Bei Dao (1949-), meaning "Northern Island" literally, is the pseudonym of Chinese modern poet Zhao Zhenkai, who became in the 1970s the poetic voice of his generation. Bei Dao gained first international acclaim with the poem 'Answer,' which was published in the official poetry journal Shi Kan (Poetry Monthly) in 1980. 'I don't believe the sky is blue; / I don't believe in thunder's echoes; / I don't believe that dreams are false; / I don't believe that death has no revenge." (from 'The Answer') Bei Dao's tone was defiant and especially the last lines from 'Notes on the Coty of the Sun,' have been often quoted as representing the disillusionment of his generation.
Answers An Unfamiliar Beach Quiet and Tremble An Ancient Temple We Outsider June Delivering Newspapers Post Untitled Teacher’s Manual Morning Song Deformation Spending the Night The Hunt Mission Swivel Chair Dry Season Soap
Cruelty is the ID pass of the cruel, honesty the grave stone of the honest. Look, in the sky plated gold, crooked reflections of all the dead float around. The glacial epoch is over, so why is there ice everywhere? Good Hope was rounded a long time ago, so where are these thousands of boats racing on the Dead Sea? I came into this world with only blank pages, rope and my fingers; therefore, before final judgements are given, I need to speak in all the voices of the defendants. Just let me say, world, I--don't--believe! If a thousand challengers are under your feet count me as challenger one-thousand-and-one. I don't believe the sky is always blue; I don't believe it was thunder echoing; I don't believe all dreaming is false; I don't believe the dead cannot bring judgement. If the sea is doomed someday to break its levees my heart must flood with all the bitter waters. If the land is destined to form the hills again, let real human beings learn to choose the higher ground. The latest, favorable turnings, the twinkling stars studding the naked sky, are pictographs five-thousand years old. They are the eyes of the future staring at us now.
--to P. 1 The sails have been lowered. A winter forest of masts contains unexpected sights and sounds of Spring. 2 The ruins of a lighthouse still hold the great beams from the past. You lean on the remaining stairs, on the rusted banisters, beating the same rhythm over and over. 3 In the dignity of high noon our shadows look for temporary lodging. All over the place salt rock glistens, condensed and sparkling with memories. 4 In the distance there is a vast, white expanse. The blue horizon is like a moving deck. How many nets have been cast? 5 A scarf, like a red bird, waves over the Sea of Japan. It flings its imitation of fire at this grey end of the world, and at your fixed gaze. An absence of storms is fine, but there is also no direction and no wind. Perhaps in answer to a call, its wings thrum like a bowstring. 6 The ebbing tide wave after wave, spills on a golden carpet, spills a night suffused with foam, a lost rope, a broken oar. Fishermen bend their naked backs and repair the temple the storm collapsed. 7 Children chase a crescent moon. A sea gull flies right for you, but doesnt light on your outstretched hand.
Translated by the author with the assistance of Chen Yan Bing and Diana Jaio you are drawing yourself being born--light's rising turning the paper-night madness that you released is quiet cast by truth pride shines as if internal wounds darken all the words in secret trembling those angels in uniforms of a private school become fish, querying sea a wind reads ruts saluting the blue silk beyond pain
The long ago songs of a bell weaved this spider web; in the column's crevices, grown outward, one sees annual rings there for the counting. No memories are here; stones that merely scattered the echoes in this mountain valley, have no memories. That little path, even, by-passed it; its dragons and strange birds are gone. They took with them the silent bells that hung from the eaves. They took the unrecorded legends of the place, too. The words on the walls are all worn clean and torn. Maybe if it caught on fire one could read the words on the inside. See the annual growths of the wild grasses, so indifferent. They don't care if they submit to any master, to the shoes of the old monks, or to the winds, either. Out front the sky is held up by a broken stone tablet. Still, led by the gaze of some living person, the tortoise may revive and come out carrying his heavy secret, crawl right out there on the temple's threshold.
lost souls and scattered spirits holdings lanterns chase spring scars shimmer, cups revolve light's being created look at that enchanting moment a thief steals into a post office letters cry out nails o nails the lyrics never change firewood huddles together searching for an audience to listen searching for the heart of winter river's end a boatman awaiting boundless twilight there must be some one to rewrite love
one generation drops like a curtain the next is applauding the lifetime you've known hiding in dark places starts gaining attention groping, hence light letting half a life empty out and fill with crane song someone's swimming in sickness as autumn wind inspects the small temperaments of young animals the road joins sleep and in radiant light that's defeated you you stand fast at the nameless fence translated by David Hinton
Wind at the ear says June June a blacklist I slipped in time note this way to say goodbye the sighs within these words note these annotations: unending plastic flowers on the dead left bank the cement square extending from writing to now I run from writing as dawn is hammered out a flag covers the sea and loudspeakers loyal to the sea’s deep bass say June
Who believes in the mask’s weeping? who believes in the weeping nation? the nation has lost its memory memory goes as far as this morning the newspaper boy sets out in the morning all over town the sound of a desolate trumpet is it your bad omen or mine? vegetables with fragile nerves peasants plant their hands in the ground longing for the gold of a good harvest politicians sprinkle pepper on their own tongues and a stand of birches in the midst of a debate: whether to sacrifice themselves for art or doors this public morning created by a paperboy revolution sweeps past the corner he’s fast asleep
An elk heading for the pit-trap power, the fir tree said, struggle cherishing the same secret my hair turned white retiring, going backwards leaving my post only one step back no, ten whole years my era behind me suddenly beating on a bass drum
The landscape crossed out with a pen reappears here what I am pointing to is not rhetoric October over the rhetoric flight seen everywhere the scout in the black uniform gets up, takes hold of the world and microfilms it into a scream wealth turns into floodwaters a flash of light expands into frozen experience and just as I seem to be a false witness sitting in the middle of a field the snow troops remove their disguises and turn into language
A school still in session irritable restless but exercising restraint I sleep beside it my breath just reaching the next lesson in the textbook: how to fly when the arrogance of strangers sends down March snow a tree takes root in the sky a pen to paper breaks the siege the river declines the bridge invites the moon takes the bait turning the familiar corner of the stairs, pollen and viruses damage my lungs damage an alarm clock to be let out of school is a revolution kids jump over the railings of light and turn to the underground other parents and I watch the stars rise
Words are the poison in a song on the track of the song’s night road police sirens aftertaste the alcohol of sleepwalkers waking up, a headache like the window’s transparent speakers from silence to a roar learning to waste a life I hover in the birdcalls crying never when the storms have filled up with gas light rays snatch the letter unfold it and tear it up
My back to the window of open fields holding on to the gravity of life and the doubts of May like the audience at a violent movie lit by drink except for the honey-drop at five o’clock the morning’s lovers grow old and become a single body a compass needle on a homesick sea between writing and the table a diagonal enemy line Friday in the billowing smoke someone climbs a ladder out of sight of the audience
A river brings a trout to the plate brother alcohol and father sorghum ask me to spend the night, the glass has the wrinkles of a murderer the hotel clerk stares at me I hear his arrhythmic heart that heart now bright now dim lighting the registration form on the glossy marble the piano goes out of tune the elevator turns a yawn into a scream as it cuts through lamplit foam coming out of its sleeve the wind bares an iron fist
The teacher faded long ago yet the fragments of her diary act as a go-between following the corridors of continual evolution the whole team chases the rabbit who will skin it? the back door leads to summer the eraser can never erase the dotted lines turning into sunlight the rabbit’s soul flies low looking for its next incarnation this is a story, many years ago someone’s ears pricked up stole a glimpse of the sky and we the wolves suckling on a red lamp have already grown up
The priest gets lost in prayer an air shaft leads to another era: escapees climb over the wall panting words evoke the author’s heart trouble breathe deep, deeper grab the locust tree roots that debate the north wind summer has arrived the treetop is an informer murmurs are a reddish sleep stung by a swarm of bees no, a storm
I walk out of a room like a shadow from a music box the rump of the sun sways stopping dead at noon empty empty swivel chair in the funnel of writing someone filters through the white paper: wrinkled face sinister words in regard to enduring freedom in regard to can I have a light the heart, as if illuminating even more of the blind shuttles between day and night
First it’s the wind from home the father like a bird flying over a river of drowsy haze suddenly changes course but you’re already sunk in the fog supposing memory wakes like the night sky in an observatory you clip your fingernails close the door open the door friends are hard to recognize until letters from the old days completely lose their shadows at sunset you listen closely to a new city built by a string quartet
In the kitchen washing my hands soapy water runs down the drain like a French horn’s anxiety the bride waves goodbye to the canal of keeping dates who is the white-haired witness going upstream? a group photo with the sun half my face covered the other half daylight in the windless solitude in the rivers and lakes fish forget one another the night creates a momentary god bats in the eyes of drug addicts destroy themselves in passion