Saturday, May 8, 2010

Birthdays and Poetry

I read today that it's the poet Gary Snyder's birthday. I read a lot of Gary Snyder in college, not only because I loved his work but also because he was a Zen Buddhist and translated Chinese poetry. Back in those carefree days, I studied Mandarin Chinese, not because I thought it would help me to get a good job but because I loved Chinese poetry and thought that I'd learn the language and read it in the original. I have one more thing to say about that aspiration:

Laughing Buddha

So, happy birthday to Gary Snyder and in honor of old aspirations and Chinese poets, here are three translations of one poem by Meng Hao-jan.

Night on the Great River [three translations]
by Meng Hao-jan

Steering my little boat towards a misty islet,
I watch the sun descend while my sorrows grow:
In the vast night the sky hangs lower than the treetops,
But in the blue lake the moon is coming close.

[translated by William Carlos Williams]

Night on the Great River

We anchor the boat alongside a hazy island.
As the sun sets I am overwhelmed with nostalgia.
The plain stretches away without limit.
The sky is just above the tree tops.
The river flows quietly by.
The moon comes down amongst men.

[translated by Kenneth Rexroth]

Mooring on Chien-te River

The boat rocks at anchor by the misty island
Sunset, my loneliness comes again.
In these vast wilds the sky arches down to the trees.
In the clear river water, the moon draws near.

[translated by Gary Snyder]


  1. Thank you for posting this, Elizabeth, and for including the Rexroth translation. Rexroth, who spent his early years in my hometown of Elkhart, Indiana, is almost forgotten in his onetime hometown.

    And thank you for reminding me of Gary Snyder. His poetry especially influenced my daughter Sarah, who received her MFA in Creative Writing from Maryland last December (though she's still looking for work.)

  2. I can't get enough of Laughing Buddha.

  3. One vision, different lenses. Nice.

    Hope this is a happy day for you, your kids have an awesome mother.

  4. You never cease to amaze me with your background.

  5. I never heard of Gary Snyder until I moved up here to Nevada County. Snyder is a local and people drop his name now and then. I pretended like I knew who was until I Googled him. Also, did you know a film about him just debuted in San Francisco? Here is a local blogger (I read daily) who mentions it.

    On another literary note. If you have ever read "Angle of Repose," it takes place in Grass Valley at the famous house designed my San Simeon architect Julia Morgan. Our farmers Market just opened at the house which you can go in, but is by no means restored. It was incredible. Ramshackle and majestic and "real" as in not Disnyfied. Here is a link to that...



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