Something sublime about Asian poetry

Sunset in the harbor

There’s something very calming and beautiful about Asian poetry. Part of it has to do with the calligraphy; the simple act of writing the language is an art form itself. The other parts have to do with the imagery Asian poets use and the compactness of the language. I have always been impressed with how much Asian poets are able to express in such few characters. For example, take this poem that a friend sent me recently:

李商隱: 登樂遊原
Li Shangyin (813-858): Ascending the Pleasurable Plateau

向晚意不適
驅車登古原
夕陽無限好
只是近黃昏

As always, some meaning and effect is lost in translation, but I found a pretty good English translation at this website. The translator has worked hard to preserve the poetic feel by using iambic pentameter, but look how long it becomes.

Still day, but late, my heart is not at ease,
To the park of old, up, in a carriage, I go.
Sublime is the beauty of the sun yet to set,
So soon, alas, shall dusky evening follow.

And my rendition: “Ascent to Pleasant Park”

Evening draws near, to my heart’s discontent,
Up to the park in a carriage I ride.
Sublime is the beauty of the setting sun,
Too soon, alas, does dusky darkness follow.

(Picture: Sunset in Baltimore)

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