Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006). His most recent sinological book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017. His newest book of poems in Dutch, Intocht (Introit) has been available as a POD from the American Book Center since June 2018.

He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.

Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog. His newest book of poetry in Dutch is Intocht (Introit), issued by the American Book Center in June 2018.

After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In June 2019 he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of National Taiwan Normal University. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. For many years he sang in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Waterwegen (twee gedichten)


Daar stroomt het:
waar kolk naar kolk,

wiel naar wiel doorwil,
leeg in leeg doorlengt,

lus aan lus reikt,
oor naar oor open, door-

zwijgend horend.


Van kolk naar kolk beschrijft de stroom,
laat de lijnen komen

die ontbindende verbinden,
wissende doen weten:

waar het komt
daar zal ik zien,

waar het klinkt
daar zal ik zingen:

ademend beamende
van oog tot oog.

--Lloyd Haft

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Lichtgaten (gedicht)

Altijd wist ik ramen mij
nabij, vensters,

bressen in de lange muur
van mensen met hun woorden,

poorten van een licht dat niet verluidde,
gloren zonder galm.

Nis met altijd nog
een nis erachter: uit-

sparing, in-
dieping, zien,

ademen: want licht en adem
komen samen,

worden waar ik nader één:
één met één erachter in nog niet:

nis waar het altijd wakend licht
mij altijd nader wacht.

--Lloyd Haft

Friday, November 8, 2013

Poems by Willem Hussem (Part 1)

Willem Hussem (1900-1974) was a Dutch artist and poet of the post-World War II period. After decades of experiment and development, in the 1960s he came out with a strong voice of his own in both fields, producing works that are still being studied and appreciated. Opinions differ as to why he did not win greater fame. It has been suggested that he would have done better to live in the wide-open world of Amsterdam rather than staying in The Hague, or better still to emigrate to the United States. In any case, in the Netherlands of his day it was not easy for artists of other plumages to compete with the better publicized painters associated with the Cobra group.
        Hussem’s poetry reflects his artistic and philosophical interest in the Far East. He wrote more than a thousand short, trenchant poems: a genre that in Dutch was sometimes called just the korte gedicht or ‘short poem,’ and sometimes jokingly ‘white poetry’ because the printed pages remained mostly white. Built mostly on visual perceptions and nature images, his poems sometimes suggest the haiku but do not stick to its conventions and restrictions. In 1965 Hussem was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for Dutch poetry.
Though Hussem did not read Chinese, he published well-considered reworkings of classical Chinese verse based on existing translations. His versions of the Tang-dynasty poet Wang Wei, in particular, are among the best I have ever seen.
His best-liked poems have been reprinted in various editions. I have consulted the originals in volumes titled Zet het blauw van de zee..., Zienderogen, Ruimte vergt jaren groei, Met inkt zeggen, Motet, Voor twee scharren blauwbekken, Breels aan de vleet, and Schaduw van de hand.


people are clouds
wherever they come
it's overcast


put the blue
of the sea
up against the blue
of the sky
brush the white
of a sail into it
and the wind
comes up


by the hearth
all that wood
for a single fire

warmth takes years
to grow


scoop up water
from the rain barrel
don't wait till it's
a cloud again


rural the setting
by dusky light
a house in an older style
the owner asks me in
the wooden walls surrounding
don’t hem me in
unnoticed at first my host
ferries me across a river
we moor by a green piece of land
in the same dusky light
this ground goes with the house he says
and leaves me alone


vanished stars
shining still
in the night
dying can’t
hold back light


where the trees blossom
where the fruits come
the top of the mountain
stays under snow


whether you laugh
or cry
you’re on your way


the setting sun
ripens in the trees
at the end of the path


last year
a dead branch
now glowing charcoal


the river
that can’t talk
tells of sunset


high in the mountains
there are no more paths
only the rain
finds a way


the ebb took longing along
the flood brings it back in breakers


last night sea and sky
were one
now at dawn’s coming
they drift apart


cloudless sky
motionless sea
horizon as a hinge
a shell opens


in the silence of morning
the cry of an oriole
the sound colors the forest


in one leap
a fish splits the cloud
on the water’s surface


now that the sun shines
the mud glistens


at the moment
you asked me for a match
lightning struck
fire and wind now
blazing between us


shadows shoving
across the land
climbing the dune
gliding into the ocean
dark fishes
leaving shore behind

--translated by Lloyd Haft

Sunday, September 29, 2013

On Translating Zhou Mengdie 周夢蝶 (Part 3 of 3)

On Translating Zhou Mengdie 周夢蝶[1] (Part 3 of 3)

by Lloyd Haft
(for Parts 1 and 2, see September 2013 archive on this blog)

6. What is what it says saying?

For another pun built into the Chinese language itself, we can consider the first four lines of ‘Moon River’ 月河 ( 4):


Walking alongside the quiet, quiet Ganges
the quiet, quiet moon on the Ganges walks alongside me –
I am the Ganges’ shadow;
the quiet, quiet moon on the Ganges is my shadow.

The problem here is that heng, the first syllable of Henghe which is the standard Chinese name for the River Ganges, means ‘permanent, enduring, eternal.’ Should we exchange the translation ‘Ganges,’ in itself so appropriate in view of its association with the Indian birthplace of Buddhism, for the equally appropriate word ‘eternal’ or ‘endless’? Perhaps we could try

I am a reflection on the eternal river;
the quiet, quiet moon on the eternal river is my reflection

The translator’s decision here amounts to: what do you want to prioritize in the translation: the specific time-and-place-bound ‘East Asian’ flavor of the Ganges (that is, reading it in terms of the Public Ambience), or the more general Realization implications of ‘eternal’ and ‘flow’? What does the pun have to say about the world of experience beyond this poem? Is the translation to be a modest contribution to academic sinology or a modest poem in itself?

A similar cultural-vs.-extracultural decision arises in ‘Someday the Flower’s Bound to Blossom’ 花,總得開一次 ( 140-142):



If road and walk and failure to arrive
are synonyms; if my past’s
unreadable, chanted in harsh rhymes
line on grating line –
know that before I was born
there were already Afters and Thereafters
straight through till Thereafter and After.
No getting around the stumblings.
But how shall I right,
right my line of sight, how make
eyes the road, the road eyes,
see clear from after after to before before?
if there’s no getting around the stumblings.

The world rests in the palm of the Tathagatha,
but the Tathagatha, the arduous-fated Thusly-Come,
the Comer whose belly’s dripping full of blood and tears
rests in my palm.

Winter’s away; spring’s back; waking from hibernation
with in my belly the words ‘In the beginning was the Word’
ready to be pondered.

This last passage puts the translator into a true cross-cultural predicament. The words in the original that form a very widely known Chinese translation of ‘In the beginning was the Word’ in John 1:1, literally mean ‘In the beginning was the Dao’ – or as some would say, ‘In the beginning was the Way.’ Strange or even offensive as it might seem to non-ecumenical Christian readers, the word Dao has been used for the Word (or the Logos) by Protestant translators since the 1830s, when it was first used in print in the New Testament translation by Walter H. Medhurst and Karl F. A. Gützlaff. The Roman Catholic Church originally did not accept this term, but starting with the ecclesiastically approved New Testament version by John C. H. Wu 吳經熊 (1949 and later editions), some Catholic translators have used it as well.[2]
        In any case, since ZMD puts this phrase in quotes, it no doubt is to be taken as this very well-known quote from the Bible. the context of this particular poem, following upon the important passage about the ‘road’ and the ‘walk,’ it would also seem appropriate to make a Formalist move and construe it as:

since the beginning, the Way has existed...

thereby shifting the focus from the Scriptural to the Realization Ambience. This would be all the more justified in that in the immediately following line, it is in ‘my’ belly, the womb-like belly of the speaking subject who walks the Road, that ‘the beginning’ is waiting to be considered. The concluding truth will rest with ‘me’: in ‘my’ palm. In the end it is all a matter of point of view: in the very act of quoting the words traditionally stipulated by the Scriptural Ambience to mean ‘Word,’ the poet assimilates them to the ‘Road’ of his personal Realization.

7. Who shall say?

For another example of the all-importance of point of view as implying agency, we now turn to ‘If You Look at Winter a Certain Way’ 用某種眼神看冬天. In this poem, the stunning last stanza depends for its interpretation on how we read an ambiguous phrase:

我的手的分枝: 信否?[3]

All the leaves that ever fell
will get back on the trees again;
all the trees are and will always be
branchings of my hand – do you believe it?
Though winter footsteps are shallow
their sound will have no end. If,
if you look at winter a certain way.

In the third-from-last line, the ‘winter footsteps’ are dongtian de jiaoyin. This could mean either ‘winter’s footsteps’ or ‘one’s footsteps in winter.’ The immediately preceding statement that the trees are ‘branchings of my hand’ seems to assert a large claim to the competence and role of the ‘I’ vis-a-vis the earth: insignificant as ‘I’ might seem, the trees I have seen will last forever, and they embody my body. Carrying on in this spirit, it seems logical to take dongtian de jiaoyin to mean ‘my footsteps in winter.’ Not winter’s agency but ‘my’ own is the point.
        At the beginning of the poem



If you look at winter a certain way
winter, winter’s rays of sun
like crowds of beetles in a mood for pranks
punch holes in the snow’s body,

the snow that won’t cry ow! and never says no

Here, ‘winter’s rays of sun’ (literally just ‘winter sunlight’) seem to have agency and activity enough. The sun, as bringer of concrete sensory experience, gets footholds in the inhospitable abstract-truth realm of the snow. But the point is that even this supposed agency or initiative on the part of the external world – such that the snow ‘never says no’ to it – ultimately depends on my own agency in the sense that it only happens if I ‘look at winter a certain way.’
But to pronounce the truth of his experience, the speaking subject needs understanding. ‘You’ must know which ‘certain way’ to look. In ZMD’s book on the Dream of the Red Chamber, we read in several places how important it is to ‘know’ or ‘understand’ a person, and the understanding is contrasted favorably with ‘loving’ . The ‘two great needs of humankind’ are ‘to love and be loved’ and ‘to understand and be understood’ ( 241) .’ But ‘it is easy to love a person, difficult to understand them. I don’t much believe in claiming to love a person whom you have not been able to understand (147).’ And again, alluding to the common saying wei yue ji zhe rong 為悅己者容  (‘if a girl dolls herself up, it’s with an eye to her admirer’), ZMD says ( 117): ‘She’ll doll herself up for the one who admires her, but she’ll die for the one who understands her.’
ZMD brings out the importance but also the difficulty of understanding in his poem ‘Thorn Blossoms’ ( 80-81), whose title荊棘花is not so much a pun as a private allusion. In his book on the Dream of the Red Chamber ( 87), he uses the phrase jingkou jishe 荊口棘舌 (‘prickly on the mouth and tongue’) for poetry that is difficult to read. The first few lines of ‘Thorn Blossoms’ make use of a difficult compound, yi guang 異光, whose meaning is clinched, albeit with alternative possibilities, only at the poem’s end:



紅過 ; 這淚光

已彼此含攝; 直到

They were supposed to blossom on Jesus’ head
but they blossomed here.

Wherever they blossom they’re in twos:
desolately flashing that Radiance of the Other.
Is it the blood in the eyes
of a willing martyr?

Blood is contagious:
where it’s reddened, wherever someone’s
warmed and reddened for, against another,
this radiance of tears
that hovered lonely in the sky
will finally come gushing, shed
for all the endless longing under Heaven

till someday the longing eyes
be caught up in each other; till
Heaven’s and what’s under Heaven’s
keeping their distance
mutually end up mutual:
and what was water-born
be water-minded.

In the fourth line, the expression I have translated ‘Radiance of the Other’ is yi guang 異光. Readers’ immediate reaction to this term would be to take it as ‘strange’ or ‘unusual radiance.’ Traditionally, in the Scriptural Ambience this could have been the halo or extraordinary radiance of a spiritual leader. Nowadays in the Public Ambience, yiguang can refer to an eery or unexplained aura or light said to have been perceived somewhere under water or in the sky. In short, there are various two-syllable compounds in which yi has this simple adjectival sense of ‘different.’
In this poem, however, I hear it as not just ‘other’ but ‘of the Other’: the poem’s last line is about something being seen by or in the light of a related something or someone else. The very last three words in the original, ming yu shui 明於水, could mean ‘gleam distinctly upon the water’ or ‘be discernible in the water,’ but also ‘understand the water’ or even ‘be well versed in the water.’[4]
They could also very well be read to mean that ‘what was water-born’ (or ‘born of water’)

is cognized by
is seen in
is seen through
is discerned by virtue of
gets light on
sheds light on
dawns on
shines upon
is clear on
gets clear on
shines even brighter than
is wiser than
is more aware than

...the water.

The expression ming yu shui 明於水 occurs in one of the above-mentioned senses in a widely read Buddhist treatise, the Zongjing lu 宗鏡錄 (Records of the Mirror of the Schools) by Yongming Yanshou 永明延壽 , dating from the tenth century.[5] And ZMD is familiar with Yongming Yanshou, in any event quotes him in his book on the Dream of the Red Chamber ( 29). The term I have translated as ‘caught up in,’ hanshe 含攝 , is certainly not a common or ordinary term in either spoken or written Chinese, but again, it occurs in the Zongjing lu.[6]
        So, when the lyrical subject ‘understands the water’ or ‘comes to understanding vis-a-vis water,’ presumably he or she will at last be able to speak out the truth, not according to Public platitude or Scriptural preachment, but by the light of actual experience. This will be a truth that supersedes by comprising, overtrumps by being cognizant of, previous forms of truth.

8. The only thing...

        This ultimate primacy of the Realization voice, superseding the Scriptural and daring to compete with the supposed authority of the Public (‘human’), comes out well in the poem ‘Wild Geese II’ 雁之二 ( 131). Once again the poem turns on the ‘writing’ of birds in the sky: this time wild geese, whose spread wings visually suggest an overturned Chinese character for ‘man’ or ‘human.’ (Note well: it is an ‘overturned’ or ‘reversed’ human: again an example of ZMD’s beloved ‘reversal’ or ‘palindrome’ motif.)



何日是了? 除非
! 除非你寫得人人人人盡時。

Human human human

Singly or in pairs, forming lines or not
at the heart of the river, the end of the sky
when the autumn wind arises:
however lean and long the autumn wind is
that’s how lean and long your shadow is.

Are you writing words in the air, or
are words in the air writing you?

Human human human –
When endeth the same? only if
(moans the autumn wind in the highest heights of height)
only if the river’s flow reverses, goes back West:
and when will the river’s flow go West?
Ay! only if you can write the human human to the full.

So, the ultimate truth would be, could be, may be the one written by the poet. The all-determining and all-unifying meaningful ‘stroke of the writing brush’ which he has seen in the flight pattern of geese in the sky, in a power line that a sparrow might sit on at the dawn of a new day, is waiting to be written by himself. As we read in a passage of ‘In Praise of Sparrows: Five Cantos’ 詠雀五帖 ( 83-84):


唯美而詩意的最後一筆 ?

the only thing
that might be called still lacking –
could it be this wafting,
last stroke of the writing brush?

List of Works Consulted/Cited

Works by Zhou Mengdie 周夢蝶:

Bu fu Rulai bu fu Qing 不負如來不負卿 []. Taipei: Jiuge 九歌, 2005.

Gudu guo 孤獨國 []. Reprinted in Zhou Mengdie. Gudu guo/Huanhun cao/Fenger Lou yigao孤獨國/還魂草/風耳樓逸稿, edited by Zeng Jinfeng 曾進豐. Taipei: INK, 2009.

Shiji shixuan 世紀詩選 (1) []. Taipei: Erya 爾雅, 2000.

Shisanduo bai juhua 十三朵白菊花. []. Taipei: Hongfan 洪範, 2002.

You yizhong niao huo ren 有一種鳥或人 [], edited by Zeng Jinfeng 曾進豐. Taipei: INK, 2009.

Yuehui 約會 []. Taipei: Jiuge 九歌, 2002.

Other works in Chinese:

Qiao Nianzu 喬念祖 (ed.). “石濤畫語錄與現代繪畫藝術研究. Beijing: Renmin yishu chubanshe 人民藝術出版社, 2007. Authors are Qiao Nianzu, Zhang Zhihua 張志華 and Shao Jingjing 邵菁菁.

Wut Tai-shing 屈大成. “周夢蝶詩與佛教,” in Li Huoren 黎活仁, Xiao Xiao 蕭蕭 and Luo Wenling 羅文玲 (eds.). Xuezhong qu huo qie zhu huo wei xue 雪中取火且鑄火為雪. Taipei: Wanjuan lou 萬卷樓, 2010, 251-312.

Zeng Jinfeng 曾進豐. “Zhou Mengdie shi yanjiu” 周夢蝶詩研究. M.A. Thesis, National Taiwan Normal University, Guowen yanjiu suo 國文研究所, 1996.

Zongjing lu 宗鏡錄. Consulted on website of the Electronic Buddhadharma Society (EBS) 美國佛教會電腦資訊庫功德會(資功會), February 20, 2013.

Works in Western languages:

Chou, Ju-hsi. The Hua-yü-lu and Tao-chi’s Theory of Painting, Occasional Paper No. 8, Tempe, Arizona: Center for Asian Studies, Arizona State University, 1977.

Crump, J. I. Songs from Xanadu: Studies in Mongol-Dynasty Song-Poetry (San-ch’ü). Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1983.

Edwards, Richard. The World Around the Chinese Artist: Aspects of Realism in Chinese Painting, Ann Arbor: Center for Chinese Studies, University of Michigan, 1989/2000, pp. 105-154.

Frontier Taiwan: An Anthology of Modern Chinese Poetry. Edited by Michelle Yeh and N. G. D. Malmqvist. New York: Columbia University Press, 2001.

Haft, Lloyd [2006]. Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag.

_____[2008]. “Perspectives on John C. H. Wu’s Translation of the New Testament,” in Chloe Starr (ed.). Reading Christian Scriptures in China. London and New York: T & T Clark, 2008, pp. 189-206.

Hoffmann, Hans Peter. Die Welt als Wendung – Zu einer Literarischen Lektüre des Wahren Buches vom südlichen Blütenland (Zhuangzi). Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz Verlag, 2001.

Legge, James (trans.). Confucian Analects, in The Chinese Classics vols. I & II, ‘reprinted from the last editions of the Oxford University Press.’ No publ. no date.

Soothill, William Edward and Lewis Hodous. A Dictionary of Chinese Buddhist Terms. Revised by Shih Sheng-kang, Lii Wu-jong and Tseng Lai-ting. Kaohsiung: Foguang 佛光, 1962.

Watson, Burton (trans.). Chuang tzu: Basic Writings. New York: Columbia University Press, 1966.

[1] This piece is based on my paper “ ‘Branchings of My Hands’ : Translation as a Key to Parallel Meanings in Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry,” presented 24 March, 2013, Taipei, at "Poetically He Dwells"—An International Conference on Zhou Mengdie: Manuscripts, Literary Works, Religious Thoughts and the Arts, organized by National Taiwan University Institute for Taiwanese Literature, Kaohsiung Normal University Department of Chinese, and Central University Department of English.
[2] For more detailed background on this, see Haft 2008.
[3] This text is from the version in 132-133. Interestingly, in 54-55, published two years later, 所有的樹都是且永遠是/我的手的分枝 is changed to 所有的樹都是你的我的/手的分枝 all the trees are branchings/of our hands.
[4] The collocation明乎水, where it is normal to read as equivalent to , occurs in this latter meaning in both Mencius (IV.I.xii.1) and The Doctrine of the Mean (19:6). Andrew Plaks, in his translation of the latter, chooses ‘be well versed in.’ See Ta Hsüeh and Chung Yung (The Highest Order of Cultivation and On the Practice of the Mean), Translated with an Introduction and Notes by Andrew Plaks, London etc.: Penguin Books, 2003, p. 37.
           ‘Understanding’ is also the sense of 明於 in Zhuangzi , at the beginning of Chapter 13. 
[5] See Zongjing lu, section 99.
[6] Zongjing lu, section 6.