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Saturday, December 23, 2023

A Picture Too Real (by Tang Yin)

Translating a classical Chinese poem sometimes calls for guesswork, in order to fill in the gaps in my understanding.  These poems are so rich in cultural reference, it's hard for anyone not raised in the tradition to pick up even half the allusions.  Not only that but much classical Chinese poetry is written in a terse or compact style, which makes it inherently subject to more than a single interpretation. At a certain point, you have to be willing to make your own intuitive leap in order to come up with a good reading of the poem.

Even after you make an intuitive leap, though, not everything always neatly lines up with your reading.  It's a bit like trying to hold a cat in a bag, the way the meaning of the text will keep shifting about and can't be firmly grasped.  

The last line of this poem by Tang Yin is a good example of what I mean.  I think I understand this poem but then there's the last line, which makes me wonder about my tenuous perch.

A Picture Too Real

Tang Yin

From ancient times

Flowers have spoken

Of immortal beauty


Self too partakes

Of such beauty

No matter how

Ill-fated one’s luck


The lilting tune

Of Rainbows and Feathers

Continues – an unending dance


With a long winding train  

Of golden brocade

The horse is perched

On a rocky slope










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