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