Reading: Stagnant water by Wen Yiduo

Chinese poet Wen Yiduo (1899-1946) was assassinated by the Kuomintang. According to many, he was an important figure in Chinese intellectual life. He “Wen never resolved the conflicts that existed within him: The elitist and the proletarian, the scholar and the activist, the traditionalist and the innovator, the personal man and the public man, fought for ascendancy. Yet it was these contradictions that proved so fruitful and give his poetry its singular power.” (Bright City Books)
I couldn’t resist this brilliant translation of a piece called 死水 (‘stagnant water’) by A.Z. Foreman:

Stagnant water
Here lies a ditch of hopeless stagnant water,
Fresh breezes can’t breathe half a ripple from its skin.
Better just junk your copper scrap metal here
Or dump the leftovers from dinner in.

Perhaps the copper will turn emerald green
And in rusting cans peach blossom petals will bloom.
Then let grease weave out a film of silken gauze
And microbes brew up clouds of colorful brume.

Oh let the dead water ferment into green liquor
Abrim with floating pearls in its white foam
Sweet little pearls that, laughing, turn into large pearls
And burst when the liquor-raiding mosquitos come

Thus may a ditch of hopelessly dead water
Still boast some lively brightness where it lies
If the frogs cannot tolerate the desolation
Hear croaking song from stagnant water rise!

Here lies a ditch of hopeless stagnant water.
It’s really no place for Beauty to keep state.
Better let Hellion Ugliness cultivate it
And see what kind of world it will create.

The translator says his specialty is ancient Chinese and he puzzled a bit on this one.

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