Awaiting the new year
(translated by William P. Coleman)
Soon we’ll feel the year running out
like a snake going into its hole.
Long, scaly, already half disappeared,
the last trace will go; who can stop it?
I might want to tie its tail,
but even trying hard I know I can’t.
Children want to stay awake;
Noisy, cheerful adults keep watch together.
The rooster will omit to crow at dawn
and the drummer too will respect the celebrations.
We’ll sit for a long time, until the lamp burns down to ash,
then rise to see the plow stars turned downward in the north.
Another year may be more than nature will give.
Worried, fearing I’ve wasted my time,
I’ll exert myself to the utmost tonight.
Young enough still, I prize that ability.
I found the Chinese text and an English translation of this poem — along with the word-by-word literal translation I used to create this one — at Chinese Poems.
The grammar of Chinese allows poets to leave interpretive choices open, and it’s an unattainable ideal of translating to bring out possibilities without closing others. I try to use my sense of English to at least intrigue you. If I’ve succeeded, it’s best — even if you don’t know Chinese, which I don’t either — to follow up at the source I cite above and see the original word-by-word translation from which I worked. It’ll be richer than what I’ve given you. To understand the poem best, try to construct your own translation.