thoughts on translation

It started when I wrote an essay explaining the phrase 阳光灿烂, which is one of my favorites in Chinese. It’s difficult to describe just how beautiful I find 阳光灿烂: the literal English translation is ‘brilliant sunlight,’ but when the four characters (yáng guāng càn làn) filter through my teeth the way light filters through leaves, when I see the sun at the front, the mountains, the fires that rage in between, and the smoke that shrouds flowers on the mountainside as they burst into flame, I know that ‘brilliant’ is only an adequate translation, nothing more. There are nuances to the phrase that exist only on paper, in the original language; English loses the neat precision and perfect square aesthetic of the four characters.

Later, I read an article in which the author, who’s from Mainland China, describes her deliberate erasure of Chinese in order to fully embrace English. I’m still unsettled when I think about it now. Politics aside, Chinese is an elegant and ancient thing, crafted with artistry in mind. A mere two to four characters can hold boatloads of wisdom and meaning. How can anyone choose to forget this language for English? To be fair, English is just as fascinating and complex, if not even more so, since we can continually add words from different languages to our vocabulary and create exceptions to any rule we have. But wouldn’t it be better to know both languages intimately? There was a quote I came across that went along the lines of, “Everything I know about language is everything I know about life.”* So the more you forget, the less language you know, and your world just – shrinks.

I mean, I know where the author’s coming from. Whenever I visited China when I was younger, even if it was only for a few weeks, my conversational English always deteriorated. I could still write in English quite well, since I kept (and still keep) notebooks wherever I went, but I’d forgotten “how to English” and became proportionally better at speaking (and reading and typing) Chinese. It’s so easy to focus on mastering one language and forgetting others through disuse. But I think it’s important to know more than one language, particularly if your first is English. In this globalized era, everyone knows English. And that can be awesome and convenient, but I’m afraid that if we’re all monolinguals, we’ll miss much of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

There’s another kind of translation that I keep thinking about, lately – the translation of thoughts into words. For me, at least, there’s disconnect between what I think, what I want to say, and what I actually end up saying. This disconnect got Darcy in trouble with Elizabeth, and he had to fix it with a written letter. And this makes sense, since writing gives you time to contemplate, to take back mistakes. I can articulate my thoughts on paper so much more eloquently and fully than I can ever speak them, and it can be frustrating, especially when I meet people for the first time and I struggle to talk to them. It’s like my mouth opens and words nonsensically and uncontrollably tumble out of my mouth. But what happens when the writing stops? If I stop keeping a journal, if I don’t document my thought processes in written form, do those thoughts cease to exist? What if in the future, my notebooks are posthumously published? People will judge me based on what I’ve written, even if it was originally in private – think not just of Kafka, Plath, and Nin, but also of Shostakovich, Warhol, and Napoleon, among so many other figures in our history. Notebooks provide insight, but only if you write in them. Didion, in The Year of Magical Thinking, is able to revisit both her life and that of her husband’s through the extensive records they’d both kept – notebooks and index cards, paper scraps and Word documents. My fear of forgetting is one reason why I keep writing. I don’t want to lose my grasp on Chinese, and I don’t want to lose my thoughts. To lose those things is to lose parts of myself.

In school, we recently covered a unit over translated poetry. We read different versions each of Rumi’s poetry (in snippets) and Borges’s “Historia de la noche,” then discussed what was more important in interpretation – accuracy or poetics. When you translate, what do you abandon and what do you preserve? How well do you need to know the language you work with? (Nabokov knew English and Russian with equal fluency, and he translated his own work, thus retaining the original intent of his writing. The same goes for Samuel Beckett with English and French. So I wonder what I miss when I read the English version of Camus’s The Stranger, Rilke’s poetry, or Ocampo’s short stories – anything written and translated by two different people.) For our assignment, we had to translate a poem from a language in which we’re at least familiar. I chose a poem by 骆绮兰, a female poet from eighteen-century China. This particular piece happens to come from a set of eight, called《纪梦诗八首》 (“Record of Dreams, Eight Poems”), so you can probably tell why I was attracted to it.

I haven’t formally studied Chinese for a year now, so it felt nice to return to it. This translation’s not perfect, of course, but I like to think it’s fairly accurate. I loved the imagery she evokes here; in preserving that, I ended up with a more literal interpretation. I hope you like it!

dream3luoqilan

*I just Googled this quote to verify the source, but all I got were Tumblr posts for some reason?? If any of you recognize this quote, please comment below or message me!

DREAM SEQUENCE

alternate title: “notes before christmas, 2016”

you might be wondering why i’ve posted not once, not twice, but four times on CITRUSY. amazing, isn’t it?

i’ve actually written quite a number of shorter works in the past few months (yay creative writing class), and i grouped a few of these into a “literary magazine” for the aforementioned class, though i like to think of it instead as a simple collection of thematically similar writing. i decided to post the rest of this collection onto CITRUSY before december ended (since half the pieces were pulled from this blog anyway). now that the last work, “where ghosts live”, is up, i want to re-introduce all the short stories and poems as one compilation. so, sorry for the sudden rush of posts! i just wanted everything here before 2016 was over. C:

DREAM SEQUENCE deals with the sensual, random surrealism of dreams. i’ve really enjoyed writing and assembling these works and seeing how they fit together. other things i love that are featured include architecture (city buildings and haunted houses alike), ghosts, and the sea. it’s not exactly cheerful, but i hope you have as much fun reading as i did while writing. (or rereading, if that’s the case.) have a lovely winter season!!

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dream (6): last night

you laughed.
i wanted to bottle the sound
to revisit on colder days.

color dripped from your irises
and down your cheeks,
staining my fingers blue.

je te veux

ALTERNATE TITLE: “thoughts of an art thief after stealing ib and her husband”

the first time was on a whim –
that crucial split second where one might choose
to listen to gréco instead of piaf, or take
a right turn and not the road stretched ahead,
only this choice involved a slim pocket knife
and barely detectable flicks of the wrist.

she could feel blood rush to her face,
heat tinging her ashen cheeks.
her hands trembled.
she looked down at her worn shoes,
her wrinkled dress that rustled with every step.
no one knows – no eyes have seen
what i have done.

the second time was out of desire.
she saw intimacy and her fingers itched;
her hands moved on their own, the blade
of her knife gleaming in the dim light
like her smile a few hours later
as she studied the stolen prize
on her bedroom floor.
she admired ib and her lumpy coral sweater.
how comfortable she must have been
lying in bed, pat’s arm looped over her waist,
his veins silvery pink against his skin.
how protected she must have felt, how loved,
under the constant gaze of her father
as he emptied his palette of earthy colors
onto the canvas.

she felt the eyes of everyone she passed.
hard as she tried, guilt remained palpable
in her fingers, her throat, her spine.
she glanced once at her hands and choked
back a scream at the rust-colored paint
dripping between her knuckles.
terrified, she didn’t look again.
she couldn’t stop thinking about the knife
burning in her pocket that day,
the uneven edges of the painting
where she’d removed it from its frame.
she had never felt so cold.

why had she thought she could have ib’s warmth
for her own just by taking it?
now her actions could not be undone,
and the painting sat patiently on her desk at home,
waiting to be found.

(more…)

nath

sometimes i am overwhelmed by
how wonderful you are and how
lucky i am to be your friend. it
is hard to pinpoint my favorite
thing about you – i love everything
your laugh your words your passion
your ability to make me feel
we are the only people in the world
existing noisily as i float deeply in love,
words caught in my throat.
bittersweetness nips lightly at our
mouths. when you smile something
warm flutters inside me like a tiny bird.
maybe one day we’ll visit sweden
to talar svenska but for now i’m
glad we’ve gone to coffeehouse
inks lake and the blanton together,
and if a flower bloomed every time i
was happily reminded of you a meadow
would flood all the halls and classrooms at
LASA: petals tumbling out of windows,
buzzing bees washed gold beneath the sun.

oddloop

she opened her mouth to scream.
only flowers came out,
blossoming from her throat

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playlist: garden of poe(tree)

good afternoon, loves! as you might guess from the title, i’ve started a new category (series?) on CITRUSY. this particular post combines two of my favorite things: playlists and poetry.

some people have podcasts, and others have mix tapes. i have playlists.
i use youtube 95% of the time (the other 5% goes to google play music), and i have youtube playlists for everything – years’ worth of soundtracks evoking my highest & lowest points, my moods during autumn or rainy spring days, my nanowrimo novels, every year of high school, and so on. i have music playlists for books i love and for cross country practices, for my favorite composers & musicians and for the days when everything is just a little off. i even have a playlist for college applications (the first song of which is the original pokémon theme song). i feel like i’m creating a new playlist at least once a week.

playlists are a lot like poetry in that they’re able to express feelings i can’t vocalize or only understand intuitively. speaking of poetry – poetry has been one of the few things keeping me together for the past month or so, throwing me a life-line made of carefully structured syntax, raw emotion, and beautiful, sometimes irreverent words. i love how in poetry, every word matters. there’s no bullshit, no filler lines. i love how there are no real rules in poetry, that the guidelines set in place can always be broken.

today, i wanted to share what i listen to when i’m writing and reading poetry, which seems to be all i do in my free time these days.

PLAYLIST: POE(TREE)
1) “je te veux (soprano)” – erik satie
2)「ひこうき雲」 – yumi matsutoya
3) “mr.sandman” – 바버렛츠
4)「完全感覚Dreamer」- one ok rock
5) “l’autre valse d’amélie” – yann tiersen
6) “owarase night” – frederic

to end this post, here’s the opening stanza of arthur o’shaughnessy’s “ode”:

we are the music-makers,
and we are the dreamers of dreams,
wandering by lone sea-breakers,
and sitting by desolate streams;
world-losers and world-forsakers,
on whom the pale moon gleams:
yet we are the movers and shakers
of the world for ever, it seems.

how all things glow

at the still point of the turning world,
the first word that you ever spoke was: light.

beast that i am
i set myself on fire

and my dreams also reconstructed themselves –
all bright light and black wings,
the colored liquid turning gradually lighter, more radiant,
(not to eat, of course, but to examine)

and a silent star-filled heaven turned,
metallic, lucid and bold:

blossoms lingered as if you could smell them eventually
around your soft throat

and it seemed that the whole summer dipped,
illimitable in fragrance and in sound.

~

a/n: this is a cento that i wrote for school. i had a lot of fun with this, especially since i got to spend hours reading books of poetry without feeling guilty about it. 🙂  under the cut is a list of the poems/poetry collections whose lines i ended up using.

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from your hand red roses flew

from your hand red roses flew as you fell;
you closed your eyes and sang to the gods
with a colorless voice.

grey laughter tore your throat, purple
bruising the softness beneath your eyes.
fluorescent light washed your face white
and flat and clean, like untouched paper –

i still remember when my heart
beat against your hand with an
irregular rhythm: a lonely pulse one
second, constant humming for another five.

on gusty nights we shared a blanket and a
slice of cherry pie – warm, sweet and slightly
tart (like the taste of your lips), the same
muted red as the heat in your cheeks –
while my stomach grew full with your love.

on the morning after you stood at the kitchen sink
making coffee and breakfast. light poured through
the unbearable cold and soaked your bony bare arms,
which were hollow and bent, almost like the wings
of a bird poised for flight

minna

your constant honesty and kindness,
along with your ability to remain sweetly
composed in the face of chaos, is even more
amazing than a boy with wings plummeting
from the sky. i love all the little things you say
and write and do, just as i love the intricate
details of a favorite painting or the subtle way
trees turn gold in the morning.

at 8 AM lilac seeped into the sky,
and we chased each other downhill to the lake.
as we swam and rode foam-crested waves,
i wondered which shone brighter: the sun as it
glinted off the cool green water’s surface, or you
as you grinned and shouted with glee
over the roar of the wind.