Sonnet 2

Feng Zhi (1905-) ??


Whatever can be shed we jettison

from bodies, let return again to dust

—a way to compose us for age. And thus,

like leaves and like late flower blooms that one

by one when autumn comes the trees release

off of their forms into the autumn winds

so they can give themselves with naked limbs

to winter, we compose ourselves to lose

in nature, like cicadas abandoning

behind them in the dirt their useless shells.

So we compose ourselves for death, a song

that though shed from the music’s form still sings

and leaves a naked music when it’s gone,

transformed into a chain of hushed blue hills.

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Note on the Translation: This was a particularly fun poem to translate. It is one of a sequence of sonnets written by the great 20th century poet Feng Zhi, and for an American poet who writes both free and formal verse it was a pleasure to have the challenge to translate a Chinese sonnet into a sonnet in English. Now, the original is written in a ten character line, and so I translated it into a pentameter (10 syllable, 5 beat) line in English, and chose to use in English a broader palette of sounds to make the rhymes work. My ideas here are laid out in greater detail in my “Manifesto on the Contemporary Sonnet (http://www.cortlandreview.com/features/06/december/barnstone_e.html). [/blue_message]