Translation Tuesday: “Untitled” by Song Lin

your evening battles with a certain angel / until stars become bones

This week’s Translation Tuesday proffers a poem by Chinese poet Song Lin. This poem, “Untitled,” translated with a certain sublimity by Dong Li, offers a haunting vision that places the reader into a fleeting and gilded world, where the symbols of poetry invert and exhaust themselves upon being observed. Within this short poem, a whole lifetime quivers under the strain of thought and composition. “A belated meeting beckons” to the readers of the poem who become themselves the poetic voice, simultaneously offered and denied the splendor of traditional lyric. Dong Li’s translation captures the sparsity of language and the depth of tableau expected of traditional Chinese lyric poetry, while also capturing a sense of alienation from these stereotypical themes and imagery. The language of this poem leaves a lasting impression as it ignites and etches feelings and impressions. We are glad to be able to feature this innovative and compelling translation. 


on a forsythia
autumn shudders
a stranger walks past the river bank
reminiscence turns him into a ghost
towering autumn, a gust of wind
tosses gold of leaves into the garret
your evening battles with a certain angel
until stars become bones
the clock of day naked
a belated meeting beckons
so you cross the square
blue of pine trees around ancient pagodas
no written on the water:
face of stone glows modesty
lichen in pain
wordless tongue

Translated from the Chinese by Dong Li

Song Lin is one of the most distinguished and unusual poets from P.R. China. Among his honors are Rotterdam, Romanian, Hong Kong Poetry Night International Poetry Fellowships as well as the Shanghai Literature Prize. He has held residencies at OMI Ledig House translation lab and Vermont Studio Center.

Dong Li is an English-language poet and translates from the Chinese, English and German. He’s the recipient of a PEN/Heim Translation Grant and fellowships from Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Akademie Schloss Solitude, Yaddo and elsewhere. His full-length translation of the Chinese poet Zhu Zhu: The Wild Great Wall was recently published by Phoneme Media.