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).

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 most recent book of poems (in Dutch) is Deze poelen, deze geest (2008). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog.

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 addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. He sings in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

On Translating Zhou Mengdie 周夢蝶 (Part 2 of 3)

On Translating Zhou Mengdie 周夢蝶[1] (Part 2 of 3)

by Lloyd Haft
(for Part 1, see September 2013 archive on this blog)

4. Imaginary words that mean the most

Sometimes the individual word on which the translation hangs is not even a word on the page, but a word ‘seen’ quasi-visually in the scene being described. In ‘Cold That Can Take the Cold’ 不怕冷的冷 ( 120), we find another example of a syllable by whose translation a whole philosophy does or does not remain in view.

猛抬頭! 一行白鷺正悠悠
自對山, 如拭猶溼的萬綠叢中
you suddenly look up! and there’s a line of egrets unhurried,                    
facing their mountain, up from the wind-wiped rain-fresh thickets
soaring in a row –

        Idiomatically, we could consider making it a ‘group’ of egrets soaring in a row. But in view of the close proximity of the which can mean a ‘line’ of writing and which normally means a single ‘character’ of writing, it seems more satisfactory to say

you suddenly look up! one line of egrets, unhurried,
facing their mountain, up from the wind-wiped rain-fresh thickets
soaring as a One –

In Chinese poetry, it is not uncommon to see ‘lines’ of writing in the flight patterns of birds in the sky.[2] Sometimes a single ‘character’ is seen, typically either ‘one’ or ‘human.’ In this poem, the suggestion explicitly is the written character for ‘one.’ In a poem alluding to the Daoist writer Zhuangzi, we are bound to associate this with a concept of ‘oneness,’ the ‘Unity of all Things’ which is the subject of one of his most famous chapters. The ‘egrets,’ part of a visually existing scene at the level of  the Public Ambience, are bringing not only a visual shape but a message: that no matter how far one has wandered, according to the Scriptural Ambience there is a One, a unifying cosmic or mental state in which it all holds together.

Another example that hinges on this ‘1’ or yi, once again involving a bird scene, is from ‘In Praise of Sparrows: Five Cantos’ 詠雀五帖 (78-80):



at the sun crowding the bus each morning

one little sparrow
squatting on a twig of cock’s comb
like on a swing...
In the secret silence of a mother’s belly
you learned this art, this life of weightlessness
It turns out the music
of what’s Deepest, Best and Most Beautiful
hangs on this One before my eyes:
this [one] power line, string there’s no score for –

In the second-to-last line of the original quoted above, because of the rhythmic or ‘thought’ pause implied by the line break, 此一 (‘this One’) could initially be read as: (1) the visual shape of the power line, taken as a horizontal stroke of Chinese writing, i.e., the character ‘one,’ (2) ‘this one’ in the sense of ‘this particular item, this one that is now under consideration,’ (3) the One in a philosophical sense, such as it presents itself to ‘me’ in a concrete perception., or (4) ‘this,’ grammatically suspended by the end of the line, to be repeated at the beginning of the next line.
In Chinese culture and letters, one of the classic sources relating a calligraphic ‘one’ to the philosophic One is the Hua yulu 畫語錄 (Sayings on painting) by the Qing-dynasty painter Shitao 石濤 (also known as Daoji 道濟, 1641-ca. 1710).[3] It is not an easy or unambiguous text, and has been interpreted in various ways,[4] but all readers agree that a key notion in it is yihua 一畫. One of the prevalent interpretations of that idea, relevant here, is ‘the horizontal line, the character yi .’
In the chapter on yihua in Qiao et al. 2007, there is a convenient survey of what well-known Chinese writers have written on the ‘one’ in this concept. A common interpretation is indeed ‘one line’ or ‘one stroke of the brush’; others include what I would summarize in English as ‘oneself doing the painting’ or ‘painting this one time, this unique time.’ Yet another is the Chinese philosophical One as opposed the Many or to All Things.[5]
        As Edwards points out, the crucial ‘single stroke’ is

not an invention of Shitao. It...rests on early it became deeply embedded in the fabric of Chinese civilization, specially with the creation of the so-called Eight Trigrams (bagua), forms whose origin goes back to methods of divination and which consist of various combinations of a single line – one unbroken and one broken. These configurations created in symbolic language the form of heaven and earth. They opened the way for an understanding of the totality of creation.[6]

Citing a possible Buddhist association, Edwards quotes a recorded snippet of conversation between a certain Master Xiu and Shitao’s own teacher in Buddhism, Lü-An (d. 1676):

Xiu: ‘Take the word one (a single horizontal stroke) and add no more strokes to it. What do you have?’
Lü-An: ‘The design is complete.’

Edwards summarizes: ‘Form comes from the formless...Its beginnings rest with the simplest – and yet most shattering of beginnings: the first mark, the single stroke, from whose ‘complete’ implications everything else – infinite variety – follows.’[7]
        In the second chapter of Hua yulu, Shitao says: ‘The One Stroke is the origin of all visibles, root of all images’ 一畫者, 眾有之本, 萬象之根.
       That Shitao saw philosophical weight in his concept seems clear from the closing remark, whether or not written with tongue in cheek, of his introductory chapter on the One Stroke: it is a literal quote from Confucius, wu dao yi yi guan zhi 吾道一以貫之, which Legge (169) translates ‘my doctrine is that of an all-pervading unity.’[8]
In the context of the poem by ZMD which we have been examining, it is also pertinent that in a traditional etymology of the character dan   meaning ‘dawn,’ the single horizontal line is said to represent the horizon above which the sun rises: the dawning of a new day.
Another subtle implication in this poem is that in the original, zhi shen zhi shan zhi mei至深至善至美 sounds almost like zhi zhen zhi shan zhi mei, the familiar philosophical trio of whatever is most True, Good, and Beautiful but in this case, Truth has been replaced by Depth, perhaps suggesting the relative or not-yet-evident nature of truth.
For the philosophical One in another of ZMD’s contexts, we now turn to the beginning passage of ‘Good Snow! Not a Flake Falls Elsewhere好雪! 片片不落別處’ ( 26). The poem begins with a quote ostensibly from the Hua Yen Sutra[9]:


All floweth forth from this Dharmadhatu;
all floweth into this Dharmadhatu.

Soothill (271) defines ‘Dharmadhatu’ (fajie 法界) as ‘the unifying underlying spiritual reality regarded as the ground or cause of all things, the absolute from which all proceeds.’
        The first lines of the poem are


When the cold gets to here, it’s at its highest –
cold up to here. The here that’s the end, the beginning of All,
the One that is All.

In the original, the third line reads yiqie zhi yi de zher. Here yi qie zhi yi 一切之一could mean something like ‘one of All’ or even ‘one of the Alls.’ But it could also mean ‘the One that is associated with everything’ or ‘the One that is All.’ If we take it in this sense, then ‘here,’ being the One, is actually where ‘everything’ starts from, for as Laozi tells us:

the One gives rise to the Two,
the Two to the Three,
the Three gives rise to All Things...[10]

But...whether or not the everyday speaker knows it, the expression yiqie 一切, which in the vernacular means ‘all, everything,’ occurs in some classical texts in a very different meaning: ‘temporarily, as expedient, for the time being.’ And this sense is attested in such venerable sources as Zhanguo ce 戰國策 , Huainanzi 淮南子, and Hanshu 漢書 . It would make sense, too, if we read qie in yiqie very literally to mean a ‘slice’ or ‘cut’ of something.
If we try endorsing these meanings ‘for the time being,’ we get something like

When the cold gets to here, it’s at its highest –
cold up to here. The here that’s the end, the beginning of All,
this moment’s cross-section of the One.
In other words, the ‘here’ and the present moment, in all their transitory uniqueness, are not different from the most absolute overall Origin that can be imagined.
But again: if in the second line we construe一切之終之始 differently, we could take it as ‘the beginning of the end of All’ – implying individual temporality and mortality. This would give us

When the cold gets to here, it’s at its highest –
cold up to here. The here that’s the beginning of the end of All,
one time-bound slice of the All.

5. Puns, obvious and arcane

Now let us get back to a specific category of single-word emphasis: puns. In ZMD’s poetry, even the straight-sounding title of a poem may be a pun. Consider the early poem titled ‘ Nine Lines’ 九行 ( 102; translation in Frontier 98):




Your shadow is a bow.
And with yourself you draw yourself

Every day, out of the east, a sun’s shaken down:
ball after ball of copper-red autumn, completed
in your wind-dried hands.

Why don’t you grow a thousand hands, a thousand eyes? many autumns:
so many selves, waiting to be shaken down.

The title looks straightforward: ‘Nine Lines,’ introducing a poem that is nine lines long. But in ancient Chinese, the jiu hang or ‘nine lines’ could be a general term for ‘the various human occupations’ (cf. ‘what line of work are you in?’). Present-day Chinese readers may not think of this old usage, but I think having it in the background definitely adds to the appreciation of this poem, which describes the human condition as an ‘occupation’ of self-construction that can take various courses. It is not clear whether the proverbial ‘educated native speaker’ would immediately make this association. But in the style of reading I am advocating here, that does not matter. In the linguistic annals of the Public Ambience, the association is well attested, and on a present-day Realization reading it makes good sense.
        As an example of a reading which I myself find of ‘borderline’ validity, but according to my own theory must be considered, we now turn again to Cold That Can Take the Cold不怕冷的冷 ( 118). This actually consists of two poems which the same title. The first begins with one of the grammatical surprises typical of ZMD’s poetry:


Even if you’ve never, in a dream, been a fish,
been a bird, been a butterfly –
if you live here long enough,
confused and all, still and all,
without expecting it and all
you’ll start to be a Zhuangzi...

This sounds plain enough in English. But the translator has made it so! In the original, even the first line is a rocky road. First of all, ‘been a fish’ is yu guo 魚過 where the syllable yu ‘fish,’ though it is initially perceived by native speakers as a noun, must be read or construed as a verb because of the verbal complement guo immediately following.[11] In other words, one would like to translate the first line as something like ‘Even if you’ve never, in a dream, fished...’ But in English, ‘never...fished’ would mean ‘never angled, never gone fishing.’ If we consider ancient Chinese texts, in which the character for ‘fish’ could be an alternate character for ‘to go fishing, catch fish,’ this might at first seem plausible in our context. However, no analogous meaning implying ‘to catch’ is available for the words for ‘bird’ and ‘butterfly,’ which in the text we are examining are so clearly in parallel with ‘fish.’
        But this is not all. In very old classical Chinese texts including bronze inscriptions, the character yu meaning ‘fish’ could also be used for wu meaning ‘I.’ And one of those texts is attributed to Liezi列子, who like Zhuangzi is one of the foremost Daoist thinkers.[12] Taking this line of analysis seriously, we might mentally rewrite the first lines as:

Even if you’ve never, in a dream, been a self,
been a bird, been a butterfly...

And this would make sense, because if there is any passage from Zhuangzi that all Chinese readers are guaranteed to know, it is the famous ‘butterfly dream’ – which is about the unworkability of the ego concept:

Once Zhuang Zhou dreamt he was a butterfly, a butterfly flitting and fluttering around, happy with himself and doing as he pleased. He didn’t know he was Zhuang Zhou. Suddenly he woke up and there he was, solid and unmistakable Zhuang Zhou. But he didn’t know if he was Zhuang Zhou who had dreamt he was a buterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was Zhuang Zhou.[13]

But if all this is stretching a point, we can take refuge in the ‘never been a fish’ construction. The latter certainly seems indicated here in the light of the following clincher involving Zhuangzi, who on the one hand was obsessed with whether or not he was really a butterfly, and on the other was once asked how he could understand ‘what fish enjoy’ without himself being a fish (Watson 110).
For another example which is, though abstruse, not even so far-fetched, let us now examine ‘Contemplating the Waterfall’ 觀瀑圖 ( 126). Looking at the first stanza, a straightforward translation might read:


Before the man arrived below the cliffs
its sound already reached his ears –
this scroll! this parable eager to open the eyes, the mind:
blessed are the chilled, the fallen, the pulverized.
The road shall have no end
just like the froth (the old man thinks):
born and gone, gone and born, born and gone...
so it is with all that passeth, day nor night ceasing.

But the yiru 一如 with which the fifth line begins, though it ordinarily means ‘just like,’ is also a Buddhist technical term meaning something like ‘the Absolute’ or ‘Ultimate Truth.’ Leaning heavily on this meaning, we might rewrite the passage as

The road shall have no end.
The froth of the Absolute Truth, the old man thinks,
is born and gone, gone and born...

Yet...again in this fifth line (of the original), we note what seem to be grammatically parallel occurrences of na : na paomo and na laozhe with a comma between them, suggesting that these two terms might be in apposition. Then we would get:

The road shall have no end.
The old man, that bubble of froth on the Absolute, thinks:
In the Scriptural Ambience, it is a commonplace that ordinary human experience is transient ‘froth.’

[to be continued]

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] See Crump 193-195. For an example by another 20th-century Taiwan poet, see Yang Lingye’s 羊令野 brief sequence Autumn Meditations (Qiuxing 秋興).
[3] In English, see Chou and Edwards.
[4] For a collation and discussion of various views in Chinese, see Qiao Nianzu 喬念祖 (ed.), “石濤畫語錄與現代繪畫藝術研究, Beijing: Renmin yishu chubanshe, 2007. As this book was written by Qiao Nianzu in collaboration with Zhang Zhihua 張志華 and Shao Jingjing 邵菁菁, I will refer to it as Qiao et al. 2007.
[5] Qiao et al. 2007, pp. 19, 22-23, 31-32.
[6] Edwards 120; transcription adjusted to pinyin.
[7] Edwards 121, transcription adjusted.
[8] Analects (Lunyu 論語), Chapter 4 (里仁), section 15.
[9] ‘Ostensibly’ because I have not been able to verify that it does actually occur in that sutra.
[10] From Chapter 42.
[11] For other examples of words in ZMD’s poetry being dislodged from their usual ‘part of speech,’ see Zeng 177-179.
[12] Thanks to Dr. Jan De Meyer, translator of Liezi into Dutch, for discussion on this.
[13] Translation by Burton Watson in Watson 45; transcription modernized. For a thoroughgoing literary reading of Zhuangzi, see Hoffmann.