- No Rose, Yet Felt Myself A’bloom: Selected Dickinson’s Poems (不是玫瑰,如花盛开：狄金森诗选) tr. by Yanbin Kang
During the past half century, a variety of Chinese translations of Dickinson have appeared, invariably of selected poems and with their own strengths and characteristics, boosting and echoing an increasing enthusiasm for Dickinson scholarship in China. March 2013 witnessed the publication of another version of Dickinson translation in China: Yanbin Kang’s No Rose, Yet Felt Myself A’bloom: Selected Dickinson’s Poems (不是玫瑰,如花盛开：狄金森诗选).
Based on The Poems of Emily Dickinson edited by R. W. Franklin, Kang’s translation includes 900 poems, which is, to the reviewer’s knowledge, the largest number of poems to date selected for Chinese translation. Grouped into two parts—short poems with less than four lines and long poems—all 900 poems are arranged in chronological order. This juxtaposition of short and long poems helps to give ordinary Chinese readers as well as scholars easy access to the appreciation of Dickinson’s poetry.
One salient feature of this translation is Kang’s manifest Chinese perspective toward Dickinson, as revealed in the title of her preface “My Dickinson.” Most of the previous Chinese translations have focused on recurrent subjects in Dickinson’s poetry and highlighted an aesthetic appreciation of Dickinson’s idiosyncratic imagery and poetics. As one of the new generation of Chinese translators, Kang writes as a scholar who has published several essays on Dickinson, attempting to [End Page 131] illuminate the relationship between oriental elements in Dickinson’s poetry and the real Asia. Combined with her doctoral dissertation Emily Dickinson and China, these essays explain her choice to translate only Dickinson’s poems that resonate with Chinese philosophy and aesthetic values.
Kang concentrates on Dickinson’s short poems in the first part of her translation. Most of them were written in Dickinson’s later years and embody the poet’s reflection on life and the power of death, as can be shown in the following quatrain:
These Fevered Days - to take them to the ForestWhere Waters cool around the mosses crawl –And shade is all that devastates the stillnessSeems it sometimes this would be all -(Fr1467)
In her preface, Kang reiterates her claim about this poem, first published in English in “Dickinson’s Hummingbirds”: “In terms of mood, images, and structure, Dickinson’s quatrain that most resembles an ancient Chinese nature poem was written in 1878” (78). The poems included in her translation reflect Dickinson’s serenity, achieved through what Kang calls negative wisdom. Kang also tends to select poems that have been neglected in previous Chinese translations—including, for example, two poems on wrens: “For every Bird a nest - ” (Fr86) and “A Mien to move a Queen - ” (Fr254).
Following her own scholarly understanding of Dickinson, Kang presents a Dickinson of her own, who writes repeatedly about essential concepts and fundamental human experiences such as life, existence, and death. She seeks to construct a Dickinson new to Chinese readers; the poet who emerges in her translation is a sage combining American individualism with elements of Chinese wisdom, characterized by Daoism and Chan Buddhism.
“Whose Dickinson?” is a question that Cristanne Miller has posed in terms of both editing and research on Dickinson’s poems. Kang’s preface to the translation, “My Dickinson,” can be seen as her response. “My Dickinson,” as Kang explained in a personal interview, “intends to articulate Dickinson’s power of the inner world and her wisdom of life.” Kang’s selection of poems, interpretation of their importance, and translation are all distinctly subjective, but they are also a result of her self-conscious reflection of Chinese culture and her “deep dialogue with Western Dickinson scholars.”
Dickinson’s poetry makes the practice of translation complicated and elusive, because, according to Cynthia Hallen and Laura Harvey, “Dickinson uses multiple [End Page 132] lexical connections to tie the words of a poem together into an unusually dense network” (130). In Kang’s translation, one cannot miss the translator’s painstaking work to balance expressive interpretation of Dickinson’s meaning with linguistic and cultural...