Xiao Junyi, MA student, Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Tsing Hua University
“To Express It In A Different Way”
To express it in a different way
to put it in other words
at two in the morning there is fog
a typhoon has intercepted and blocked news of the cherry blossoms
earthquakes, tsunamis, the plum rain season
acacias have devoured the sky
Chinese wisteria has devoured the acacias
Cats, stomach acid, fish lacking oxygen
digital gibberish or trains
derailing, sinking boats or hot-air balloons
expressed in a different way to put it in other words
every single moth is looking for its own
lamp, every single lamp is looking for
its own road
every road is one-way
Any effort would be in vain
street vendors and tongue-twisting rap songs
sweethearts and melted ice cream
egrets tenaciously clenching at the tidal waters
clouds with dark circles under their eyes can’t get to sleep again at midnight
you’re unable to come, to express it in a different way
to put it in other words, missing you
Poem by Chen Yuhong
Translated by Karen Steffen Chung
“To Express It in a Different Way” is poem of longing, written from the perspective of an onlooker. Because many of the images are seemingly random, on first reading the poem may be difficult to understand. However, by carefully examining the organization of the language and imagery, readers can easily experience the emotion the poet strives to convey.
Two phrases are repeated throughout the poem – “to express it in a different way” and “to put it in other words” – hinting that the poet wants to open up and say more but can’t bring herself to do so. In the last stanza the lines “you’re unable to come, to express it in a different way / to put it in other words, missing you” answers the poem’s riddle: even if she voices her yearning, her lover will still not come. And so the poet is constantly searching for the right words, expressing her longing indirectly, hoping her lover can comprehend the subtle workings of her heart.
The first stanza opens with the lines “To express it in a different way / to put it in other words,” indicating that she is saying one thing but means something else. The stanza ends with the lines “acacias have devoured the sky / Chinese wisteria has devoured the acacias.” Here the poet indirectly reveals her feelings, yet it also seems as if she is threatening her lover, intimating that her yearning will not last forever.
The third stanza begins with a series of random images – “Cats, stomach acid, fish lacking oxygen” – implying that the poet is looking for analogies for the feelings of uneasiness her deep yearning has brought forth. The image of “trains / derailing” suggests that her lover has been untrue, and “sinking boats” hints at the dangers of infidelity, comparing it to an unexpected accident, something one is unprepared for; thus, the next image, “hot-air balloons,” takes on a dark undertone.
As a woman, the poet has to be indirect in revealing her feelings, for only then can she avoid the fact that her male lover cannot immediately respond to her longings. She is even forced to resorts to “threats,” a roundabout and passive way of telling her lover: if you don’t show up it may well be the end of our relationship.
But after warning him she still voices her helplessness, pessimistically admitting her inability to change the situation: “expressed in a different way to put it in other words / every single moth is looking for its own / lamp, every single lamp is looking for / its own road / every road is one-way.” Just as a moth instinctually flies toward flame, so she seeks a “lamp” – her lover – and for her this is “love.” Lovers always search for their “own road,” an accommodation that suits them both, but in the situation in which she finds herself, love is more like a one-way street – she can enter but she cannot exit.
The poet begins the final stanza with the line “Any effort would be in vain,” expressing the futility of waiting for a lover who will not appear; what follows are several more random images. In the lover’s absence the poet is seized with longing, yet she stubbornly refuses to admit she misses him. Finally, no longer able to hold back, she utters the words she has been avoiding: “you’re unable to come, to express it in a different way / to put it in other words, missing you.” Initially stubborn, she has at last shown her weakness, her inability to suppress her longing – in their relationship it is her lover who holds the upper hand.
Chai Ao, MA Student , Graduate Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Taiwan University
Chen Yuhong (b. 1952) was born in Kaohsiung and graduated from Wenzao Ursuline University of Languages. She immigrated to Canada in 1991, but has since returned to Taiwan and now lives in Taipei. She began writing poetry as a student but it was not until 1996 that her first collection, About Poetry, was published. Other poetry collections followed, as well as a book of daily inspirational readings in the Erya Writers’ Diaries series. In addition to writing her own poetry, Chen has translated French poet-philosopher Matthieu Ricard’s La Citadel des Neiges and Scottish poet Carol Ann Duffy’s Rapture.
After Chen relocated to Vancouver she put writing aside for a time to attend to family concerns. Since the 1996 publication of About Poetry she has issued new works every two to three years, her first three collections written while living in Canada. Critics have hailed Chen’s The River Has Flowed Deeply into Your Veins (2002) as a turning point in her art. Her 2004 Index included a selection of Sappho’s poetry that Chen translated and juxtaposed with her own love poems, perhaps the most ambitious and far-reaching undertaking of her writing career. A 2011 collection of selected poems focuses on the integrity of her work as a whole rather than on individual poems. Chen Yuhong’s poems are short but rich in sound and imagery, revealing new layers of depth and complexity with each reading.
|Work(English)：||To express it a different way|
|Anthology：||The Taipei Chinese Pen（《中華民國筆會英季刊－當代台灣文學英譯》）|
|Translator：||Karen Steffen Chung（史嘉琳）|
|Publisher：||Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010510773|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.taipen.org/the_chinese_pen/the_chinese_pen_03.htm|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Taipei Chinese Center, International P.E.N.|