Su Tung-P’o — Dreaming of My Deceased Wife on the Night of the 20th Day of the First Month

Dreaming of My Deceased Wife on the Night of the 20th Day of the First Month

Su Tung-P’o

1037-1101 CE
(translated by William P. Coleman)

Ten years, both, living and dead, boundless —
even if we were able, it’s hardly possible to forget.

A thousand li away, she lies I can’t say where — but cold.
If we meet, we must not recognize
faces that are dusty, temples frosted over.

When night comes, not expecting it, in a deep dream I return home
where, at the little window, she arranges her dress and make-up.

We look at each other and do not speak — only, tears flow freely
because every year I expect my heart to break there,
and the bright night moon guards the thin pines.

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.

See the FAQ and the external links at Chinese Poems, a beautiful resource with many poems.

more Chinese poetry translations in this blog More Chinese poetry translations in this blog.
more Chinese poetry translations in this blog Home page for Su Tung P’o translations.

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