy, if only to get a feel for the strokes that build the characters. You can read an interview with Arthur here: http://www.thedrunkenboat.com/szeview.htm


  11. The partnership of translation / transliteration is exciting and maybe the best way to escape yourself for a time. All artists risk imitating themselves and need to open some windows to get some fresh art. The short version: keep at it.


    • It is indeed an excellent way to escape oneself, and still build upon or augment one’s personal toolkit. I can’t imagine not continuing. The benefits and derived joy are too great to resist.


  12. Robert, a rewarding effort – as usual.

    Ah, your poor friend – I hope she doesn’t mind playing the part of incomprehension in the comments section. Give her my regards.

    All of the reasons you give for why are good ones, and ones I share on occasion. And then there’s shouting “Hello!” into the void to see if there’s an echo.


  13. I personally don’t care to have foreign poetry translated or recomposed but in your case I have to make an exception…because you do a marvelous composition every time, giving it fresher light and clarity.

    I esp like this one. But, your original work is missed…and preferred…at least, by me.

    Have a wonderful write, regardless…of whatever you care to share with us.

    ~ steph


  14. If we all lived with the thought that some had already experienced a ‘bitter love’ how would we have known that some other individuals have ‘happy beginnings’ on their experience on love. -Sagarika


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