BOOK REVIEW: Dr R.K. SINGH
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Hsu Chicheng. Blossoming Blossoms of Poetry: Selected Poems of Hsu Chicheng (Chinese – English). Translated by Zhang Zhizhong. Chongqing City: The Earth Culture Press (USA), 2012. Pages 382. Price CNY 50.00 , US $ 25.00. ISBN 978-0-9637599-6-2/E.009
The volume of Selected Poems of Hsu Chicheng seeks to present his poetic excellence, or, as the poet would like to say, “a new starting point” in his life after 70. Hsu Chicheng has been writing poetry for the past five decades, celebrating nature and humanity: His poems depict native landscape, idyllic life, and human values with respect for Chinese tradition and culture:
“—I am determined to devote myself to human beings
And I don’t care about whether you eat up my flesh or drink up my blood.” (p. 361)
“The fire of strength shall never die out
And shall burn more wildly, wildly…” (p. 359)
Since I do not know Chinese, I cannot say whether he follows the traditional Chinese poetic forms and styles, too, but he is modern in his outlook and true to his personal experiences and vision. As he notes in his prefatory:
“My pieces are written in more blood than in ink. Humanism is the basic point in my writing; with the usual subjects of countryside, landscape, and nature, to eulogize the sunny side of human life and to spur people onward, so as to finally bring benefit to my readers… In the past 50 years, the poetry forum of Taiwan has been an animated scene: various styles and various schools of poems. But I do not follow any other school than my own pastoral school. I go my own way by tilling my own land, sowing my own seeds, and cultivating my own crops….” (p 13)
Obviously, Hsu Chicheng writes with a commitment. His poetic sensibility is rooted in nature, the sea and rivers, the hills and mountains, the winds and rains, the fields and agricultural activities, the docile domestic birds and animals, the sincerity and simplicity of the rural folks, their honesty and tolerance, and the hardships of rural and urban life, etc. He is also aware of the transitions experienced at various points of time in his career as teacher, journalist, military judge, and post-retirement pursuits as a poet, translator and editor. His poetic imagination exudes a sense of history.
While he puts up with challenges of various sociopolitical nature and ups and downs in his own life, his visionary orientation is ‘self’-ward despite the disappointing political and economic climate outside. The fighter in him exhorts: “Hold fast to the will/Never let go of the target/Afraid of no bitterness/Afraid of no loneliness/He shall go his own way by himself alone/To tread ruggedness even/To dispel haze/Walking out of winds and rains/To embrace sunshine” p. 357), just as the meditator in him rejoices: “Sitting silent/Quietude is here/Quietude accompanies me/Only two: she and me” (p 369). Hsu yearns for peace and enjoys it through inner quietude “in the depth of night”.
In fact poetry is his spiritual aspiration and fulfillment.
At 73, Hsu exults in hope and faith:
“There is nothing bad about retirement
There is nothing bad about dusk
I can paint still
--Though it is painting the afterglow
It can paint better” (p. 165)
“Now dusk! Twilight is gathering
What is the length of the long lane ahead?
Is the lane smooth or hard of walking?
In spite of uncertainty
In spite of tiredness and difficulty in walking
No stop and no rest
One’s courage has to be taken in both hands
To appreciate and draw the colorful sunset glow” (p. 475)
“Still he does not abandon his hope
He is on the seeking without sparing any effort
Hsu loves brightness (p 355) and sees hope in winter, “Never lose your faith/And wait patiently” (p. 353),as he says. To him, aging is a bliss, a new opportunity:
“This time to be more steady and more steadfast
Spiritually oneself must be thoroughly remoulded
To overcome corporeal aging
To shoulder the load of years
To be walking in scorching heat , severe coldness, and winds & rains
To overstep myriads of hills and rills, as well as bumpiness of roads….”
(‘Seventy Years as Spring’, p. 351)
“We raise our heads and overlook , expecting another world
We raise our heads and overlook, expecting another spring”
(‘Reappearance’, p. 347)
Hsu Chicheng as a sensitive observer of himself, others, and nature, voices a free spirit with awareness of the cycle of changes and memories of childhood, growth, and aging. His poems are as genuine as his silvery hair and keep the fire of hope and faith burning (cf. pp. 333, 299, 271, 257).
Poet editor Zhang Zhizhong ‘s word for word literal translation, as it seems to me, successfully shows the growth of Hsu’s mind and personality and places him in the forefront of contemporary Chinese poetry. He is ably joined by a couple of other translator poets, namely Yang Zongze, Yang Xu, and Hsu Chicheng himself who translate some of the best poems in the collection. I also feel that with their close reading of Hsu’s poetic texts and/or their presentation in true contexts, Zhang Zhizhong and others have helped open up new spaces in Chinese poetry, be it from main land China, or from Hong Kong and Taiwan. The translators deserve congrats for their expert rendering of Hsu’s inspiring and refreshing texts and contexts.
--Professor (Dr) R.K. Singh
R K Singh