Wuling Spring Variations

translated from the classical chinese by chengru he. original by li qingzhao.




載不動    許多愁


Cipai: Wu Ling Chun

Li Qing Zhao

feng zhu chen shiang hua yi jin
ri wan juan shu tou
wu shi ren fei shi shi shiou
yu yu lei shian liu
wen shuo shuang-shyi chun shang hao
ye ni fan ching zhou
zhi kong shuang-shyi ze-meng-zhou
zai bu dong    shyu duo chou


Wuling (     )

(     ) stopped (     ) scented (     ) ended
late morning   combing my hair                                     春 spring
before (I) speak   (     ) run down                                   風 wind
(I) have heard about the spring at Twin Streams      花 flower
(I) have thought about going down on a (     )           淚 tears
but am afraid the (     )                                                      舟 boat
carries not much     of my sorrow                                  舴艋 small boat


Springtime in Wuling

                                                 feng                              paused
                                   風           incense                        dust
                                                 petals                           gone

                                                 things                        the same
                                                 people                       changed
                                                 everything                reposed
                                                 in twin brooks chun in her prime
                                            why not paddling down
                                                 though my little zemeng boat
sighs at my unbearable sorrow


Wuling ∙ Spring

Wind has paused, incense is burnt — I lazily comb my hair
in late morning — where have the flowers gone?

Everything is the same, but you are not here and I still am.
Before I open my mouth, tears run down. 

They say the spring at the twin brooks blooms.
I want to float down the river.

Alas, my grasshopper-shaped little boat,
how could you bear the sorrow of mine?


Tune of Wuling Spring

                    wind has paused
          soil has scented
petals are gone
          late lazy morning
                    combing my hair
          things are the same
people have changed
          all is ceased
                    my tears run faster
          than my words
I’ve heard
          about the twin brooks
                    spring stays there still
          should I go
down on a fast
          boat yet I doubt
                    my ze-meng-zhou
          could carry my
heavy sorrow


Spring Day

Dear diary, it is a ___ day. or it is ___. The wind has paused. The incense has burnt to dust. The flowers are withered. No petals on a wet black bough. Looking at ___, I am brushing my hair. Such a lazy late morning. Everything is the same, but you are not here and I still am. Everything is at siesta. As if it never happened. I have so much to say. So much – but tears run down before I open my mouth. Everyone is talking about the twin brooks, how spring there is still at her prime. I thought about traveling down. But look, that little boat, light as a grasshopper—how can it carry my sorrow, my sorrow, my sorrow… 




Translator's Note

“Wuling Spring Variations” is a series of translation variations based on Li Qingzhao’s Ci poem, “武陵春.” The translations try to rethink the idea of accessibility in multilingual cultures and the question of how to present Chinese classical poetry to contemporary multilingual readers and readers with multilingual experiences. Instead of seeing translation as the product of one stable text, I argue that translation is a process of remaking and reproducing. Seen from this perspective, the mode of “variations” becomes an argument against consumer culture. Making and reading poetry is a slow-cook game. Reading and reciting a poem repeatedly is part of the tradition of learning classical Chinese poetry but seems to be an “othered” habit for most contemporary readers of any language. How can I invite my readers to jump out of the “survey” mode and join the circle dance around a bonfire?

On the textual level, each variation provides opportunities for different poetic attention: sound, ideogram, grammar and syntax, allusion, form, alternative traditions of reading, and new interpretations. Readers are granted different kinds of access to the same poem through different variations. For example, where the subject is often left unexpressed in a classical Chinese poem, my translation facilitates multiple readings experiences by including the subject or leaving it out across different variations. As an ideographic language, many Chinese characters carry an internal visual image, which could be lost when translated into the Roman alphabet; the variations encourage a detour to familiarization with certain images by weaving them into the translation. The final variations use of lines borrowed from Ezra Pound and Lord Byron is another experiment on the globalized and multilingual reading experience.

Chengru He


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