with S. Ye Laird
Poet and cosmologist Yun Wang grew up in rural southwest China. She began writing poetry when she was 12, and majored in Physics at Tsinghua University when she was 16. She came to the U.S. for graduate school in Physics in 1985. She is the author of two poetry books (The Book of Totality, Salmon Poetry Press, 2015; and The Book of Jade, Winner of the 15th Nicholas Roerich Poetry Prize, Story Line Press, 2002), two poetry chapbooks (Horse by the Mountain Stream, Word Palace Press, 2016; The Carp, Bull Thistle Press, 1994), and a book of poetry translations (Dreaming of Fallen Blossoms: Tune Poems of Su Dong-Po, White Pine Press, 2018). In this issue, we feature three of her poems from "The book of Jade". My own favorite of her poems is "The Poet and the Monkey" , first published in Blood Lotus Issue 10. Oct.2008. I am also intrigued by her translations of Chinese classics. We'd love to see more of them!
Wallace Steven's piece 'To the one of fictive music" is an afterthought for inclusion here, as it granted me a long overdue defense to a challenge from our Poet and cosmologist.
Helen of the Hinterland
"Look," she pointed to herself, "This is a face that can launch a thousand ships."
Helen was not drunk. She had just spent a night in jail for drunken driving. Steam and smoke mingled into abstract landscapes inside the half-lit bar.
Her friend, a beautiful woman, was unnerved by the gazes of men with hungry looks. "Have you noticed how they stare at me," said Helen.
Helen had two children by the same married man.
The first was an accident. The second, to trick him.
Sitting cross-legged, Helen blew a mouthful of smoke in her friend's face.
I have mounted my throne
in your lap. The river hums
a song of drooping willows and fallen branches.
What is the thin line between instinct and failth
The black dog with neck ribboned in red
jumps for us, its owner watches from a distance
A plain middle-aged woman
Across the river two people are fishing
Here and there tiny flowers in white and purple
and mushrooms shaped like corn-cobs.
What is the thin line between imagination and truth
Down the shore a man in beret
has been wiping his nose most vigorously
He is very very old.
Beneath the Painted Shrine
Furious waves of incense and Ming's voice
echoing: "Marry me."
When she refused he rode off
to join the People's Liberation Army.
In ancient times there was a woman
who leaped into the burning furnace
when her husband failed to forge the sword
that the emperor desired.
Father coughs in the next room
Mother begins the snore in the carved chair
She rises from the floor, steps outside
the back door. Rain water streams off bamboo
splashes on two black coffins
stacked against the wall.
She holds out a hand
into the rain, recalls his hand holding hers
to help her practice calligraphy.
At home a woman obeys her parents,
after marriage her husband,
after husband's death her son.
Confucius has been quoted for thousands of years.
She imagine Ming in his green uniform
leafing through a thread-bound book.
The husband made the prefect sword
in the fire his wife had become.
The emperor was pleased.
To the One of Fictive Music
-- from "The Emperor of ice-cream and other poems"
by Wallace Stevens
Sister and mother and diviner love,
And of the sisterhood of the living dead.
Most near, most clear, and of the clearest bloom,
And of the fragrant mothers the most dear
And queen, and of diviner love the day
And flame and summer and sweet fire, no thread
Of cloudy silver sprinkles in your gown
Its venom of renown, and on your head
No crown is simpler than the simple hair.
Now, of the music summoned by the birth
That separates us from the wind and sea,
Yet leaves them in us until earth becomes,
By being so much of the things we are,
Gross effigy and simulacrum, none
Gives motion to perfection more serene
Than yours, out of our imperfections wrought,
Most rare, or ever of more kindred air
In the laborious weaving that you wear.
For so retentive of themselves are men
That music is intensest which proclaims
The near, the clear, and vaunts the clearest bloom,
And of all vigils musing the obscure
That apprehends the most which sees and names,
As in your name, an image that is sure,
Among the arrant spices of the sun,
O bough and bush and scented vine, in whom
We give ourselves our likest issurrance.
Yet not too like, yet not so like to be
Too near, too clear, saving a little to endow
Our feigning with the strange unlike, whence springs
The difference that heavenly pity brings.
For this, musician, in your girdle-fixed
Bear other perfumes. On your pale head wear
A band entwining, set with fatal stones.
Unreal, give back to us what once you gave:
The imagination that we spurned and crave.
The Painter, The Devil And The Virgin
Whom Holy Mary may wish to defend
need fear no evil from the foul fiend.
It’s of a miracle I wish to tell
of how Holy Mary wished to guard well
a painter of hers who used all his great skill
to paint her great beauty as it deserves.
They whom Holy Mary with her grace preserves
will refuse the foul fare the Devil serves.
But the Devil he painted more ugly than plain,
always most foul, which caused him to complain,
saying, “Why do you hold me in such disdain,
or why do you give me such hideous aspect,
(They whom Holy Mary may wish to protect,
on them the Devil will have no effect)
to all who may see me?” The painter responded:
“This that I do is with reason well-founded,
for you always do evil, to evil you’re bonded,
and you’ll never do good for love or for treasure.”
Over whom Mary watches at both work and leisure,
over them the Devil will prevail by no measure.
On hearing this, the Devil waxed apoplectic,
resorting to threats of death as a tactic
and seeking to compass that by foul practice
the painter in manner most timely should perish.
They whom Mary may wish to foster and cherish,
from them the Devil she’ll rout and banish.
Wherefore one day the Devil lurked where
the painter was painting, in manner most fair,
a homage to the Virgin - for that’s what I hear -
making great effort with all of his art,
( Over whom Holy Mary may wish to stand guard,
the Devil will find that his way to them’s barred )
that at her beauty all folk might marvel.
But then, in whom lies all evil, the Devil
brought such a great wind as made all tremble
with thunder and lightning, and all sorts of rain.
They whom Holy Mary may wish to sustain,
against them the Devil will conjure in vain.
But then that great wind burst into the church,
all but knocking the painter off his painting perch.
but he called on the Virgin, who left him not in the lurch.
Mother of God you came to his aid.
O Holy Mary, our support and our stay,
the Devil can’t win when to you we pray.
With such haste she came to his aid therewithal
on his paintbrush suspending him, while the devil did bawl, in mid-air; however, he didn’t fall,
nor could the Devil prevent this event.
Whom Holy Mary may wish to defend
need fear no evil from the foul fiend.
And, hearing the crash as his scaffold collapsed,
the people rushed in - a disaster perhaps? -
saw, blacker than pitch, after this mishap
Satan flee from the church, cut his losses, get lost.
O Holy Mary, in whom we trust,
you are the metal that will never rust!
And, seeing the painter up there so assured,
clutching his paintbrush, for all that the devil had roared,
they gave praise to the Mother of Our Lord,
who loves all her people with love unsurpassed
and always defends us from the first to the last,
O Holy Mary, in whom we stand fast!
Ranald Barnicot has an MA in Classics from Balliol College, Oxford and an MA in Applied Linguistics from Birkbeck College, London. He has worked as a teacher of EFL/ESL in Spain, Portugal, Italy and the UK. He is now retired and has published or is due to publish original poems and translations (Catullus, Horace, Verlaine, Mallarmé, Lorca, Vallejo and Violante do Céu and La Compiuta Donzella) in Priapus, Acumen, Poetry Strasbourg Review, Transference, Brooklyn Rail In Translation, Ezra, The Rotary Dial, Sentinel, Poetry Salzburg Review, The French Literary Review, Orbis and Metamorphoses. We hope you enjoy this original translation first appearing here.
Alfonso X El Sabio, King of Castile (1221 – 1284):
Cantigas Da Santa Maria no. 74
English translation copyright (c) Ranald Barnicot, 2018.
Dante: Io son venuto al punto de la rota
-- new translation by David B. Gosselin
Io son venuto al punto de la rota
che l’orizzonte, quando il sol si corca,
ci partorisce il geminato cielo,
e la stella d’amor ci sta remota
per lo raggio lucente che la ‘nforca 5
sí di traverso, che le si fa velo;
e quel pianeta che conforta il gelo
si mostra tutto a noi per lo grand’arco
nel qual ciascun di sette fa poca ombra:
e però non disgombra 10
un sol penser d’amore, ond’io son carco,
la mente mia, ch’è più dura che petra
in tener forte imagine di petra.
Levasi de la rena d’Etiopia
lo vento peregrin che l’aere turba, 15
per la spera del sol ch’ora la scalda;
e passa il mare, onde conduce copia
di nebbia tal, che, s’altro non la sturba,
questo emisperio chiude tutto e salda;
e poi si solve, e cade in bianca falda 20
di fredda neve ed in noiosa pioggia,
onde l’aere s’attrista tutto e piagne:
e Amor, che sue ragne
ritira in alto pel vento che poggia,
non m’abbandona; sí è bella donna 25
questa crudel che m’è data per donna.
Fuggito è ogne augel che ‘l caldo segue
del paese d’Europa, che non perde
le sette stelle gelide unquemai;
e li altri han posto a le lor voci triegue 30
per non sonarle infino al tempo verde,
se ciò non fosse per cagion di guai;
e tutti li animali che son gai
di lor natura, son d’amor disciolti,
pers che ‘l freddo lor spirito ammorta: 35
e ‘l mio più d’amor porta;
ché li dolzi pensier non mi son tolti
né mi son dati per volta di tempo,
ma donna li mi dà c’ha picciol tempo.
Passato hanno lor termine le fronde 40
che trasse fuor la vertù d’Ariete
per adornare il mondo, e morta è l’erba;
ramo di foglia verde a noi s’asconde
se non se in lauro, in pino o in abete
o in alcun che sua verdura serba; 45
e tanto è la stagion forte ed acerba,
c’ha morti li fioretti per le piagge,
li qual non poten tollerar la brina:
e la crudele spina
però Amor di cor non la mi tragge; 50
per ch’io son fermo di portarla
sempre ch’io sarò in vita, s’io vivesse sempre.
Versan le vene le fummifere acque
per li vapor che la terra ha nel ventre,
che d’abisso li tira suso in alto; 55
onde cammino al bel giorno mi piacque
che ora è fatto rivo, e sarà mentre
che durerà del verno il grande assalto;
la terra fa un suol che par di smalto,
e l’acqua morta si converte in vetro 60
per la freddura che di fuor la serra:
e io de la mia guerra
non son però tornato un passo a retro,
né vo’ tornar; ché, se ‘l martiro è dolce,
la morte de’ passare ogni altro dolce. 65
Canzone, or che sarà di me ne l’altro
dolce tempo novello, quando piove
amore in terra da tutti li cieli,
quando per questi geli
amore è solo in me, e non altrove? 70
Saranne quello ch’è d’un uom di marmo,
se in pargoletta fia per core un marmo
I’ve come to conjunction of the wheel
Where the horizon meets the sunset
And traces Gemini within the sky,
While love’s own star in the distance does steal
As its bright light is by the sun’s ray met
Such that a veil is cast which does its light belie.
And that planetary sphere does save the frost and lie
In sight along the great celestial arch
In which the seven cast a faint shadow,
And yet it does not follow
That a single thought of Love will not depart
From my mind, which has become a hardened stone,
Storing those thought of love as if in stone.
Rising from the scorching Ethiopian sands
The pilgrim winds stir all the air
As they’re warmed by the sun’s resplendent rays
And as the winds cross over distant lands;
So is the copious snow spread everywhere
Such that if not disturbed it coldly stays,
Then scattering its flakes it falls and lays
Its sheets of frigid snow and plaguing rains
Where Love as all the sky so sadly weeps
Seeks solace from the storm. And yet he keeps
My heart still clenched. With aching pains,
He never leaves; so beautiful this woman,
So beautiful and cruel, my only woman.
Fled is each bird as it trails the warmer season
From European lands, which keeps its sights
On those seven frigid stars above;
The others rest their voices, with no reason
To cry or sing, until the sun again alights
Our lands and paints them green from above;
And all the beasts by nature lively and in love
Now recede into nature’s womb, freed,
As their spirits are by the cold season tamed;
Yet mine ever enflamed
And not a word of liberation decreed
On my behalf, while my sweet thoughts with time
Are so quickly taken, given by one with little time.
Gone are the greener leaves, their term elapsed
When they adorned the world, and dead the grass;
So all the boughs of green have from our sights fled
Save in the laurel sprigs or pine and fir trees
Or all who’s leaves through every season last.
And how bitter is this season passed
That has killed the flowers on each bank
Too pretty and frail to withstand the frost;
And yet is never lost
That thorn deep in my heart’s softened flank
Such that I have resolved to forever
Bear her, even if this pain be forever.
Pouring out its misty waters from the ocean bed
Earth’s vapors rise from the earth’s bowels
And climb from out each darkened depth.
Thus the careless path I once happily tread
Has turned into a brook which persists
As long as one still feels the winter’s icy breath.
So long is earth covered in all its breadth
With an enameled floor, where frozen waters
Imprison all that once was colored with life
While I in perpetual strife
Take no step back, with a stance that never totters;
Nor would I think of retreat, for if pain is sweet
Then death must far surpass all things sweet.
My song, what will soon become of me
In the new sweet season, when the warm rains
Fall like flames of Love from the skies
And yet Love still lies
In me, while in all other beings he refrains
From being felt. Surely I will turn to marble
If my fair maiden’s heart is one of marble.
Dante: Così nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro
-- translation by Joseph Tusiani
Così nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro
com’è ne li atti questa bella petra,
la quale ognora impetra
maggior durezza e più natura cruda,
e veste sua persona d’un diaspro 5
tal, che per lui, o perch’ella s’arretra,
non esce di faretra
saetta che già mai la colga ignuda:
ed ella ancide, e non val ch’om si chiuda
né si dilunghi da’ colpi mortali, 10
che, com’avesser ali,
giungono altrui e spezzan ciascun’arme;
sì ch’io non so da lei né posso atarme.
Non trovo scudo ch’ella non mi spezzi
né loco che dal suo viso m’asconda; 15
ché, come fior di fronda,
così de la mia mente tien la cima.
Cotanto del mio mal par che si prezzi
quanto legno di mar che non lieva onda;
e ‘l peso che m’affonda 20
tal che non potrebbe adequar rima.
Ahi angosciosa e dispietata lima
che sordamente la mia vita scemi,
perché non ti ritemi
sì di rodermi il core a scorza a scorza, 25
com’io di dire altrui chi ti dà forza?
Ché più mi triema il cor qualora io penso
di lei in parte ov’altri li occhi induca,
per tema non traluca
lo mio penser di fuor sì che si scopra, 30
ch’io non fo de la morte, che ogni senso
co li denti d’Amor già mi manduca;
ciò è che ‘l pensier bruca
la lor vertù, sí che n’allenta l’opra.
E' m’ha percosso in terra, e stammi sopra 35
con quella spada ond’elli ancise Dido,
Amore, a cui io grido
merzé chiamando, e umilmente il priego;
ed el d’ogni merzé par messo al niego.
Egli alza ad or a ad or la mano, e sfida 40
la debole mia vita, esto perverso,
che disteso a riverso
mi tiene in terra d’ogni guizzo stanco:
allor mi surgon ne la mente strida;
e ‘l sangue, ch’è per le vene disperso, 45
fuggendo corre verso
lo cor, che ‘l chiama; ond’io rimango bianco.
Elli mi fiede sotto il braccio manco
sí forte, che ‘l dolor nel cor rimbalza:
allor dico: “S’elli alza 50
un’altra volta, Morte m’avrà chiuso
prima che ‘l colpo sia disceso giuso”.
Così vedess’io lui fender per mezzo
lo core a la crudele che ‘l mio squatra!
poi non mi sarebb’atra 55
la morte, ov’io per sua bellezza corro:
ché tanto di nel sol quanto nel rezzo
questa scherana micidiale e latra.
Ohmè, perché non latra
per me, com’io per lei, nel caldo borro? 60
che tosto griderei: “Io vi soccorro”;
e fare’ l volentier, si come quelli
che ne’ biondi capelli
ch’Amor per consumarmi increspa e dora
metterei mano, e piacere’le allora. 65
S’io avessi le belle trecce prese,
che fatte son per me scudiscio e ferza,
pigliandole anzi terza,
con esse passerei vespero e squille:
e non sarei pietoso né cortese, 70
anzi farei com’orso quando scherza;
e se Amor me ne sferza,
io mi vendicherei di più di mille.
Ancor ne li occhi, ond’escon le faville
che m’infiammano il cor, ch’io porto anciso, 75
guarderei presso e fiso,
per vendicar lo fuggir che mi face;
e poi le renderei con amor pace.
Canzon, vattene dritto a quella donna
che m’ha ferito il core e che m’invola 80
quello ond’io ho più gola,
e dille per lo cor d’una saetta:
ché bell’onor s’acquista in far vendetta.
I want to charge my words with so much harshness
as this enchanting stone has in her actions,
she who is ever growing
harder in nature and more fierce and ruthless,
and clothes in such hard adamant her being 5
that, either for its strength or her retreating,
never does any arrow
that leaves the quiver find her ever bare:
she slays, and, oh, to no avail can one
withdraw or run from all her mortal blows, 10
which, as endowed with wings,
reach every man and every armor break;
so there is no defense that I may take.
No shield is there for me she would not sunder,
nor any place where I may shun her features; 15
for, as a stem its blossom,
holds she the summit of my intellect.
She seems to care about my suffering
as much as would a ship in tranquil seas;
and such is now the burden 20
that pulls me down, no rhyme is fit to tell it.
Oh, pitiless and most relentless file,
so deafly wearing my existence out,
why do you not refrain
from gnawing at my heart, bit after bit, 25
as I from naming him, who grants you might?
My heart beats faster when I think of her
in places where I am by people seen,
for fear that all my thinking
may so shine through as to be seen outside— 30
more than I tremble at this death, now biting
all of my senses with the teeth of Love;
it is my thought, I reckon,
chews on their strength and makes their functions fail.
Love struck me to the ground and stands above me, 35
the sword that once slew Dido in his hand,
so that for mercy, mercy
to him I cry with every humble prayer;
but oh, no truth—only denial’s there.
Daring my weary life, he often raises 40
his hand against me—this horrendous god
who keeps me on my back
upon the ground, too weak even to writhe.
Cries of despair then surge up to my mind,
and all the blood that through my veins is coursing 45
comes rushing to the heart,
that calls it: whiteness is all over me.
So fiercely under my left arm he wounds me
that the new pain rebounds deep in my heart.
“If once again,” I say, 50
“he lifts his hand, Death will have taken me,
before his blow descends, mercifully.”
Oh, might I see him strike right through the heart
of that most cruel one who quarters mine!
The death to which I’m running for her beauty 55
would only then no more be black to me:
for no good comes by sunshine or by shade
from this my thievish, thankless, murderous foe.
Oh, why does she not yelp
for me, as I for her, in fiery pit? 60
“Let me now help you,” I would quickly shout;
and gladly I would do, as others would:
in her blond, lustrous tresses,
which Love has curled and gilded for my death,
I’d thrust this hand, to please her then and there. 65
Oh, if I could but seize those lovely tresses
which have become both whip and lash for me,
from very early matins
I’d make them ringing bells unto the night:
and I would not be pitying or kind, 70
but like a playful bear with her I’d play;
and, since Love whips me still,
I would avenge myself a thousandfold.
Into those eyes, from which the sparks come forth
that burn this deadened weight that is my heart, 75
I very close would stare,
thus to avenge the cowardice of my past,
and then with love I’d give her peace at last.
To such a woman, O my song, go straight—
to her who wounded me and still conceals 80
what I most hunger for:
her heart (oh, now!) with a fast arrow cleave,
for in revenge great honor we achieve.
"This is the most famous of the “Stone rhymes” for, in the content and in the poetic form, the lady’s harshness is matched. In the De Vulgari, Dante condemns a “harsh rhythm” in poetry unless it is employed to alleviate pain, as it does here. The last verse of the envoi upholds the righteousness of justified vengeance. " -- from web edition edited by Charles Franco Italianstudies.org