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Blossoming Blossoms of Poetry: Selected Poems of Hsu Chicheng
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. Page 382. Price CNY 50.00, US$25.00. ISBN 978-0-9637599-6-2/E.009
The volume of Hsu Chicheng’s Selected Poems seeks to present his poetic excellence, or, as the poet would like to say, “a new starting point” in his life after the 70s. Hsu Chicheng has been writing poetry for the past five decades. , celebrating nature and humanity: His poems describe the local 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 if you eat my flesh or drink my blood.” (p. 361)
“The fire of strength will never be extinguished
And it will burn more wildly, wildly…” (p. 359)
Since I don’t know Chinese, I can’t say whether he also follows traditional Chinese poetic forms and styles, but he is modern in his outlook and true to his personal experiences and vision. As he notes in his preface:
“My parts are written more in blood than in ink. Humanism is the basic point in my writing; with the usual themes of countryside, landscape and nature, to glorify the sunny side of human life and urge people forward, in so as to finally benefit my readers… In the past 50 years, Taiwan’s poetry forum has been an animated scene: different styles and different schools of poetry. But I follow no other school than to my pastoral school. I go my way tilling my land, planting my seeds and growing my crops…” (p. 13)
Naturally, Hsu Chicheng writes with a commitment. His poetic sensibility is rooted in nature, in the sea and rivers, in the hills and mountains, in the winds and rains, in the fields and agricultural activities, in the docile birds and domestic animals, in the sincerity and simplicity of the peasants, the honesty and their tolerance, and the difficulties of rural and urban life, etc. He is also aware of the transitions experienced at various points in his career as a teacher, journalist, court-martial, and post-retirement pursuits as a poet, translator, and editor. His poetic imagination exudes a sense of history.
As he faces challenges of various sociopolitical nature and ups and downs in his life, his visionary orientation is ‘himself’ despite the disappointing political and economic climate outside. The warrior in it admonishes: “Hold fast to the will/Never let go of the target/Fear no bitterness/Fear the loneliness/He’ll go his way alone/Tread the rough too/Shape the fog/Walk on the winds and the rains/To embrace the sun” p. 357). Hsu longs for peace and enjoys it through inner stillness “in the depths of the night.” In fact, poetry is his spiritual aspiration and fulfillment.
At 73, Hsu rejoices with hope and confidence:
“There is nothing wrong with retirement
There is nothing wrong with twilight
I can still paint
— Even though it’s painting the afterglow
He can paint better” (p. 165)
“Now twilight! Twilight is gathering
What is the length of the long lane ahead?
Is the lane smooth or hard to walk?
Despite the uncertainty
Despite the fatigue and difficulty in walking
No stop and no rest
One’s courage must be taken in both hands
Appreciating and drawing the colorful glow of the sunset” (p. 475)
“He still does not abandon his hope
He is searching without sparing any effort
… (p. 367)
Hsu loves the brightness (p. 355) and sees hope in winter, “Never lose faith/And wait patiently” (p. 353), as he says. For him, aging is a happiness, a new opportunity:
“This time let’s be more stable and more consistent
Spiritually itself must be completely reformulated
To overcome physical aging
To bear the burden of years
Walking in scorching heat, extreme cold and wind and rain
To overcome a multitude of hills and precipices, as well as road bumps…”
(‘Seventy years like spring’, p. 351)
“We lift our heads and look aside, waiting for another world
We lift our heads and gaze, waiting for another spring”
(‘Reappearance’, p. 347)
As a sensitive observer of self, others and nature, Hsu Chicheng expresses a free spirit with an awareness of the cycle of change and memories of childhood, growing up and aging. His poems are as true as his silver hair and keep the fire of hope and faith burning (cf. pp. 333, 299, 271, 257).
Poet editor Zhang Zhizhong’s word-for-word translation, it seems to me, successfully shows the growth of Hsu’s mind and personality and places him at the forefront of contemporary Chinese poetry. He is joined by several other poet-translators, namely Yang Zongze, Yang Xu, and Hsu Chicheng himself, who translate some of the best poems in the collection. I also feel that by reading Hsu’s poetic texts closely and/or presenting them in real contexts, Zhang Zhizhong and others have helped open up new spaces in Chinese poetry, whether from mainstream China or Hong Congo and Taiwan. The translators are to be congratulated for their professional interpretation of Hsu’s inspiring and refreshing texts and contexts.
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