Poems by Bei Dao


In father’s level imagination
the persistent cries of children
finally strike against a mountain
don’t panic
I walk along the thoughts of certain trees
and turn from stuttering into song

sorrow that comes from afar
is a form of power
that I use to saw tables
some people depart for love
while a palace in pursuit of storms
journeys past many kingdoms

beyond life with
furniture, fleas beat a great drum
Daoist priests practice their ascent to heaven
youth pass down the lanes
sobbing over night’s logic
I achieve rest


This Day

The wind is intimate with love
summer shimmers with imperial colors
someone fishing lonesomely measures
the earth’s wounds
the chiming clock is swelling
those of you strolling through the afternoon
please join in the meaning of the age

some people bow to a piano
others carry a ladder by
sleepiness has been checked for a few minutes
only a few minutes
the sun is researching the shadow
I quaff water from a bright mirror
and spot the enemy in my mind’s eye

the tenor’s singing
enrages the sea like an oil tanker
at 3 A.M. I open a can
releasing those fish into the light



The night is rushing to perfection
I drift inside language
the musical instruments of death
are filled with ice

who sings on the crevice
of days, water turns bitter
flames hemorrhage
pouncing like pumas to the stars
there must be form
for there to be dreams

in the chill of early morning
a wide-awake bird
gets closer to the truth
while my poems and I
sink as one

February in books:
certain movements, certain shadows



scared out of our wits
carry lanterns chasing spring

scars gleam, cups rotate
rays of light are created
watch for that moment of bewitchery
a thief steals into the post office
letters send out shrieks

nails, oh nails
the words of this song will not be changed
firewood huddled closely
searching for an audience

searching for the heart of winter
the end of the stream
the boatman waits for all-penetrating dusk

someone has to rewrite love


Bei Dao

Bei Dao, born in Beijing in 1949, has traveled and lectured around the world. He has received numerous international awards for his poetry, and is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Now a U.S. citizen, Bei Dao is currently Professor of Humanities in the Center for East Asian Studies at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. The Rose of Time: New & Selected Poems will appear from New Directions in 2010.

Clayton Eshleman and Lucas Klein

Clayton Eshleman's main collections, as a translator, include: Aime Cesaire: The Collected Poetry (with Annette Smith, University of California Press, 1983); Watchfiends & Rack Screams: Poetry and Prose by Antonin Artaud, 1945-1948 (Exact Change, 1995) and The Complete Poetry of Cesar Vallejo, with a Foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa (University of California Press, 2007). Besides co-translating selected poems of Bei Dao, he is also co-translating the 1948 unexpurgated text of Aime Cesaire's Soleil cou coupe, which will be published by Wesleyan University Press. Black Widow Press will publish his translation of Bernard Bador's Curdled Skulls in 2010.  He may be reached at [email protected].

Lucas Klein is the editor of the online journal of creative translation, www.CipherJournal.com. After living in Beijing and Paris, his current home is in Connecticut, where he slouches towards a PhD in Chinese Literature at Yale. His translations, essays, and poems have appeared or are forthcoming at CipherJournal, Frank, Manoa, Composite Translations, Palimpsest, Big Bridge, and Jacket, and he regularly reviews books for Rain Taxi and other venues. In addition to working on translations of Bei Dao with Clayton Eshleman, he is also translating the contemporary Chinese poet Xi Chuan.  He may be reached at [email protected].

Landscape Over Zero.  Copyright (c) New Directions, 1996; translated by David Hinton and Yanbing Chen.  New English translation copyright (c) Clayton Eshleman and Lucas Klein, 2009.