turning a leaf

My Chinese is pretty abysmal, but I recently read a Chinese poem called 轉頁 by Yau Ching and was struck by how much I felt was lost in its accompanying English translation. There are whole levels of subtext in the Chinese language that doesn’t carry over, such as:

The poem uses both the word “page” and “leaf”, but in Chinese the word “page” sounds exactly the same as the word “leaf”, giving “page” a double meaning that's lost in translation.

The author goes by she/her pronouns, and refers to “you” with the female “you” pronoun, giving another meaning to “dare” and be “brave”. There’s no female second-person pronoun in the English language, so this significance is dropped.

I couldn’t help but to try and write my own translation. I changed around a few words so it flows in a different way when read aloud. I tried changing words like “page” to “leaf” in order to try and merge “page” and “leaf” closer together. While working on this, I gained a greater appreciation for the original translation. For example, the fourth stanza starts three lines in a row with the words "don't we", which I feel captures the spirit as well as preserves the anaphora in the original text. Anyways, here’s my translation:

Turning a leaf

A person waiting and a person turning

and a person in love

are in essence the same person

I lie in bed imagining your turning

pages of your heart in a pan, sizzling

a sinking sound cooked tender

I mean mine

I lie in bed imagining

you imagining

waiting for my heart this page

to become golden

crisp and not sinking

like fish and chips

don’t we know how

don’t we dare

don’t we see

doesn’t bravery rhyme with love?

when we weather that great fall

too high

too many hearts already in the leaves

under our feet

a leaf tossing and turning

we fall

onto a page of the heart called freedom

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