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The Times Stephen Spender Prize 2010

Open category, commended

Read the judges’ comments
To obtain the free booklet of winning entries and commentaries,
please email: info@stephenspender.org


Chen Dandan

‘Strawberry Pie’
by Xia Yu


To j and 1983

In the afternoon, we were eating a strawberry pie together,
I waited for him to kiss me. In the evening, the sky was blue
mixed with violet. All the roofs were
red and yellow.
Some streets had flags, some
were full of balloons. Some people were shot.
The radio said
a penguin had walked away from the zoo
in an old-fashioned gentleman pace.
Before all the sleep-walkers came back
I conjured a spell to his silent lips:
Open, Sesame
Open, Sesame
……
……
……
(I begin to like ellipsis)
……
My childhood was too long.
I didn’t grow up
before I become old. I begin to like ellipsis.
The missing penguin found refuge
in a bathtub
Morning rushed in like a rhino. Flowers and mistakes
were in the middle of the room. And now we have ham and eggs.
The spreading flavour of ham reminds me of some
ancient and familiar distress. I am extremely
worried, about things left unfinished because of him,
about things known as loneliness and freedom.
He leads me into
the stockroom of memory and says, ‘you see,
they were bought before I met you,
those fragile plates.’
In the afternoon, we were eating a strawberry pie together,
and slowly sinking into
an uncertain time.

Translated from the Chinese by Chen Dandan
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The original poem may not display properly in older browsers or on computers running non-unicode-compliant operating systems. To view an image file of the poem, click here (opens in new window).

草莓派


給j 和1983

下午,我們共同吃著一塊草莓派
我等他吻我。黃昏時,天空是一種藍色
和紫色的混合。所有的屋頂是
紅色以及黃色的
有些街道插了旗子,有些
飄滿氣球。有人被槍斃。
收音機說
動物圓裡的一隻企鵝走失了
用一種過時的紳士的步伐,
在夢遊的人都回來之前
我對著他沉默的嘴唇念咒:
芝麻開門
芝麻開門
...............
...............
...............
(我開始喜歡刪節號)
...............
我渡過太長的童年
還沒有長大
就老了。我開始喜歡刪節號。
走失的企鵝收留在
澡盆裡
早晨闖進來像一頭犀牛。花和錯誤
在屋子中央。現在我們吃火腿蛋。
火腿的氣味散開的時候,提醒我某種
久遠熟悉的憂慮,我無比的
擔心,那些因為他
而不能徹底執行的事情
那稱之為孤獨
以及自由的東西。
他領著我走進
記憶的倉庫 「你看,
那是在認識你之前買的,
那些容易摔破的盤子。」
下午,我們共同吃著一塊草莓派
逐漸陷入

一個不確定的年代
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Translation commentary


I was searching for poems to translate for a tutorial last year, when I came across ‘Strawberry Pie’ by Hsia Yü (Xia Yu), and I was immediately attracted by its surreal juxtaposition of colourful imageries. Now, half a year has passed since my initial translation, and when I look at the original again, I am more keenly aware of the unsettling ambience behind the romantic, almost childlike images, and I also add to my reading a possible political dimension. (Published in 1984, the poem is dedicated to ‘J and 1983’, the latter being the eve of democracy of Taiwan, which explains some of the intrusive images and the ‘uncertain time’ in the end.)

Chinese is a language that does not have capital letters and structural tense markers, so it is for the translator to decide whether and how to supply them in English. Rather than unifying each line by capitalisation, I choose to capitalise a letter only when I feel it is the beginning of a new sentence, even if in the middle of a line. Tense is more challenging. Without the help of inflected verbs, the translator of Chinese has to interpret the tense from the context before rendering it into English. And since this poem is organised by a sequence of temporal adverbs, I follow them closely and make the narration progress from the past tense to the present, and return the ending repetition to the past, giving a sense of closure and cycle.

Chen Dandan
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