A Mistake

Zhang-Daqian-Sceneries-of-Jiangnan-HK5-7mHK28.66m1

Zheng Chouyu
translated by Qiaomei Tang

I traveled through the South Land
A longing face blooms and fades like the lotus flower with the seasons
The east wind is yet to arrive, the willow’s March catkins are waiting to fly
your heart is like the small, lonely, walled city
like an alley of blue-green cobbles facing the setting sun
the crickets are not crying, the windows are drawn in March
The hooves of my horse clatter — it’s a beautiful mistake
I’m not coming home, I’m only passing through

 READ THIS IN CHINESE

Image: Zhang Daqian, Sceneries of Jiangnan

qiaomei.tangQiaomei Tang Qiaomei Tang, a native of Zhejiang, China, is a Ph.D. student at Harvard University where she studies early medieval Chinese poetry and literature, and teaches Chinese language courses. Her dissertation examines the representation of divorced women in early medieval Chinese writings. She most recently translated Chapter 3 of Cambridge History of Chinese Literature (Cambridge University Press, 2010).
2_Zheng_Chou_yuZheng Chouyu Zheng Chouyu (1933-), a well-known Chinese poet, was born in Mainland China and moved to Taiwan in 1949. His work abounds with classical Chinese poetic images, exemplified by this poem “A Mistake.” “A Mistake” belongs to “Boudoir Lament” (guisi 闺思), a popular subgenre in the long Chinese poetic tradition. “Boudoir Lament” poems were often written by male poets in the voice of a woman yearning for her absent lover/husband. Boudoir Lament poetry is often set in difficult times such as war, when lovers tended to be separated. It is said that this piece is a poetic treatment of the poet’s own childhood experience in wartime China in the 1940s, and that the archetype of the woman is the poet’s mother. It is a beautifully written poem that captures the spirit of the long poetic imagination of South Land (Jiangnan 江南), the cultural construct corresponding to the geographical region of the lower Yangzi River delta. It conjures up an image of waterland and lotus flowers, and people of talent, beauty, affluence, and cultural refinement. The feminine “South” is often contrasted to the masculine “North,” which is also a constructed place, connoting a borderland of bitterly cold winters and hardships.


Published on January 12th of 2016 in Poetry.



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