The Language of Poetry, the Language of the World: World Poetry and World Language

By Kubin, Wolfgang | Chinese Literature Today, Winter 2011 | Go to article overview

The Language of Poetry, the Language of the World: World Poetry and World Language


Kubin, Wolfgang, Chinese Literature Today


(ProQuest: ... denotes non-US-ASCII text omitted.)

Il faut être absolument moderne!

-Rimbaud

Though poetry is often said to be dead, poetry festivals are still quite common in Germany and are well attended by the international public. Even small cities like Münster or Erlangen invite poets from all over the world to read their poetry in their mother tongues. Their German listeners might never have learnt any of the languages they are confronted with during all the recitals. Of course, translations are usually provided, but many in the auditorium do not need or even want a translation at all; they just wish to hear the sound of the poets, of their voices. They might close their eyes in order to listen to words they cannot understand in the slightest. It seems that in the spoken word there is something hidden from audiences that simply cannot be rescued by the translator.

I experienced this kind of "strange" listening personally when Zheng Chouyu ... read his poetry in Chinese language at the Exhibition Hall of Bonn in 2006. The late director of Bonn's House of Language and Literature, Karin Hempel-Soos, a poet who enjoyed collaborating with the Chinese poet Yang Lian -..., was present then and was overwhelmed by the poems of the Taiwanese poet. She was struck by his voice and by the music his poetry was set to; she had no understanding of Chinese and yet she was able to "understand" what she heard. Can we call this a true moment of world poetry? In some respect I think we can, because Chinese on that evening was able to transcend boundaries and speak to the heart of at least one listener. I should add that Hempel-Soos was not interested in my German translations of Old Zheng's poems at all. She preferred his Chinese voice and not my German tongue. This was hard for me, as I had strived to translate Zheng's poetry into a typical German poetic voice.

I. Is "Chinese" Poetry Possible?

Hempel-Soos might not be representative of connoisseurs of Chinese poetry. Usually, listeners do not want just to hear the sound of a poet, but rather they prefer to understand what he or she is saying. They prefer a semantic over an acoustic approach. They would perhaps complain about not being presented a translation, just as members of Feifeipai once did when I read my poetry in German during an event that took place outside of Peking in 2001. And they might even hope that in the case of Chinese poetry, they will get to learn something "Chinese." But what is "Chinese" poetry in the true sense of the word?

I remember Winfried Woesler, a German professor of German literature at Osnabrück University, who was head of the poetry festival of Münster in 1987. It was he who invited the first Chinese poet to Münster; he invited Gu Cheng ... and his wife Xie Ye ..., also a poet, with my help. But when he got to know their poetry through my translations, he complained: "So, what is Chinese about their poetry? Their poems are not Chinese at all!" I have no idea what he expected or what "Chinese" would have meant to him for that matter, but I can imagine he expected some kind of conventional-or shall we say traditional-Chinese poetry, filled with cultural tropes and worn images, the sort he was introduced to by LYuan ..., whom he worked with and whom he invited to Muster two years later in 1989.

I have to confess that I admire Lü Yuan for learning German in prison, but I am not a friend of his poetry or his poetical taste at all. To me, he represents that kind of conventional poetry that someone like Woesler might regard as "Chinese," but which in my eyes is totally out of time because it is not only Chinese, it is too Chinese. As it is not international, it does not belong to world literature according to my understanding of modern poetry.

If it is really still possible to write "Chinese" poetry, then it would be possible, too, to write "German" poetry. But German poetry in the true sense of the word would be as much outdated as any kind of Chinese poetry that wants to be truly Chinese. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

The Language of Poetry, the Language of the World: World Poetry and World Language
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.