Saturday, September 13, 2014

Echoes of the Heart and India and its contradictions


 Delighted to receive two books signed by their authors. The first is Echoes of the Heart by Ma Kai who was in the UK on an official visit in his capacity as Vice-Premier of China. I was fortunate enough to be introduced to him over dinner last night and to get him to sign a copy of a book of his poems with English translations.

Sadly I can't yet read the Chinese but even in English they really speak. Here is Say no to wishful thinking
You cannot catch the moon beneath a pond
Nor through a mirror reach a bunch of flowers
The arrow n'er returns once bow is fired
No desert can be spanned by finger-flick
 And here is the lovely Silver Wedding Anniversary

Hand in hand
  A toast shared.
  Sprouts tender, silver catkins, willows light.
  Buds are seen
  Pines go green.
  Once oath is pledged
  Love's pledge endures:
  Truly, truly, truly!

  Love sustained
  Hearts unchanged.
  Warmth seeps through windows of our little home.
  The river grew
  Dream now true.
  In golden autumn
  Boughs will bow with fruit:
  Beauty, beauty, beauty!

I've substantially revised both translations from the ones in the book - initially because it rendered the final line of the 2nd verse  (mei, mei, mei) as "Cute, cute, cute!"  The original meter is 3/3/7/3/3/4/4/3 for both verses but "In gold autumn/Boughs bow with fruit" doesn't sound quite right and Ma Kai says (in a note) he's specifically referring here to looking forward to his Golden Anniversary in 2024. The original rhyming scheme is ABBCCBCCC BAACCACCC but to do this and the metre would require massive changes to the extremely beautiful sentiments. It then became irresistible to turn the 7/7/7/7 of the first poem into pentameters, and correct "the arrow n'er returns once bow is pulled".

Then this morning, quite unexpectedly, Amartya has sent me his latest book An Uncertain Glory: India and its Contradictions which he has very kindly inscribed to me as well. I'm still finishing his wonderful The Idea of Justice but will get to this book as soon as it is done.

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