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The Stephen Spender Prize 2016 for poetry in translation
in association with the Guardian

Open category, second prize

Read the judges’ comments
Download the 2016 booklet
Email to request a free hard copy of the booklet (UK addresses only)
Read the winning entries from previous years


Theophilus Kwek

To view the verse layout of the English translation please click here.


The original Chinese 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.


搬家记


一、搬运合约

环球搬运公司的估价员
冷漠的巡视公寓的每一个角落
肯定的说:
沉重的书刊、冰箱、桌椅
甚至脆弱的盆景植物和古董
只需半天装箱
一天搬运
见我满脸的惘然
他再补充一句:
所有十二年的灰尘和回忆
窗外的青山绿水
既不能装箱
卡车也载不足
请自己处理


二、搬家

卸下沉重的家具后
大卡车发现
搬运工人
沙发
餐桌
一箱一箱的书和古董
一盆一盆的花和植物
疲倦、饥渴
没气力走进我的新居
各自蹲坐在屋檐下休息
一张断脚的椅子
在痛苦中醒过来
看见烈阳下的一盆万年青
四肢发软,低垂着头
高大的冰箱
身上冒着热气
影子也像我
热得正在流汗


三、打扫回忆

我回去打扫
搬空后的公寓
细心的在一堆一堆的
灰尘、废纸、破物中
捡起许多旧事和回忆
放进购物袋里
亲自载到新家去
四、好奇的邻居们
从高楼公寓
搬进平地房子
邻居们对我特别好奇:
早上院子的野花
用露珠洗了脸
纷纷从杂草里伸出头
偷看我替汽车洗澡
壁虎日夜躲在墙角探头探脑
见我汗流浃背的在粉刷墙壁
便忍不住哈哈大笑
夜晚
星子和月亮悄悄来到窗前
发现我不是读书写诗
而在计算银行的存款与股票
便默默的离开了
把一滴滴眼泪
留在玻璃窗上
五、油漆记
星期天早上
一只黑猫蹲在门前的树下
看着我
挥动刷子
迅速的把两扇黑色的铁栅门
油上白漆
中午
一只白猫立在阳台上
发现黑色的铁栅白了
而我
却被太阳漆黑了


六、除草记

屋前屋后
院子里的杂草
对回归自然的人
特别好奇
喜欢从泥土里站出来
东张西望
甚至爬到餐厅的玻璃门边
探头探脑
想知道我吃什么早餐
阅读报纸上哪一条新闻
我于是买了一架剪草机
每个月初的星期天
把院子里杂草的好奇心
通通剪掉

王润华
(Wong Yoon Wah)
Reproduced by permission of the poet
top


Translation commentary

The 'square' is the most egalitarian of shapes, and, by virtue of its homonym (the public 'square'), both visual and spatial symbol of open discourse – the Chinese pictograph ' 口' means 'mouth'. Every student of Chinese learns by tracing the language's intricate characters into squares: first on a grid, to study its proportions, then into rows of identical squares. A 'character', another homonym, denotes (in English) both a single Chinese pictograph and a person. Likewise, a 'radical' means a section of a pictograph (for example, the '口' in '吃'), or 'subversive person'. Traversing these double-meanings, the 'radical' is both part of, and description of, a 'character', and a character is a person written into a square.

Wong Yoon Wah was uprooted from his family's plantation to a cramped barbed-wire compound during the Malayan Emergency, the British government's protracted campaign to eradicate the Malayan Communist Party. 'Moving House', written in 1987 after Wong relocated to Taiwan, the US, then Singapore, begins with the impossibility of putting 'dust, memories' into boxes. It crosses between new and old homes, alluding to contemporary events (part v, for instance, nods to Deng Xiaoping's mantra: 'No matter if a cat is white or black, as long as it catches mice.'), before arriving at a sense of finality and silenced dissent ('weeds' curiosity put to rest').

Rather than preserving the poem's form, I have presented it in six 'squares', drawing on the idea of packing a life into boxes, as well as resonances in the homonyms explored above. The first, densely packed sections give way to more fragmented ones, mirroring the slowing pace of life (from the 'high-rise' to the 'bungalow) and the slowing pace of the original. Presented thus, each section comes to resemble a Chinese character in its own right.

Theophilus Kwek