We find timeless expressions of human experience in the poems of Su Dongpo (1037-1101),
translated with grace and power by Lin and Young. We follow Dongpo through his life
of multiple political exiles. From early in his life he ponders the transitory nature
of reality with beauty and a sober lightness:
“back to those earlier scenes / and the clouds of yellow dust along the roads”
“I lean on the railing, / my spirit flies away, / and I can’t call it back”
“The red-skirted beauty / turns into a fairy // the long flute carries / a lasting
note of sadness”
“our only worries? / Moonset / and empty cups”
(Poems 1, 7, 34, & 45)
Past mid-life a new perspective grows with energy, laughter, and tears:
“Chilly spring air / for ten days / I haven’t stepped out of the house // and so
I didn’t notice / how the willows have turned green / stroking the whole village
// ... // This day one year ago / I walked a long way / through mountain roads and
passes // the plum blossoms / shining in the drizzle / nearly broke my heart.”
Su Dongpo’s sigh of older age carries a tender resolve laced with measured sorrow:
“I’m like a little boat / sensing an expanse / of endless water // here under groves
of trees / face to face in the bedroom / listening all night to the rain”
David Young’s new and selected poems is Field of Light and Shadow. His most recent books are The King’s a Beggar: A Study of Shakespeare’s Epilogues, and Moon as Bright as Water: 17 poems by Qin Guan. He taught for many years at Oberlin College. His friends through translation include Miroslav Holub, Petrarch, Du Fu, Rilke, and Paul Celan.
Jiann I. Lin was born in 1940 in Taipei, Taiwan and became interested in reading, history, and classical Chinese literature in middle school. He received a BA in English from National Taiwan University-Taipei. In 1963 he arrived in the U.S. for graduate studies (MA in History, University of Wisconsin-Madison; MLS in Library Science, State University of New York at Albany). He served for 38 years in the Oberlin College Library East Asian Collection and is an Emeritus East Asian Specialist Librarian.
ALSO BY TRANSLATED BY DAVID YOUNG:
The Old Coastline (2019): She has been called “the Dutch Elizabeth Bishop.” These
are poems that readers cherish for their intensity, intimacy, and cinematic effects.
(6"x9" paperback, 126 pages, ISBN: 978-1-936671-55-7, $17.00).