CHOI Lai Sheung. Whispers of the Star. A Collection of Poems(Chinese-English Bilingual). Translated by Zhang Zhizhong. Published by The Earth Culture Press (USA), August 2009, Pages 247, Price US $ 10.00. ISBN 978-0-9637599-6-5/A.080
CHOI Lai Sheung, who writes brief personal lyrical poems, is a contemporary Chinese poet, born in Shishi City in Fujian Province but now settled in Hong Kong. An author of over 70 books and editor-in-chief of the multilingual The World Poets Quarterly, she is also well-versed in calligraphy with an established reputation in gymnastics and swordplay.
Reading her 100 poems in translation, I find Choi a romantic visionary poet, with a matured aesthetic and poetic sense. Unlike many poets whose verses are flat and stale, Choi’s poems have much of enduring value: Her verses are not only brief and deep but also perfect and significant. She melds thoughts, feelings and emotions, with high and low of spirit, and spectacles of inner reality:
“How can I who
Be tolerated by my love
I am all for beauty
But not beauty itself (p. 227)
Both Choi and Zhang Zhizhong reach a great height of spiritual richness in creating and translating the last two lines of the poem ‘Imperfection’.
When the duo say: “Tenacity is kneaded in wordlessness/Silence is running with tears of heart” (p. 225); “Dreaming to spread my wings of heart/To fly into paradise/With fragrance of the mortal world” (p. 209); “The sea as passion/The rainbow as brush/I dance and soar in the universe” (p. 189); “Just a stretch of rainbow/In a self-less round/Between the sky and the earth” (p. 185); “I am a net in searching and exploring/Cast round the unknown ocean” (p. 183); “The dream is a pure land/Where all hearts are equal” (p. 175); “Rivers and lakes stretch to infinity/Water and the sky share the same color” (p. 165); “The plight of existence shall be/Conquered under the feet” (p. 137); “To grow a pot of smiles/Therefrom/Through winds and rains/Concern and passion retain” (p. 131); and “Lift historical trauma skyward/To wash bright aspiration of the time” (p. 105); I sense an overhead awareness, or the mantric effect a la Sri Aurobindo, the famous Indian poet-philosopher.
Zhang Zhizhong must have found CHOI a difficult poet to translate, particularly for her spiritual consciousness that evades exact expression in English. Yet he has completed the challenging task so well that I feel a sense of satisfaction, reading Choi’s verses in English. Both the poets (the translator too is a noted name in contemporary Chinese poetry with considerable experience in bilingual literature, language and cinema) succeed in drilling through “the fence of time and space/and transcend the boundary of nations” (p. 177), thanks to their labor of love and commitment to human unity, universal peace and happiness.
Reading Choi’s poery is like experiencing an ascent to loftiness of love, life, nature, and simplicity. She reflects an inner culture, the quintessence of the Chinese spirit, which is ever inspiring and ever renewing itself:
“No need to sing fair-sounding songs
No need to compose melodious music
Great passion and emotion
Bring brightness all the way” (p. 159)
She has a sense of purpose and mission: self-discovery and world-discovery. With her heart- wings, she soars between heaven and earth (cf. p. 123) and expresses her unity with nature: “As many wonders of the sea/As many wonders of me” (p. 111). Elsewhere, she says that with a triumphant heart she files and flutters “into heroism and righteousness/Between heaven and earth” (p 149), and scales a new height in her consciousness: “I am going to/Prove my position/With my craggy/Integrity” (p. 155). She sounds like Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri when she asserts: “Straight and erect is the strength of character” and “Climbing and rising is moral integrity” (p. 147). Evolution to her means awakening to the self, or raising the life and existence to a higher level of consciousness. Unity, harmony and love are her key notes.
Like a yogin, with perfect inner discipline, Choi “takes up pen as a hoe/To plough fertile land in silence/For the seeds to break ground and sprout” (p. 145). It is with evolving soul-awareness, “with erect beauty” and “unyielding floral spirit” that she seek to prove her own individual existence.
Choi Lai Sheung’s excellence lies in her freshness in each poem. She is not imitative of the past, nor does she think and feel in any pre-established ways. By her own admission, she is an “industrious tiller” who tries “to reach perfection along with the inclination and seasons/To bring fruits upon fruits” (p. 23). Her poetic genius achieves an excellent balance between what is conventionally available in some of the best Chinese lyrical poetry and what we have been reading in contemporary poetry in English elsewhere. With her fresh insights into the nature of human experiences, the reality of “a colorful life”, she appeals richly to our senses, imagination, emotion, and intellect.
Dr Zhang Zhizhong as translator appears to have really worked hard to prove how well Choi’s diverse materials of the poem are integrated and how successful she has been in proportion to its tight structure. Each word he chooses appears the right word, if not the bet word, for expressing the total meaning of the poet. The diction and images are not trite but fresh. It goes to his credit that in his English rendering there is no clash between the sound of the poem and its sense. Images and ideas are so effectively arranged that any rearrangement would result in harming the poem or its form and content. I whole-heartedly appreciate the positive excellence of both CHOI and Zhang Zhi. They both deserve world recognition.