Lau Seng-hian, PhD student, Graduate Institute of Linguistics, National Tsing Hua University
Fields of My Home
(Translated by Tenn Nga-I)
Little white egret with legs so long, tell me please, how far you can fly
Flying to, flying fro, will you ever again fly o’er the fields of my home?
Oxcart trail with long rutted tracks, tell me please, how far you can trek
Squeaking and creaking, will you ever again pass by the fields of my home?
On the fifteenth eve of the lunar month the full moon shines on windowpanes
Lady Moon, O tell me please, how far you can shine? Will you ever again beam down on the fields of my home?
Since I left, my home’s been forsaken, only a clump of silvergrass clings to the soil
Since I left, my home’s been forsaken, only sad memories linger on
Little white egret with legs so long, have you ever flown o’er the fields of my home?
At first glance, “Fields of My Home,” an early 1990s Taiwanese (Holo) work, appears to be a poem about homesickness. A native of Erlin, a farming village in Changhua County, poet Chen Mingren left home early to pursue an education. When he was nearing forty years of age, Chen expressed his nostalgic yearnings with a handful of rustic images: the white egret, winged denizen of Taiwan’s paddies and fields; an oxcart track, a common sight in the era before agricultural mechanization; and the full moon, hanging high overhead.
A common sight in rice paddies, or on riverbanks and streambeds, no avian species is more familiar to Taiwanese than the white egret, a bird often celebrated in folk songs and nursery rhymes. In writing about the egret, the poet draws closer to the land, directly appealing to Taiwanese readers with an image near to their hearts. The moon is the most conspicuous heavenly body in the nighttime sky, and because it has always been present – in times ancient and modern, east and west – it has long served as a vehicle for literary expressions of homesickness. Furthermore, in agricultural communities the moon is an important source of illumination for checking on paddy irrigation at night; thus farmers are deeply fond of the lunar satellite.
It should be noted that the homesickness expressed in the poem is not the poet’s alone – Chen also gives voice to the sorrows of countless Taiwanese banished from their homeland by the KMT government during the repressive martial law era. Forced to seek asylum abroad, these political exiles were unable to return to Taiwan for extended periods.
It’s worth noting, however, that the theme of homesickness is only the surface layer of this type of literature.
Understanding the above, what we want to ask is, what the poem’s context? Even though he left the countryside early on, Chen Mingren was still deeply affected by the government’s decision to sacrifice agriculture in order to develop industry. Testament to the village’s decline and farmers’ plight, the line “my home has been forsaken” is not simply the fading impression of a long-absent poet, but a serious protest against government policies that immolated agriculture on the altar of industry.
This level of implicit meaning is actually an extension of the trend in nostalgic writing that arose in the 1960s, the yearning for a past “utopia” reflecting disappointment with present realities – in looking back to earlier times, writers were in fact commenting on contemporary political and economic conditions.
The nostalgic and idealized places of the past have been isolated and alienated by cruel reality, thus the poet earnestly asks: Can the white egret fly to my beloved homeland? With the passage of time, will the long oxcart paths exist only on that yearned-for homestead? Even though it’s the fifteen of the lunar month and the moon is at its fullest and brightest, it will not shine down on the beautiful home that now exists only in memory – thus, the silvergrass and the poet’s sighs are left swaying in the wind.
Chen Mingren (1954- ) a native of Erlin in Changhua County, has written undermany pennames: Huaisha, Babuja A. Sidaia and Asia Jilimpo. Because his parents were poor, friends and relatives raised money to send him to Taichung First High School. After testing into Chinese Culture University’s Department of Chinese Literature, he wrote screenplays to earn tuition money, accumulating a good deal of creative experience. Chen earned a master’s degree in philosophy from his alma mater, and then traveled to the U.S. to study screenwriting. He began writing in Taiwanese (Holo) in 1987, becoming a driving force in the 1990s Taiwanese-language literature movement. He has written poetry, essays, fiction, and film scripts, and has also dubbed films and cartoons, fully devoting himself to promoting the Taiwanese (Holo) language.
Chen currently serves as chief editor for Taiwan Literary Arts and the Taiwanese Language Education Post, journals dedicated to furthering Taiwanese-language literature and education. He has also served as editor at Sweet Potato Poetry Journal and Taiwanese Literature Post, director of Taiwan P.E.N., R.O.C. Government Information Office board member, and a member of the Executive Yuan Hakka Affairs Council Consultation Committee. He has taught at Providence University, and the Taiwan Theological Institute. He currently serves as director of the Li Kang-khioh Taiwanese Language Education Foundation, director of the Whale Taiwanese Language Education Association, and lecturer on Taiwanese (Holo) literature at the Lin Rongsan Public Welfare Culture and Education Foundation. In 1997 he received the R.O.C. Department of Education’s “Concern for Taiwan Foundation Service Award,” and in 2005 he was given the Rong Hou Taiwan Poet’s Prize.
Chen Mingren is deeply concerned with Taiwanese sovereignty, as well as Taiwanese history, Taiwan’s languages, and the problems of those at society’s lower strata. Literary critics have noted that Chen’s poems revolve around two major themes, “wandering” and “Taiwan,” thus his work has an earthy, down-home quality, expressing deep feelings for his native land. Major publications include the poetry collections Looking for Taiwan (1992), A Record of Wandering (1995), and Chen Mingren’s Taiwanese Poems (1996); A-chhûn (1998), a short-story collection; Out of Practice (2000), an essay collection; Beneath a Roadside Tree (2007) a collection of Taiwanese (Holo) fiction adapted as screenplays; and Out of Practice (2012-2014), a series of audio-books.
This excerpt is taken from the Encyclopedia of Taiwan; for the entire Chinese article, please visit: http://nrch.culture.tw/twpedia.aspx?id=10264
|Work(English)：||Fields of My Home|
|Anthology：||Chen Mingren's Poetry Journey|
|Author：||Chen Mingren (Tan Beng-jin)|
|Language：||Traditional Chinese (Holo)|
|Translator：||鄭雅怡 (Tenn Nga-i)|
|Publisher：||Tainan City: Open-Mind Magazine Enterprise Co., Ltd.|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.m.sanmin.com.tw/Product/index/000660706?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|The “http://www.m.sanmin.com.tw” Internet Bookstore|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||Unpublished Translation by the Literature Toolkit Project|