Talking, translated by Chloe O’Connor

Two trees are talking.
Their language
Is the falling leaves when they are melancholy
And the little flowers when they are adoring

Two stones are talking.
Their language
Is the green moss when they are sorrowful
And the sun’s reflection when they are joyful

I want to talk to the trees,
But I don’t know which words to use.
I want to talk to the stones,
But I don’t know which sounds to use.

I really am so tired.
I want to talk to that girl
But I don’t know which heart to use.
I want to talk to the shadows
But I don’t know if I should use darkness or light.

I really am so tired.
When the plants and the animals talk
They understand silence,
But when I talk to you
It doesn’t matter if I use blood or tears
You only hear wind.

 

In translating the main subject of the poem, talking, I deliberated between using conversing, speaking, or talking. The use of the phrase in the original seems to imply conversation between the various natural objects, however, the troubles of the speaker centre around being able to speak but not being heard or understood. I chose talking as I saw it as a middle ground verb, one that can express a lack of communication but is also informal enough to imply casual conversation. In Mandarin, words are often much more succinct than in English, so several words were quite long when translated like ‘sun’s reflection’ (反光) and ‘falling leaves’ (落叶). This seemed to disrupt the echoing rhythm of couplets that described the way the objects communicated nonverbally. I restored this balance by replacing small (小) with ‘little’ to make two lines equal in syllables and adding ‘green’ before moss to do the same for the second couplet. Translating ‘I really am so tired’ (我真的好累) was also somewhat of a challenge because it carries a very informal tone in the original language and makes use of two successive adverbs. I wanted to translate this accurately but bore the risk of it sounding awkward or overly hyperbolic. I decided to use a structure that to me sounds quite childlike to both create an informal tone but also to add a softness to the line that
strengthens the idea of tiredness.

说话
两棵树在说话
他们的语言
忧郁的时候是落叶
爱慕的时候是小花

两块石头在说话
他们的语言
消极的时候是青苔
积极的时候是反光

我想和那棵树说话
但我不知道用什么文字
我想与石头说话
但我不知道用什么声音

我真的好累
我想和那个姑娘说话
但我不知道用哪颗心脏
我想和影子说话
但是我不知道用黑色还是用白色

我真的好累
植物与动物说话的时候
用无声也能听懂
但是我与你说话的时候
无论是用血还是泪
听起来都是风

陈仓《中国诗人俱乐部作品选:大诗歌(2011卷)》(2015)

 

Original poem by Chen Cang. Reproduced by kind permission of the poet.