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the rose of time

when the watchman falls asleep
you turn back with the storm
to grow old embracing is
the rose of time

when bird roads define the sky
you look behind at the sunset
to emerge in disappearance is
the rose of time

when the knife is bent in water
you cross the bridge stepping on flute-songs
to cry in the conspiracy is
the rose of time

when a pen draws the horizon
you're awakened by a gong from the East
to bloom in echoes is
the rose of time

in the mirror there is always this moment
this moment leads to the door of rebirth
the door opens to the sea
the rose of time

- Bei Dao, translated by Eliot Weinberger

De roos van de tijd

als de deurwacht diep in slaap is
keer je om met de storm
en wat oud wordt in omhelzing is
de roos van de tijd

als de weg van de vogel de hemel afbakent
kijk je terug naar de zon die zakt
en wat verdwijnt in verdwijning is
de roos van de tijd

als het mes breekt in het water
vetrap je fluitspel op de brug
en wat het uitschreeuwt in complot is
de roos van de tijd

als de pen een einder tekent
schrik je wakker van de gong van het oosten
en wat opengaat in weerklank is
de roos van de tijd

in de spiegel is eeuwig dit ogenblik
dit ogenblik leidt naar de poort van nieuw leven
en die poort staat open naar zee
de roos van de tijd

- Bei Dao, translated by Maghiel van Crevel

Van Crevel talked about translating Dao at Poetry International tonight. Though he discussed another poem (not online), the difficulties of poetry translation are nicely illustrated by 'The Rose of Time' as well, especially when comparing different translations.

For instance, Van Crevel's Dutch translation has "when the knife breaks" (instead of "is bent"), and in the next line "you crush flute-songs on the bridge" - both more violent images than Weinberger uses. Another, syntactical difference is that where the English uses "to ... is / the rose of time", the Dutch uses "that which" or "what ... is / the rose of time". Though the latter is perhaps less elegant in English, it does seem to put more emphasis on the poem's attempt to define the fleeting, mysterious concept of time.

A more puzzling difference is between Weinberger's "emerge in disappearance" and Van Crevel's "disappear in disappearance" - did either of them make an error here, or does the Chinese allow for both readings? Though Weinberger's version sounds more likely, both versions actually fit the context: the poem constantly juxtaposes appearing / disappearing, opening / closing, dying / being born. In fact, "the rose of time" seems to be born in the moment between...

Compare also this alternative English translation, titled 'The Roses of Time' (note the plural), which seems inferior if only for the redundancy in its "when the pen draws a line of horizon".

And for more Dao translations by Weinberger, see these Thirteen poems.


deer park

Just four lines long, the ancient Chinese poem 'Deer Park', by Buddhist poet Wang Wei , has inspired poets and translators through the ages. Eliot Weinberger 's '19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei' collects nineteen different translations i… Read the full post »

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