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Chinese contemporary poetry: 西川


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I've been wanting to write this post for half a year now, but it's never too late, is it?  :mrgreen:


Last October I had the chance to assist to a poetry reading, and one of the two poets was 西川 (Xi Chuan). I've never been too fond of poetry, it's perhaps the literary genre I like the least, and Classical Chinese poetry seems pretty obscure to me, so I was kindly surprised to discover that Xi Chuan's poetry is very prosaic and terrene, very easy to understand. For example, take a look at this one:










Some vocabulary:


无关紧要:indifferent, insignificant.

嗡嗡声:hum, buzz.

一肚子:bellyful (of sth).

鸦雀无声:not a single voice can be heard, absolute silence (idiom).

谈笑风生:to talk cheerfully and wittily.

自得其乐:to find amusement in one's own way.

吃得开:to be popular.

电线杆:electric pole.

上吊:to hang oneself.



I chose this poem because it's both short and simple, but also because it's one of the poems that the author read during the poetry reading. Here you have the video (Xi Chuan's part begins at 4:50). The sound quality isn't perfect, but it could be worse. On a side note, the woman who translates his words into Galician confessed that she translated the poems from the English version, but with Xi Chuan side by side, so any doubt or nuance she found, she discussed it with him. 



In case anybody is interested, I could post other poems and add some vocabulary. The thing is that next Monday there's another poetry reading with a Mandarin speaking guest, in this case it will be 明迪 (Ming Di), and I thought writing a post like this one would be a good way to discover modern Chinese poets. I think Classical Chinese poetry is so good that it can become overwhelming for contemporary writers, that are almost unknown. What do you think? Are there any poetry readers here?

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Good topic. I also attended a talk by 西川 a few years ago at the Shanghai public library. He's interesting and passionate. He's edited a collection of poems by his friend 海子, who passed away in 1989. Here is one of 海子's most famous poems. It's included in the high school textbook in mainland China. 海子's poems are known to be very readable, down to earth, warm, and emotional.


面朝大海, 春暖花开


从明天起, 做一个幸福的人

喂马, 劈柴, 周游世界

从明天起, 关心粮食和蔬菜

我有一所房子, 面朝大海, 春暖花开

从明天起, 和每一个亲人通信





陌生人, 我也为你祝福




我也愿面朝大海, 春暖花开

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Very interested in this topic -- I like the old stuff, find anything contemporary to be very intimidating and have no idea where to start.


In case anybody is interested, I could post other poems and add some vocabulary.



Please do!  :D 

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Re the 海子 poem at #2, why should we wait till tomorrow? I mean we all know that saying 明日復明日,明日何其多。我生待明日,萬事成蹉跎. I think I would like the poem better if things start from today.

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There are some very good modern (perhaps not "contemporary" enough) poems scattered on the forums. Off the top of my head I remember these -

死水 by 聞一多 - http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/38089-rant-about-chinas-college-entrance-examination-or-gaokao/?p=286123

斷章 by 卞之琳 - http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/692-modern-chinese-poetry/?p=5272

一棵開花的樹 by 席慕容- http://www.chinese-forums.com/index.php?/topic/27441-我第一次用中文來撰詩/?p=223515

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Re the 海子 poem at #2, why should we wait till tomorrow?


Perhaps: when you stand looking out at the sea you think of the all the possibilities, all the great things you could do, could see, could become, all in the future. Then you turn away back to the present and do none of them. Maybe the speaker knows he won't do them, and lays those hopes on the 陌生人 *(us?) instead? So yes, why should we wait tomorrow? :)


Ha, I dunno, scary business prattling on about about poems written in a foreign language.


Will follow the other links.

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Realmayo正解也。Tomorrow represents things wished for, not necessarily attainable. It's more common to invoke wistfulness by referring to the past, but 海子 does that with the future here. The 陌生人 in the last stanza to whom he wishes good things is really himself, which is why the stanza ends with "我也愿".

It may also be helpful to know that 海子 was fighting depression. The poem expresses his wish to be happier, to have a peace of mind, but knowing that it's not so easy to attain, just like having a house of one's by the ocean. There aren't many places where you can live by the ocean in China. 海子 was a country kid from Anhui and was living in Beijing. I don't mean that the poem is solely autobiographical, but it may helpful to appreciate it if one knows a little about his life. On the other hand, I think you can feel the wistfulness even without knowing about his life.

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I see. I live next to the sea and I travel. Perhaps this is why I can't see what you see. Still life is too short to wait. We all procrastinate so perhaps we could do better in a poem? Most wishes won't come true anyways so there is no harm wishing for them to happen today.

I suspect the second last line should read 願你在塵世獲*得*幸福.

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