Poetic visions of Chinese wisdom | Daily News


Poetic visions of Chinese wisdom

As far back as the first decade of nineteen sixties, I had the chance of reading a wonderful little book titled ‘The Wisdom of China’ authored by Lin Yu Tang. The work enveloped quite a number of analects of Confucius plus some of the lesser known Chinese legends and parables. The pages too were packed with some of the new poetic translations from Chinese folklore. I was so engrossed in the reading process.

My father wanted to know what I was reading. I showed him the book I had in my hand and read some of snippets that enticed me as a teenager. My father who knew Sanskrit, Sinhala and Pali explained to me some of the religious nuances and the human interest areas in the works. That was long ago, and time flies with more and more works from Chinese literature both prose and verse.

Today the latest arrived from the Chinese poetry comes as a translation cum interpretation by the well known Sinhala poet Parakrama Kodituwakku. The work is titled as Yansi Kavya Nadi subtitled in English as Chinese Modern Poetry Transcreations. The poet and translator Kodituwakku makes use of the name of the great Yangtzekiang as a poetic metaphor logically attempting to trace all the dynamic poetry brought down the centuries from the distant post to the modern day.

The poet translator Kodituwakku at the outset believes that reading China is the very understanding of the world.

Triggering off from that standpoint, he cleverly attempts to trace various aspects of the poetic skills via 49 chapters with interpretations and commentaries. As a prologue to these chapters packed with poems belonging to various dynasties and kingdoms, the compiler Kodituwakku provides the reader with a long introduction running to 58 pages tracing the flavour of ancient Chinese poems, classification of poems into particular historic periods. The need for the translation of Chinese poems. The poetry today in China, the various issues raised in poetic works and ideologies linked to them, the freedom of expression, the poetic revolution and the cultural renaissance in Chinese way of thinking. This long series of essays could be either taken as a prologue to the poems that follow or as independent thought streams that the translator cum compiler obsessed in the transmission of the Chinese poems into Sinhala from those available from the English sources. The body of translated poems number to more than hundreds of short and long verses of varying types.

They include love poems, poems that embrace nature and beauty, of the qualities of animals as seen by humans, topics relating to patriotism, of torture and punishment, various forms of sufferings, both mental and physical, reminiscence and intimacies, the love towards antiques, the bliss of seasonal changes on married life, travelling as employment, visits to places and meeting people, parting and meeting, the advent of technology and how it has brought various forms of changes in day to day life, motherhood, childhood and paternal love and the ancestry and its worth etc. A reader is free to select whatever h/she wishes to read out of the compilation, which in many ways is similar to an anthology of Chinese poems and assorted creative streams of many celebrated poems. A reader is inspired.

My intention here is not to reinterpret the poems from Chinese already compiled and translations. That function I feel is well done by the translator, compiler Kodituwakku in a creative manner; he is used to in many of his early writings. All I can see is that the interpretations may perhaps act as either a catalyst or as a stimulant to the translated pieces from English to Sinhala.

I sincerely feel that the Sinhala poets today could benefit by these poetic pieces in two main ways. Firstly to feel the subject areas that go into the creative poetic thinking and secondly the modes of expression with the use of language used in translation process, which is neither the high classical form nor the mundane colloquial diction.

It is in fact an experiment in the use of the essential poetic diction, as these poems come to be read as translations from English, it is indeed difficult to pass a judgement on the process of presentation. May it be said that one has to forget for a moment that they come as translations and accept more as reconstructions. It is widely believed s Robert Graves the poet who translate poems and myths from Greek said ‘Poetry is what is lost in translation’. As students of poetry, we were taught that poetic thoughts and poetic experiences have to be grasped well by a translator. As our translator is a poet himself, I feel that the vital factor is paid more attention.

His attempt seems to present the central experiences and feelings in the original works, where the poet is a man who feels what the common does not or fails to observe and experience the inner life of the persona is more intense, a force which had never entered a common observer, and never thought of it.

What is more, the poet has a power over words which enables him not only to convey to us the greater riches of his mind, but also to express for us as we could not have done for ourselves, what we have already thought and seen and experienced.

This faculty of expression as taught to us by our poetry teachers is an essential part of the poet’s creative process. As a reader who devoted more time to read this work, I felt that the translation process itself is creative transformation.

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