Last month, I offered a very conventional Chinese translation of José Martí's "Cultivo una rosa blanca." "Conventional" is here used as the highest praise that can be bestowed on such an exercise. There is nothing in the least jarring about that translation; it does not depart an iota from the sense of the original and preserves all the external components of the poem that can be preserved; it is, in short, faithful. Martí's poem makes its journey to Cathay in a Chinese junk, but it arrives intact and even unrumpled. It is a very different experience from what awaited "Yo soy un hombre sincero" on its own journey to the Mystical Kingdom. This translation is still recognizable; but it is not fully comprehensible. It is imbued with a certain character of its own which even in the literal English translation sounds distinctly Oriental, or mock Oriental, anyway. I am wary to point out its idiosyncrasies lest I deprive the reader of the pleasure of discovering them for himself. Let me say on my word that I have added nothing to the original translation and that I am as astonished as you will be by the layers of meaning and unmeaning which the anonymous translator has uncovered. More than once I have had to pause to consider the viability of these alternative readings. Can someone from a different culture (or a different planet, for that matter) interpret a poem in new and original ways because his perspective differs from ours and most importantly from the author's? And are these insights to be ignored or discounted because they are drawn from a different well of experience? One might as well assert that Americans should not write haiku or Japanese violinists play Beethoven. Cultural imperialism cannot be allowed to replace political imperialism. Certainly, Martí of all people should be the last hostage to be taken in that archaic conflict. So I ask the reader to consider the following translation with an open mind, out of respect for the translator and in tribute to Martí. [Upon further research I have found other Chinese translations of this poem, and include in brackets an interesting variant on the second verse, which manages to be quite conventional until the very last word].
I am an honest man,
home from coconut,
whenever I am in the world,
put the heart of the song children sing.
I had to get involved in many,
the future will wander,
one thousand is a song I,
I was one among Wanfeng hill.
[I will once step in all over the country,
from now on also wander the four directions,
in thousand songs I will be a tune,
in ten thousand peaks I was a hump.]
Whether or exquisite Yi Cao,
I know it's a strange name,
regardless fooled or deceived,
I know it's all pain.
I have seen the beauty
of the holy darkness,
pure light gently sprinkler
on my forehead.
I have seen the growth
of a beautiful woman
on the shoulders of fly wings,
also on the rubble butterfly flying:
I have seen a man living lonely,
a dagger inseparable.
Beauty made him frustrated,
never mention her name.
Generally light show swift soul,
I see it's the bottom line twice:
once poor father dying,
and once she say good-bye, off I go.
I was shaking the fence door
is the door of the vineyard,
as hateful bees stings
my daughter's head.
I have tasted a pleasure,
never had time to enjoy it
while weeping when the judge
sentenced me at the right time.
Across the ocean, across the earth,
I heard someone sigh,
no, that's not a sigh,
I want to wake up the children restless breath.
If someone said to me:
"Go, take the world's best baby!"
I will choose a sincere friend,
and not to be ignored to love.
I have seen the injured eagle,
flying in clear blue skies;
see spray poisonous snakes
have also scorpion died own lair.
I know that even the world's buried,
a dark, quiet
when things will hear
the gentle gurgling brook.
Lost glory of the stars of heaven,
as it happens in my house fall
Jing Fei; my surprise Cross, overwhelmed,
actually with stiff hands stroked it.
In my anger chest,
tingling hidden grief.
Son of enslaved peoples living the only way:
either silence or death.
All are beautiful and long long,
everything is harmonious and comfortable,
all, are exactly like that of King Kong,
the original charcoal, if the loss of the light.
I know a grand funeral foolish generation,
and a touch of luxury, dirge everywhere;
also know the cemetery to fruition,
it will go beyond the general land.
I was silent, and think clearly,
no longer let the rhythm of motor rumble.
I will take off Dr. clothes,
hang it on a withered tree.