‘n Chinese digter wat in Japannees skryf …

Tian Yuan

Tian Yuan

Sedert my kennismaking met Bei Dao se gedigte in die 1990s het ek nog altyd ‘n affiniteit vir die Oosterse digters gehad. Daarom was ek dadelik opgewonde toe ek sien dat Poetry International Web met hul nuutste uitgawe op die Japannese digkuns fokus; meer spesifiek op die digkuns van die 45-jarige Tian Yuan. Wat Yuan ongewoon maak – afgesien van sy skitterende verse – is die feit dat hy Chinees van geboorte is. In sy laat twintigerjare is hy met ‘n studiebeurs na Japan waar hy uiteindelik ‘n doktorale tesis oor die Japannese digter of Shuntarô Tanikawa voltooi het. Tans doseer Yuan  Japannese digkuns aan die Universiteit van Tŏhoku; inderdaad ‘n gevogelte met vreemde vere aangesien hy van die begin van sy skrywersloopbaan sy verse in drie tale produseer: Chinees, Engels en veral Japannees. Ook is sy werk al telkens bekroon (in Japan) en word hy allerweë as een van hul vernaamste digters beskou.

In sy oorsigartikel het Yasuhiro Totsumoto die volgende oor Yuan se ongewone taalgebruik te sê gehad:  “Although it may not be so obvious from the English translations, the Japanese language in Tian Yuan’s poems is not always so ‘natural’. The poems sometimes look and sound like the Japanese translations of poems originally written in Chinese, with their excessive use of Chinese characters (as opposed to the indigenous Hiragana characters) and the contrapuntal expression, which is one of the characteristics of the traditional Chinese poetics. […] I suspect that it is this slight touch of oddity about the Japanese language in Tian Yuan’s poems which strikes a chord with the Japanese readers: not only because of its exotic charm as poetic expression, but because, more importantly, we can feel through it that Tian Yuan wears the Japanese language the way one might wear a pair of new shoes while walking along a familiar path – in this case, the path of poetry. […] Tian Yuan writes his poems in Japanese not because he loves the language, but because he wants to reach a new place, a new shore, which would not be possible by his native language alone. And come to think of it, is this not the case with any poet, regardless of his or her choice of language? Because poets always struggle with language, trying to express something beyond words, we recognise in Tian Yuan’s Japanese poems the archetypical image of a poet . . . “

Gewis ‘n uiters indrukwekkende digter.

Gaan lees gerus die artikel deur Totsumoto en veral 9 gedigte van Yuan wat op die webblad geplaas is. As leestoegif plaas ek die lang vers, “A steam engine before dawn“, volledig onder aan hierdie Nuuswekker. Die rede daarvoor is dat dit myns insiens – net soos dit die geval is met Toon Tellegen se skitterende vers oor New York – ‘n besonder goeie voorbeeld is van hoe ‘n digter te werk kan gaan om persoonlike gegewe met die historiese te verweef.

‘n Kragtoer, inderdaad.


Een van die belangrikste bundels, myns insiens, wat verlede jaar verskyn het, is Daniel Hugo se vertaling van gedigte deur Rutger Kopland. Lees dus gerus onderhoud wat met Daniel oor Onder die appelboom (Protea Boekhuis, 2011) gevoer is. Dan het Desmond Painter ook nog sedert Vrydag twee aflewerings in sy reeks oor die Brasiliaanse digter Manuel Bandeira geplaas. Hulle kan hier en hier gelees word.

Ten slotte is daar ook ‘n nuwe vers deur Daniel Hugo in sy gedigtekamer geplaas.

Lekker lees en geniet die week wat op hande is.

Mooi bly.



A Steam Engine Before Dawn

for a woman student who was at Tiananmen Square in 1989


No one can hear the sound as well as I.
While I lay on an elm-wood bed
in a village three kilometers from here, hidden away in the woods,
the noise of a train slipped through a crack between the door and a wall,
though a window kept out the December chill.
Its rhythm was as insistent as the decibels of hard rock music.
Loud, bold, lyrical, as well as touching, it made my blood flow faster.
I rubbed away the dark night that clung to my eyelashes.
Except for a constantly crowing cock and a barking dog, I was the first
to waken from the long night.
The train roared on south to north.
It was apparently passing through the tunnel I often take.
The tunnel resounded with Bam-Bam-Bam like a beaten drum.


The north-bound train reminded me of our early summer love.
We imitated it and ran along the rails northward,
which is closer to both winter and summer.
That day we passed the train by,
arriving at the station before it did. When we got there
the train still hadn’t brought us the next day’s dawn. When dawn did come
it darkened our eyes. The very heart of the sun
was before our dark eyes. We groped along
but could find nothing but damp shouting.
It offered us bread, cider and warm hands,
but we had long since forgotten our hunger. We ran about frantically
in the dark
and like the train before dawn
we shone a faint light into the deep, stubborn darkness,
and our heads smashed into the wall of the sun and bled.
we inhaled our homeland
and our homeland was gasping in our young bodies
like healthy bodies with asthma.
We are young doctors who know the causes of illness
and though our medicines cannot cure the germs in the homeland’s body
those germs, on the contrary, are killing us.


My lovely girl collapsed. In early summer before dawn
just at this time of day when the train passes through,
a sunflower seed that ripened and grew voluptuous under the sun struck her.
That sunflower was once an Apollo in our hearts
and we sang and danced around it as children.
Grown up, we looked up to it and praised it.
But she fell down in her own blood. Under that rootless sunflower
she said with her last faint breath, “O China, China!”
She passed away-quietly.
The sound of a heart collapsing is ten times louder than that of a train.
In spite of no one’s calling her a heroine
I live in order to authenticate her.
-I am her living monument.


As if I were a drop of blood spurting from her heart,
I clambered up onto the down-train helped by that one last drop of blood.
There were ghosts of death everywhere on the train.
They collided and cried out violently,
setting off sparks all around them.
I was standing up in the train while a fly stared at me with noble eyes.
Dancing frantically, the ghosts surrounded me.
In the dim lamplight
I felt the rhythm of death.
It ran over my heart roaring, just like the pre-dawn train.
Death’s voice, its white bandage wound round the earth,
wound and rewound me,
round and round.


I returned to the room we had set out from. A slight rain
dampening all sounds
gradually took on the color of blood in the depths of my memory.
The peace that followed the rain
thrust its devil-hand down my throat into my heart.
And so it was that a new grave
rose up in my heart, taller than any of the mountains in China.


The train before dawn was a sounding arrow
that dark night shot at the terminal.
It left its sound behind in a split second,
gradually lost speed and finally vanished.
But that momentary sound
reminded me of one person and many other persons,
of one accident and other accidents,
of one voice and other voices,
of one time and, also, of other times.
Lying in my futon, on one hand I recounted past events
and with the other I grasped the same life’s root
once grasped by my sweetheart in her small hand.
I was once again beside the Beijing-Guangzhou Line,
and saw the iron wheels roar down the track crushing time and sunlight.
They were speeding northward shouting frantically as if they were suffering
just because they were alive.
The pre-dawn train
scarred the earth as if with a sharp knife
and cut the sky’s bare skin.
The sky bled and endured its pain,
as engine smoke belched out and covered the sky’s wound like absorbent cotton.

I know that
the wounded sky and earth do not hate the train,
just as I, in bed,
don’t hate my country.

The train as it passed before dawn wakened me from the dark night.


© Tian Yuan (Vertaling: 2010, William I. Elliott and Kazuo Kawamura)




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