Shuke Zeng on translating Shu Ting

Shuke Zeng

on translating Shu Ting

I took a more experimental approach while working with this poem, and I am aware that some of the literal meanings in the Chinese poem do not exactly match up with the translation. I took this approach because this poem contains a lot of ambiguities, and I wanted to preserve a certain amount of this ambiguity without completely disassociating from my own interpretation of the poem. For example, in my translation, I formatted “你看着你/你看着你” with a series of extra spaces, though they were not intended in the original poem. In Chinese, the circularity of the line comes not only from the repetition of “you,” but also the similarity of form between the characters and . Therefore, I emphasize such formal circularity by rendering the spaces in those two lines. Another example of a place where I was more experimental in my translation is the line “like tiny shimmering silver fishes / nibbling their way up to trace the source.” The notion of “nibbling” was not present in the original poem, but the poet’s use of 闻味 signified the blindly primal nature of the fish’s movements, and I considered “nibbling” to be a good alternative to signifying such primal nature.

about the author

Shu Ting (舒婷) is from Fujian, China. She is usually associated with the Misty Poets. She was born in 1952, and during the Cultural Revolution, was sent to the Chinese countryside because of her family’s political ideology. She returned to Fujian in 1972 and spent time working in factories for her livelihood. Her poems gained popularity in the 1980s, and around that time, she did a joint collection of poetry with Gu Cheng, another prominent Misty poet. Shu is well known in China and the rest of the world for her poems “To the Oak” and “Dear Motherland,” in which conflict and pain are present but positivity blooms. “Mirror” is one of her less well-known poems, and it gives us a glimpse into the poet’s private life.

about the translator

Shuke Zeng is an undergraduate student at Penn. She majors in English and statistics. Chinese is her native language, and she remembers being forced to memorize Chinese poems when she was a child. She only gained the tools to decode those poems deeply engraved in her memory after taking poetry classes in the English department at Penn. Shu Ting has been one of her favorite Chinese poets since childhood, and working on the translation of this poem has allowed her to revisit some qualities of Shu Ting’s poems and the Chinese language that she has always been drawn to.

photo by Shengyi Liu