Xie Kunhua, Assistant Professor, Department of Chinese Literature, National Chung Hsing University
Translated by K. C. Tu and Robert Backus (1999)
Autumn cool in the world, a rainy day
dusk cannot but have some responsive sighs
Uselessly standing in front of the bus stop for home, I look
at the building across the street under construction, in the light rain
One by one mercury lamps turn on lonesome
Two or three girls walk alone dressed attractively in the evening rain
Rouged lips compressed, they hurry to keep the date of their life
On the red brick road where sages come no more, I squint to see
someone with his head lowered, smoking a Kent brand cigarette in his hand
Astonishment and hypocrisy of passing time are just like
a big diamond on the ring finger
shining lavishly in the rain
In one night, that man’s hair and beard all turned white, I
was lost among the dynasties by the roadside, filled with out-of-date sentiment...
Night of the city, intense rock and roll exploded not far away
I was shot dead under the neon red rain by the specks of light on a
The world was sinking in a metamorphosis of oceans
until in the heart of the wicked night
someone bent to pick up a lipstick
and I found that your and my city was no more than
a cigarette-butt, discarded by the roadside
never to be lit again
“A Rainy Day, Women Nos.12 and 35” 1 is a typical Taiwanese modernist poem. By paring back his sense of subjective existence, the poet reveals modern anxiety in the face of civilization. This is carried out by paring away the two layers of urban life, time and space. Temporally, the poet is aware of “autumn cool” and “dusk”; both the season and time of day hint that the individual is located within annual and diurnal cycles, in an as yet unexhausted but soon-to-be exhausted position. Thus, the poet naturally experiences the oncoming darkness and cooler temperature through his senses of sight and touch. Spatially, he is facing a multistory building under construction; the icy scaffolding and steel girders resemble a cage for imprisoning urbanites, the structure a modern giant erected layer-by-layer, looking disdainfully down on passersby. Hence, the poet has a sense of his own physical insignificance and a feeling that he is about to be restrained – modern humans seem to be building jails for themselves.
By revealing this paring back of subjectivity by time and space the poem forces readers to ask: What exactly is it that impels people to imprison themselves?
The answer: Desire.
Stylishly dressed young women pass by in the evening drizzle like beautiful apparitions shuttling through the city, suggesting sexual desire constructed by commercial brands. In the poem’s middle and final sections, modern products – “diamond ring,” “lipstick,” and “cigarette-butt” – hint that nothing lasts forever in fast-paced, bustling “urban civilization.” Of course cigarettes and lipstick are items of consumption, but in urban civilization even diamond rings are only metaphors for the “astonishment and hypocrisy of passing time.” Therefore, the poet sees the city as nothing more than “a cigarette-butt, discarded by the roadside / never to be lit again.” He is actually sinking with the world – it’s not the middle of the night, and towering buildings are everywhere, but the city completely without majesty.
The poem’s criticism of urban life echoes that of Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal and Taiwanese poet Ya Xian’s “Andante Cantibile,” particularly Baudelaire’s “Traveling Gypsies”: Because Cybele loves them, and has made / The barren rock to gush, the sands to flower, / To greet these travellers, before whose power / Familiar futures open realms of shade.” 2 The image of traveling gypsy men and women wandering from city to city in different countries expresses a desire to escape from capitalism’s grasp and search from an eternal motherland. However, in this echoing of modernist themes, Yang Ze’s “A Rainy Day, Women Nos.12 and 35” goes beyond the work of earlier poets, calling attention to the subjective individual facing the “time lag” existing in modern civilization. In addition to forlorn lines like “I / was lost among the dynasties by the roadside, filled with out-of-date sentiment...” and “autumn cool in the world,” which have the feel of classical Chinese poetry, the poem also engenders a classical/modernist language time lag – it is just this sense of time-lag that preserves an East Asian viewpoint within the poem’s modernist layers.
1Translator’s note: The poem’s title is likely borrowed from a Bob Dylan composition of the same name; see: https://vimeo.com/37683622
2Roy Campbell, Poems of Baudelaire (New York: Pantheon Books, 1952); http://fleursdumal.org/poem/112
Ye Yanru, MA, School of Theater, Taipei National School for the Arts
Yang Ze (1954- ) is the penname of Yang Xianqing, a native of Chiayi City. The writer holds bachelor and master’s degrees from National Taiwan University’s Department of Foreign Languages, and a doctorate in comparative literature from Princeton University. He has served as editor at Chung Wai Literary Quarterly, assistant director of the China Times “Human World” supplement, and assistant chief-editor of the China Times. He has taught comparative literature at Brown University in the United States, Tamkang University, and Taipei National School for the Arts.
Yang Ze showed literary talent early on. As a university student he founded the NTU Modern Poetry Club with Luo Zhicheng, Zhan Hongzhi, and Liao Xianhao, receiving guidance from poet Yang Mu. He subsequently published two editions of the Birth of the Rosa Polyantha School, the first in 1977 and the second in 1997. Yang Ze’s poetic language is fresh and unadorned; although he primarily writes love poems, a sense of history and love for country are an integral part of his work. His meticulous observation and exploration of life’s chance encounters, and his love for Taiwan have found great favor with poetry lovers. Yang Mu believes that Yang’s Ze’s poetry affirms both Chinese and Western classical traditions, the lyrical language imbued with a vast historical consciousness. The poet is also an essayist – his “The Big Earthquake – A Boy Bears Witness” is a memoir of the 1964 earthquake that struck the town of Baihe in the Tainan region, the work based on both historical accounts and personal experience. One sentence from the essay has particularly resonated with readers: “Life is like a flower basket; an earthquake is like a rocking cradle (Rensheng ru hualan, dizhen ru yaolan).
Yang Ze has witnessed the flourishing and subsequent decline of postwar Taiwanese modernist writing, but his passion for literature has never waned. Works he has edited include Selected Fiction of Lu Xun (1997), Collected Papers: “From 1940 to 1990” – A Symposium on Fiction from China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Macau” (1994), The Seventies: A Record of Regret (1994) The Crazy Eighties: The Collective Voice of an Era (1999), and Visions of Guanyin: Taipei Landscape Poetry (2004). He retired as editor-in-chief of the China Times supplement after serving in that capacity for over twenty years. A major figure in Taiwanese literary circles, Yang Ze continues to write, offering encouragement and advice to a new generation of scribes.
|Work(English)：||A Rainy Day, Women Nos.12 and 35|
|Anthology：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series（《台灣文學英譯叢刊》）|
|Translator：||Robert Backus（拔苦子），杜國清（K. C. Tu）|
|Publisher：||Santa Barbara : Forum for the Study of World Literature in Chinese University of California|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.books.com.tw/products/0010052799|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “book.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://www.eastasian.ucsb.edu/taiwancenter/publications/ets|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：|