Opus 4 • Yu Jian (1983)

Sun Face Sai Kung_2012-09-05 09.40.40 crop

I have been re-reading Yu Jian’s second book of poems, The Naming of a Crow (《对一只乌鸦的命名》) from 1993, just to see if there was anything in it that I hadn’t really appreciated in earlier encounters. Here is one poem that suddenly struck me with a force that I had never noticed on previous occasions: without any clear idea of why, I decided just to get to work and translate it, and I was pleasantly surprised by the way the text seemed to open up as I went along. I’m a terrible reader sometimes; I rely on translation to do my reading for me!

If you read Chinese and are interested in how the language works in this poem, there are a few points of grammatical and lexical interest: I’ve listed these after the Chinese version.

“Opus 4 • Yu Jian (1983)”

One half of that white snake of stones is wound around the mountain
basking in the sun, while the other half
crawls through the legs of a pine forest.
A crow watches me grow up out of a field of grass:
it circles overhead to investigate
before hitting the road once more with the clouds ―
it thinks I’m a tree.
A herd of cows keeps a 12-year-old king company
as he dreams beneath Spring’s regal new canopy.
He sees a red bee in his dreams.
I pass as quietly as I possibly can but he wakes suddenly with a start.
In the spaces between mountains and towering trees between grass and the squirrels between sunlight and streams
we have swapped eyes forever.
He stays put far away in his mountains like a fairtytale about a forest spirit.
I spend the rest of my life trying to imagine the sound of his voice.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Yu Jian photo SMALL_30 JUL 2018

《作品第4号》

那条石头的白蛇缠着山晒太阳
另一半身子爬进松树林的腿
乌鸦看见我从一片草地上长出来
侦察了一圈又和云一起上路
它视我为树
一群牛陪着一个十二岁的国王
在春天新织的华盖下做梦
他梦见一只红蜜蜂
我轻轻地轻轻地流过去但他突然惊醒
在山和大树在草和松鼠在阳光和小溪流的空间中
我们永远交换了眼睛
他远远地留在山中就像一个有林妖的童话
一生中我都在想象他的声音

  • The particle 着 can be used to indicate that a verb serves as a “background” or “accompanying” action to another main verb. So in 白蛇缠着山晒太阳, the main action is the basking in the sun, while 缠着山 gives us some more information about how this basking is done. Basic Chinese by Yip Po-Ching and Don Rimmington has a brief explanation of this point.
  • You don’t see the noun 华盖 hua2 gai4 very often. It has two meanings: (1) canopy (as over an imperial carriage) and (2) aureole, a meteorological term referring to “a ring of light around a luminous body”. Fortunately, “canopy” in English is a common metaphor for the sky.
  • I’m a bit unsure of the meaning of 交换眼睛. It may be an idiom, but it’s not one I’m familiar with. There’s a hint of swapping places with another person, of exchanging (if only imaginatively) lives: I suddenly saw everything around me with his eyes . . .
  • I guess one would expect the poem to say: he was like a forest spirit. Yu Jian makes a delightful modification here, by suggesting that he was not just like the spirit but the whole mood or atmosphere of a tale for children: 像一个有林妖的童话.

 

《蛙文》/ Frogscript 9 • 郭少鳳 Evette Kwok

Japanese Frog for Frogscript_Thumbnail_2 FEB 2018

Please scroll down for the English translation!

《蛙文:蜻蜓》

郭少鳳著

記得細細個時,屋企冇咩玩具玩,好多細蚊仔都鐘意落公園玩,公園除咗有超長嘅滑梯、超刺激嘅氹氹轉玩之外,仲可以同好多好多昆蟲玩遊戲。好奇怪,仲係細蚊仔嘅時候,唔會點驚昆蟲,好多時會想捉佢哋嚟玩,仲記得有時會特登帶一個盒仔去捉昆蟲。細個又成日會聽到呢首童謠:「點蟲蟲,蟲蟲飛,飛去荔枝基,荔枝熟,無埞伏,伏去邊?伏去你個鼻哥窿」,一邊唱童謠,一邊搵蟲蟲,真有趣!

有種昆蟲成日企定定咁畀我望,佢哋有好多唔同嘅顏色:有艶麗嘅絨紅色,有金光閃閃嘅黃金色,亦有較低調嘅暗藍色、黑色,但都總有一對巨型嘅眼睛同埋兩對透明嘅翅膀。試過去捉佢哋,可惜未成功過。你哋估到係邊種昆蟲未呢?對,就係蜻蜓!

蜻蜓係一種好靚嘅昆蟲。同美麗嘅蝴蝶比較,蝴蝶係似穿上美麗衣裳,悉心打扮嘅淑女;而蜻蜓頭部圓圓、眼睛大大、修長嘅腹部再配上兩對透明嘅翅膀,顯出高貴嘅韻味。蜻蜓擁有獨特而美麗嘅線條,難怪經常被設計成賞心悅目嘅裝飾圖案!

蜻蜒係不完全變態昆蟲,一生中經歷三個階段:卵、稚蟲、成蟲,冇咗蛹嘅階段。雖然蜻蜓係一種識飛嘅昆蟲,但係佢嘅生命同水有著莫大嘅關係。

由出生開始,蜻蜓已經離唔開水。有冇聽過「蜻蜓點水」呢個成語,雖然成語嘅意思係做事膚淺、做得不夠深入嘅意思,但其實呢個成語正正講出蜻蜓一生中一個重要嘅階段:部份蜻蜒會將卵產喺水草上或樹枝上,但最為人知嘅應該係產喺水中,雌性嘅蜻蜓用似尾巴嘅腹部插入水中,蜻蜓點水,水面即時會泛起漣漪,誕下嘅蜻蜓卵就慢慢沉入水中,真夠浪漫!咁做嘅好處係令到喺水中生活嘅蜻蜓稚蟲,一出生就喺水中。

第一次見到蜻蜓嘅稚蟲係喺嘉道理農場,當時被安排打理一個小型人工生態池,讓比較細小嘅水生動植物繁殖及生活。當時每兩個星期就要同兩個大自然愛好者 – 農場義工去清一清池水、整理一下水生植物。

生態池雖然細細,但郤住咗好多好多嘅水生動物:蝌蚪、蚊嘅幼蟲-孑孓、水黽 – 俗稱水較剪、豆娘稚蟲同埋蜻蜓稚蟲。第一次見到蜻蜓稚蟲真係完全嚇一跳,如果唔係身邊嘅義工朋友嘅介紹,我都諗唔到佢係蜻蜓啤啤:我哋熟悉嘅蜻蜓不但線條優美,而且充滿色彩,但眼前見到嘅稚蟲卻係完全兩回事。蜻蜓稚蟲全身灰褐色,腹部略胖,尾部開三小叉,用電影中嘅「異型」形容都唔太過份。雖然係水中生物,但都有對細到不合比例嘅(假)翅膀貼喺肥腹上,仲有一對腮,能夠喺水中呼吸。

蜻蜓稚蟲樣貌真係一啲都唔吸引,卻暗藏殺機。佢哋係天生嘅捕獵者,會食比佢哋細小嘅昆蟲,例如孑孓,蝌蚪等等。蜻蜓一生都係肉食性動物,長大羽化後,會進食更大型嘅昆蟲,如蚊、烏蠅、甚至蝴蝶等等。蜻蜓由細到大都係蚊一生嘅天敵,對我哋人類而言可算是益蟲。

有冇聽過「蜻蜓成群低飛繞天空,不到半日雨濛濛」呢句諺言?其實係古人嘅智慧:以前科技未有咁發達時,冇咁多儀器或數據預測天氣,就會更留意大自然嘅變化,累積經驗嚟預測天氣。呢種智慧,原來可以解釋:快要落雨嘅空氣份外潮濕,水氣會沾濕蜻蜓嘅翅膀,令蜻蜻翅膀變重,未能如常往高處飛,只能在接近地面嘅低處飛行。

蜻蜓嘅一生都同水或水塘有著莫大關係,加上交配時又叫交尾,由兩隻蜻蜓用腹部扣成一個心型交配產卵。唔知係咪呢兩個緣故,有部份廣東人叫蜻蜓做「塘尾」。再送上另一首童謠俾大家:「黐塘尾,塘尾飛,飛到菜田基,田基有條蛇,嚇親你兩仔爺」。

其實人大咗,面對忙碌嘅生活,喺成長嘅同時,會慢慢失去細路仔天生嘅好奇心同豐富嘅想像力。不過好好彩,香港呢個地方,要走入大自然一啲都唔難,行山十分方便,又有咁多有趣、生鬼嘅廣東話童謠,可以俾我哋稍微回味童年嘅回憶,重拾一下童年滋味。

Evette KWOK_Yellow Dragonfly 1 RESIZED_18 JUN 2018

Continue reading “《蛙文》/ Frogscript 9 • 郭少鳳 Evette Kwok”

Lifelikeness, Autumn

2018-07-12 Moss 4

The moss comes back, grass
comes back
into the rock-hard, sun-burnt earth, as Autumn
tilts us away from warmth,
aligns us
shivering with universal ice. Skies
unlove us. Winds butcher
the butcher blades on knives. And night
shrinks us stiffly in our skins,
reproaches us with outward-looking stars.
Now, futile enthusiasm and all our known know-hows
know nothing
and we hunker down clueless,
forgetting to Summer, forgetting to be
something the season is not. Yes, every season
has its own sense of occasion: this one’s
for mood and melancholy,
for shifting outside ourselves a distance
to peer in at what the light years’ light yearning
cobwebs as consciousness
some call “self” — a broken thing
life can’t like — and that others learn not to call,
to go without, to leave be
till wild first flowers come back at the world
and the grass of feelings we no longer inhabit
grows up its vivid signal in us whole.

Chinese Festivals by Joan Law and Barbara E. Ward (1982)

Taoist Priest by Joan Law Mee Nar

Taoist priest in his usual red ceremonial robes. Photo by Joan Law Mee Nar

From Sai Kung, it takes about three quarters of an hour to get to the island of Kau Sai Chau, but if you’re lucky, the skipper will make the time pass more quickly by pointing out some of the features in the coastline along the way, such as the gaping Elephant Trunk Cave. Once on land, in the vicinity of the very fine Hung Shing Temple near the village, you can visit the memorial to English scholar Barbara E. Ward. Ward, an anthropologist who first went to Hong Kong in 1950, spent much of her life studying the local boat people or Tanka. She devoted herself to improving the lot of this marginalized group and, in the process, gained an enormous amount of knowledge, involvement and personal insight with regard to both the people and the territory. You couldn’t wish for a better a guide.

In Chinese Festivals (subtitled ‘in Hong Kong’), Ward distils something of her rich, first-hand experience for a general reader. Together with her gifted collaborator, the photographer Joan Mee Nar Law, she has created a book which sheds much needed light on Hong Kong’s most important festive occasions, and which encourages readers to become well-informed and actively curious ‘festival-watchers’ in their own right.

Why do many people from the English-speaking world develop such a fascination for a place that was once described as a ‘barren rock’? I think Ward goes some way to providing an answer to this when she reminds us to think of modern Hong Kong as “a centre of Chinese traditionalism” (13), a fact that is perhaps more conspicuous in the New Territories. I count myself fortunate in my own connection to the place: on my first visit in 1998, I lived in Cheung Shue Tan (‘Camphor Tree Beach’), a village located down a very steep slope on the road between Sha Tin and Tai Po. Having prepared myself for towers, shopping centres and crowds, I found myself instead in close proximity to nature, ritual, and a lingering echo of village life yet to be entirely eradicated by waves of industrial revolution. In other words, I was given the opportunity to experience a rhythm of life that my own culture had largely abandoned by the middle of the nineteenth century.

Continue reading “Chinese Festivals by Joan Law and Barbara E. Ward (1982)”

Chinese Temple (Fan Lau 分流)

Fenlau Tin Hau Temple_1 JUL 2018

There are no doors: it’s a temple
to gods elemental in their way as air and light,
supernatural and so naturally indifferent
to prim domestic space. The altar
against the back wall is garish crimson red;
the votive candles on it powered by electricity
burn day and night with all-too-human flame.
The only hint of scripture is in the signs of black mould
that wear the white-wash thinly.
In a corner, the caretaker’s broom and shovel
gradually gather dust. A rough-hewn wooden stool
the delight of childhood
sits there for those who need a moment of gloom
to pray to. At the right hour,
when Fan Lau seems sunk in shade, incense smokes
the buzz and the hush of the flies.