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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張愛玲

這是真的。

有個村莊的小康之家的女孩子,生得美,有許多人來做媒,但都沒有說成。那年她不過十五六歲吧,是春天的晚上,她立在後門口,手扶著桃樹。她記得她穿的是一件月白的衫子。對門住的年輕人同她見過面,可是從來沒有打過招呼的,他走了過來,離得不遠,站定了,輕輕的說了一聲:“噢,你也在這裡嗎?”她沒有說什麼,他也沒有再說什麼,站了一會,各自走開了。

就這樣就完了。

後來這女子被親眷拐子賣到他鄉外縣去作妾,又幾次三番地被轉賣,經過無數的驚險的風波,老了的時候她還記得從前那一回事,常常說起,在那春天的晚上,在後門口的桃樹下,那年輕人。

於千萬人之中遇見你所遇見的人,於千萬年之中,時間的無涯的荒野裡,沒有早一步,也沒有晚一步,剛巧趕上了,那也沒有別的話可說,惟有輕輕的問一聲:“噢,你也在這裡嗎?”

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