on a headland in chile by ai qing

I recently made an English translation of the poem On A Headland In Chile, written in 1956 by Chinese poet, Ai Qing (1910-1996). Previously, I had seen fragments of the poem rendered into English, but never the full work. The poem is a reflection on Ai Qing’s visit to Pablo Neruda’s seaside home in Isla Negra in Chile. I was helped with the translation by my wife, Rubing Hong.

Here is a link to my recital of the poem on youtube. And the words are further below.

A writer friend, Ian Campbell, suggested that when I shared the translation, it may also be useful to write a few words on the translation experience. I suggested this to my wife, who replied that Ai Qing’s work is very concrete and easy to translate so there wouldn’t be a lot to say. It is true, there is little value in dwelling on the choice of words, for example, to say that the house was made of stone and not rock. Despite his use of concrete language, Ai Qing’s simple style transcends the distinctions between poetry, art, friendship and politics. Ai Qing has undoubtedly absorbed much of the vast experience of Chinese poetry into his own style of expression. His work goes to the heart of human experience with a knowing that living and dreaming exist beyond the labels we commonly use to describe them. I felt the desire, in translation, to capture the feeling and the apparent exhilaration that Ai Qing must have felt when he composed his poem. So I do think there is an opportunity to throw some light on the work and its translation, though it may not be what Ian was expecting.

When Ian suggested the translation to me, he was engaged in a project focussing on the cultural afterlife of Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). He has unearthed numerous links to fresh celebrations and interpretations of the writings of Pablo Neruda which suggests that the poet lives on in new ways up to the present day. He asked for my help in tracking down a statue of Neruda in Chaoyang Park in Beijing when I was there in late 2019. At that time, he told me about the friendship between Neruda and Ai Qing and how only parts of Ai Qing’s poem about his visit to Neruda’s home were available in Spanish, as in English.

Having an interest in taiji and related Chinese natural philosophy, I know how abstract Chinese language can be, and the associated difficulties with its translation. In my recent work, Use Mind and Not Force: A Taiji Memoir, I cited the example of a single four character saying, xū lǐng dǐng jìn (虛領頂勁), which I rendered as ‘feel suspended from your halo point’ and I provided thirteen incredibly different translations of this short expression which demonstrated the subjective element of any translation. Alas, the indeterminacy of language!

In considering the task of translation, I also recalled the words of Lahney Preston-Matto in the introduction to her translation of the medieval Irish satire, The Vision of Mac Conglinne. She refers to the translator’s choice to either foreignise the work being translated or to domesticate it. Many translations of Chinese writings in the past have suffered from over-domestication as if we could not grasp the vastness of our different cultural experiences. This is changing as we gain a clearer measure of Chinese culture through an increased mingling over recent generations. Ai Qing, by virtue of the subject of this poem, and perhaps due to his innate simple style, appears to have pre-domesticated this poem for his potential foreign audience: it’s the images and the ideas that do the talking, the poem is not so dependent on the interpretation of words.

As suggested above, there is a metaphor running through the poem, that threads life in general, the life of the artist, the life of the poet and, may I say it, the lives of two comrades with very different life experiences, and this is achieved with simple and commonplace nautical images. Only two years after the completion of the poem, Ai Qing was placed in internal exile after being caught up in the Anti-Rightist movement of 1958. He was eventually rehabilitated in 1979. His son, artist and activist, Ai Weiwei, has championed his father and his work since, using new ways in these new times to continue many of the same causes as his father.

After hearing about Ian’s interest in Ai Qing, I surprised him with a photo I had taken of an Ai Qing statue in a park in his ancestral town of Jinhua, Zhejiang Province. I was actually in Jinhua the year before as part of a delegation for the naming of a school of music after one of Jinhua’s other favourite sons, classical composer, Shi Guangnan (1940-1990). To place Guangnan, you should know that, in 2019, he was recognised as being one of the top one hundred persons contributing to the People’s Republic of China. He was the only composer on the list. I must also mention another famous child of Jinhua, the artist Huang Binhong (1865-1955), whose art I have had a personal interest in for many years. He is recognised as one of the greatest Chinese painters of the twentieth century, and is a role model par excellence of the artist seeking to render something of the human spirit onto paper. It is amazing to think of his current status when we consider that he held his first art exhibition on his eightieth birthday.

On A Headland in Chile captures a moment of true international unconditional friendship and a celebration of the human aspiration for a better world where we can explore and appreciate our human achievements. There is surely a message in this work for us today who seem so intent on the conditionality of many of our transactions with ‘the other’.

********

On a Headland in Chile

by Ai Qing

to Pablo Neruda

Let the goddess of sailing

Protect your home

She faces the sea

Looking up at the blue sky

Hand upon her chest

Praying for peace

1

You love the sea, I also love the sea.

We are forever sailing upon the sea

One day, a big ship sank

You found a lifebuoy

A symbol of restored hope

The wind and the breakers delivered you to the shore

You were like a coastal defence guard

Stationed on the reefs

You dropped anchor

untied the ropes

recollecting the roads you have traveled

every day looking out across the ocean

2

Pablo’s home

On a headland

Outside the window

Is the vast misty Pacific Ocean

An amazing house

Made entirely of rock

Like a small fortification

Used to imprison a warrior

We entered

The Sailor’s Home

The ground covered with conches

Last night’s tide, such large waves

Already spoiled

The woodcarving of the Goddess

Standing by the lounge-room door

Like a sincere maidservant

The attic is a deck,

The railing is connected with twine

Beside the bannister

Sits a large wheel

These are your property:

A model of an ancient sailboat

A large rusty anchor

A Chinese luopan

(the earliest compass)

A big globe of the earth

an array of tobacco pipes

And all kinds of steel knives

A walking stick from an Italian peasant

Is placed by the door

To accompany a genius

In his travels across the world

Cream-coloured ivory

With the engraving of a young lover

Dressed in country clothes

a bashful expression

A portrait of romantic love,

be it ancient or modern.

The handgun is already rusted

The ship can no longer move

Please fill the cup with wine

And let’s toast to peace

3

The house sits on the earth

But the earth is inside the house

On a wall hangs a white-crowned hat

with a black-lacquered brim, a sailor’s hat,

As if the owner of this house

Only came home this morning

I ask Pablo:

‘Are you a sailor?

Or are you a general?’

He says: ‘I’m a general,

As you are;

But my boat

Has disappeared,

it has sunk….’

4

Are you a captain,

Or a seafarer?

Or the head of a fleet?

Or a sailor?

Are you the one who returns from victory,

Or a fugitive who has been defeated?

Have you found peace and rest,

Or have you met danger and run aground?

Are you lost,

Or have you struck a reef?

None of the above.

The owner of this house,

He was a friend of Lorca, who was shot dead.*

Yes, a witness of Spanish suffering

I am a retired diplomat,

Not a general.

Day and night gazing at the sea

Listening to the waves as they sigh

As if mocking

As if provoking

Pablo Neruda

Facing the ten thousand waves

Uses the language of the miner

To declare war on the entire old world.

* Luo Yanjia:(F G Lorca, 1898-1938) Spanish poet, dramatist. Killed by Fascists.

5

Above the entrance of the living room

Hangs a life buoy

Now the boat is ashore

You say: ‘if the ship sinks

I will put it on

And jump into the ocean.’

A square street lamp

At the second door

So that every evening

You live on the street

Flames rise in the fireplace

Tonight, the sea is noisy

Around a roaring fireplace

From all corners of the earth

A dozen sailing friends

Drink and tell stories about sailing

We come from many countries

Including many nationalities

Have different languages

But we are the best of friends

Someone stands up

With a magnifying glass

Seeking on a map

A place we haven’t been

Our world

Seems big

Actually it’s small

in this world

We should all live well

Tomorrow, if it’s fine weather

I want to get a copper telescope

Look westwards

Over the Pacific Ocean

To my hometown

I love this headland

I also love my hometown

In the hours before midnight,

How enchanting this early spring night

6

On a mahogany table

Is the captain’s copper whistle

Before dawn, if the whistle sounds

All of us will soon climb the ship’s rigging

Raise the sails and set out to sea

Sailing to the port of the next century

First draft on the evening of July 24, 1954

Finished on December 11, 1956

Original Text: (pinyin is on the way)

在智利的海岬上

给巴勃罗。聂鲁达

让航海女神

守护你的家

她面临大海

仰望苍天

抚手胸前

祈求行安

1

你爱海,我也爱海

我们永远航行在海上

一天,一只般沉了

你捡回了救命圈

妤像捡回了希望

风浪把你送到海边

你好像海防卫士

驻守着这些礁石

你抛下了锚

解下了缆索

回忆你所走过的路

每天瞭望海洋

2

巴勃罗的家

在一个海岬上

窗户的外面

是浩渺的太平洋

一所出奇的房子

全部用岩石砌成

像小小的碉堡

要把武士囚禁

我们走进了

航海者之家

地上铺满了海螺

也许昨晚海潮

已经残了的

木雕的女神

站在客的门边

像女仆似的虔诫

阁楼是甲板

栏杆用麻绳穿连

在扶梯的边上

有一个大转盘

这些是你的财产:

古代帆船的模型

褐色的大铁锚

中国的大罗盘

(最早的指南针)

大的地球仪

各式各样的烟斗

和各式各样的钢刀

意大利农民送的手杖

放在进门的地方

它陪伴一个天才

走过了整个世界

米黄色的象牙上

刻着年轻的情人

穿着乡村的服装

带着羞涩的表情

像所有的爱情故事

既古老而又新鲜

手抢已经锈了

战船也不再转动

请斟满葡萄酒

为和平而干杯

3

房子左地球上

而地球在房子里

壁上挂了白顶的

黑漆遮阳的海员帽子

好像这房子的主人

今天早上才回到家里

我问巴勃罗:

是水手呢?

还是将军?

他说:是将军,

你也一样;

不过,我的船

己失踪了,

沉落了。

4

你是一个船长,

还是一个海员?

你是一个舰队长,

还是一个水兵?

你是胜利归来的人,

还是战败了逃亡的人?

你是平安的停憩,

还是危险的搁浅?

你是迷失了方向,

还是遇见了暗礁?

都不是,都不是。

这房子的主人

是被枪杀了的洛尓伽的朋友

是,受难的西班牙见证

是一个退休了外交官

不是将军。

日曰夜夜望着海

听海涛像在浩叹

也像是嘲弄

也像是挑衅

巴勃罗 聂鲁达

面对着万顷波涛

用矿山里带来的语言

向整个旧世界宣战

洛尓伽:费。加。洛尓伽,(F G Lorca, 1898-1938)西班牙诗人,戏剧家。 遭法西斯杀害。

5

在客厅门口上面

挂了救命圈

现在船是在岸边

你说:要是船沉了

我就戴上了它

跳进了海洋。

方形的街灯

在第二个门

这样,每个夜晚

你生活在街上

壁炉里火焰上升

今夜,海上喧哗

围着烧旺了的壁炉

从地球的各个角落来的

十几个航行的伙伴

喝着酒,谈着航海的故事

我们来自许多国家

包括许多民族

有着不同的语言

但我们是好的兄弟

有人站起来

用放大镜

在地图上寻找

没有到过的地方

我们的世界

好像很大

其实很小

在这个世界上

应该生活得好

明天,要是天晴

我想拿铜的望远镜

向西方瞭望

太平洋的那边

是我的家乡

我爱这个海岬

也爱我的家乡

这儿夜巳经很㤾

初春的夜晚多么迷人

6

在红心木的桌子上

有船长用的铜哨子

拂晓之前,要是哨子响了

我们大家将很快地爬上船缆

张起船帆,向海洋起程

向另一个世纪的港口航行

一九五四年七月二十四日晚,初稿

一九五六年十二月十一日,整理

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

1,680 Spam Comments Blocked so far by Spam Free Wordpress

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>