<em>DoubleSpeak</em> Staff on translating Zhang Zhihao

DoubleSpeak Staff


on translating Zhang Zhihao


Zhang Zhihao’s depiction of the mundane, repetitive quarantine life has resonated with all of us. The poem 《开封日记》 speaks of a collectively shared experience in the times of isolation and imparts hope in the age of turmoil. When translating the poem, we have noted the matter-of-factness and repetitions in Zhang’s original poem and have tried to preserve these qualities when translating the poem into different languages. For instance, our Italian translation uses repeated erò ending of the future tense verbs as well as the echoed i in piedi, lui in the last few lines to evoke the sense of time blending together when the surroundings don’t change much. Similarly, our Portuguese translation describes the slow passing of time in quarantine by adding extra syllables such as eu and unnecessary prepositions to slow down the pace of the translation.

Many of our translation teams have noted the simplicity of the poem that is easy to replicate in other languages, though there have been a few difficult words that require imagery to hone in on the word choice. “空地” in line 8, for example, whose literal translation is “empty/open ground/field,” is translated as “open field” in English and prado in Spanish, both evoking the imagery of a park with meadows, a beautiful image in the dark time of the pandemic. In line 12, “未亡人” is translated as “a survived man” in English and un sopravvissuto in Italian, while referring to those who have fought hard in the pandemic and made it through. The past participles of “survive” and sopravvivere used here set a tone of finality to an action that seems long and enduring.

Not all of our staff team speak Chinese, and we have based our translations in other languages on the English version produced by our Mandarin-speaking staff members. Nevertheless, we all agree that the global nature of the pandemic allows the piece to resonate across many languages. This year, we also include a translation into Old English, a seemingly dead language yet one that still fits well in the contemporary context. Beowulf and many other Old English poems often focus on loss and grief and our powerlessness in the face of death, no matter our strength or heroic ability. What we have collectively lived through in the past year and a half indeed revolves around such themes. However, in such times of grief and darkness, we still see lights of hope and hold on to them. Whether it is the imagination of sitting on open fields outside of the city, or running over to embrace the survived man, we find strength through this collectively shared experience. As in the last line of our German translation, “Und umarme ihn mit gemeinsamen Tränen,” the addition of gemeinsamen (“common” in English) captures such collective experience with a Romantic sense of humanity. We continue to support each other with caring and hope while fighting through the path of danger and turmoil.

—Zhiqiao (Kate) Jiang

about the author

Zhang Zhihao (张执浩, 1965–) is a contemporary Chinese poet from Jingmen, Hubei, and currently lives in Wuhan, Hubei. He has received various prominent poetry awards, including the Lu Xun Literature Award in 2018 for his poetry collection 《高原上的野花》 (Wild Flowers on the Plateau). His most recent poetry collection 《完整的彩虹》 (The Complete Rainbow) has received the October Literature Award for poetry in April 2021. He currently serves as the vice president of the Hubei Provincial Writers Association and the dean of the Wuhan Academy of Literature.

about the translator

DoubleSpeak Staff is a group of poetry lovers and language aficionados. We hail from Palm Beach Gardens, Florida; Westchester, New York; and Hangzhou, China; Tampa, Florida; Middleton, Wisconsin; and Sacramento, California. Though scattered across the globe and isolated in this time of turmoil, we have been drawn together by our shared passion for language and translation as we’ve embarked on this adventure called DoubleSpeak. From the tiny windows on Zoom, we share with each other thoughts on poetry and translation as well as pieces of our current states: from the biking trails in Baltimore to the cooling breeze in Escazú, Costa Rica; from writing comedy and satirical pieces to channeling the love for vinyl records into hosting a radio show at Penn. We are forever fascinated by the depth and breadth of language and translation, and we hope to share our love for such wonders with all the readers of DoubleSpeak.