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.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Tips for Tired Translators

(1) Yours is one of the most thankless professions in the world You are being paid – if we can even use the word ‘paid’ for the disgusting pittance you are undoubtedly getting – to help somebody else earn money and become famous. Accept it! Publishers will always think of you, if they think of you at all, as a sort of glorified typist. As for authors, take comfort in the words of an Italian sinologist friend of mine who said: ‘The nice thing about translating Ancient Chinese poetry is that the authors are already dead!’

(2) Try to avoid translating authors who know more than five words of your own native language. They will always think they have found mistakes in your translation, and want you to change your text accordingly.

(3) If you can’t see what the damned text MEANS, take a deep breath and just translate what it SAYS. An obscure original has the right to an obscure translation.

(4) Don’t break your back trying to make the original sound better than it is. We are not in business to teach people to write decently.

(5) If you are an American, never expect that one single European, never one single one of them in your lifetime or in all eternity, will ever think you know anything at all about a language called ‘English.’

(6) Don’t assume that just because a word is in the dictionary, it must be wrong.

Lloyd Haft

January 2015

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Justin Stone's Chinese Name

Justin Stone's Chinese Name

(Scraps from a Sinological Scrapbook 漢齋閒情異誌, fragment 26)

Fundamentals of T’ai Chi Ch’uan, by Wen-Shan Huang who was Justin Stone’s teacher, contains a preface by Justin Stone – just as Stone’s T’ai Chi Chih!, published at about the same time (1974), not only includes a foreword by Huang but is dedicated to him as a ‘friend and teacher.’ Huang’s book, unlike Stone’s brief manual, is an imposing tome, 559 pages in all, more like a reference book for a lifetime. Probably nobody ever read it at one sitting.
       It took me forty years to get around to the Appendices at the back, which are in Chinese. (By that time I had at least a reasonable knowledge of Chinese, though I still had to ask my wife what certain key phrases meant...)
       In the third Appendix, where Huang lists some acknowledgments, he calls Justin Stone by a Chinese name, adding the English name in parentheses. The Chinese name is Shi Dong 石東, the two characters meaning ‘stone’ and ‘east’ respectively. Shi is an existing Chinese family name, and Dong is a plausible first name.  If we rearrange the characters to put the first and last names in the usual Western order (‘Dong Shi’), they mean ‘Oriental Stone’ or ‘Eastern Stone.’ Very appropriate, given Justin’s intense study and assimilation of Oriental meanings and values.
       I have no way of knowing whether it was Wen-Shan Huang himself who gave Justin this name, but it is a reasonable guess. Western students of Chinese things often receive a name from their Chinese teacher. (I did.) And there is a technical detail of ‘Shi Dong’ which adds to my suspicion that Teacher Huang himself gave this name to Teacher Stone. In giving names to foreigners, the Chinese like to select Chinese syllables which are not only meaningful but more or less resemble the original sound of the person’s name. In Southern Chinese speech, ‘Shi Dong’ would likely be pronounced ‘Si Dong,’ or if pronounced very fast – as is usual – ‘S-dong.’ To Chinese ears that would sound very close to ‘Stone.’ And Wen-Shan Huang was of South Chinese origin.
       I don’t know if Justin actually used this Chinese name much. (Incidentally, in the older spelling common in those days, 'Shi Dong’ would have been ‘Shih Tung.’) But maybe there are other students out there who, like me, have been curious as to what his Chinese name might be. If somebody does know of another attested  Chinese name for Justin Stone, please do let me know!

Lloyd Haft
January 2015

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Lamme been dat staat (gedicht)

Wat niet ging,
niet langer meekwam:

zie dát nog staande,
dat bestaan.

Mij zien
is omzien:

ik zoek geen weg meer vóór mij,
weet van achter mij

zo vele wegen:
niet meer te volgen,

niet meer af te leggen,
nergens meer ten einde.

--Lloyd Haft