On Bei Dao's _The Answer_: A Necropastoral Political Interlude

by on Oct.20, 2011

Rodchenko's illustration for Mayakovsky's About This

Dudes, I just never get tired of Bei Dao. Never. And I never get tired of ‘Huida’ (‘The Answer’), even if this is his most famous poem, the one they chanted at Tiananmen, an Art-influence that forced him into exile. The official Poetry Foundation translation is here but I like this translation from Maya Kovskaya’s (dead?) trilingual blog, ‘About This’ (A Mayakovsky Reference?! ), below.

In this poem, the abyme/  mise-en-abyme stretches not downwards into hell but is inverted upwards into the sky, where ‘inverted crooked reflections of the dead’ form a kind of anachronistic hieroglyphic, and where the future is inseparable from the past, pictographs and staring eyes– the future seems hungry with its ‘staring eyes’, ready to feed on the present– but it also seems already dead, all eyes, staring like concentration camp victims, already harmed, ready to form a supermortal undead army with the past. Meanwhile our speaker rejects rationalism, truisims, conventional frames for marking reality as reality and invites bitter water– poisoned water, sewage wormwood, apocalyptic water– to flow into him. The present will have to be eaten away, degraded, eroded for the two ghost armies to converge.

Although the ultimate vision of this poem may be positive, allowing for new summits and a kind of future, I see it as a future where that summit will be worn down by the ocean, a kind of innundation,a necropastoralic amphibian floodplain through which ghost species walk.

Here’s the poem: 

 

北岛 《回答》 Bei Dao “The Answer”

Baseness is the secret knock of the base
Integrity the epitaph of the noble
Look how the gilded sky drifts full of
The inverted crooked reflections of the dead

The ice age has past,
So why are there icicles everywhere?
The Cape of Good Hope has been discovered
Why do a thousand sails contend for the Dead Sea?

I came into this world
Carrying only paper, rope, a silhouette
To speak aloud before the trial
A voice that has already been judged

I tell you, world
I—do—not—believe!
If a thousand challengers lie trampled beneath your feet
Count me as number one thousand and one.

I don’t believe the sky is blue
I don’t believe in thunder’s echoes
I don’t believe that dreams are false
I don’t believe in death without retribution

If the sea is destined to breach the dykes
Let all the water of bitterness flow into my heart
If the land is destined to rise up
Let humanity choose a new summit for existence again.

A new turning point and flickering stars
Embroidered now across the unobstructed heavens
These are the pictographs of five thousand years
These are the staring eyes of future generations.

–Bei Dao
tr. 迈涯

回答

卑鄙是卑鄙者的通行证,
高尚是高尚者的墓志铭,
看吧,在那镀金的天空中,
飘满了死者弯曲的倒影。

冰川纪过去了,
为什么到处都是冰凌?
好望角发现了,
为什么死海里千帆相竞?

我来到这个世界上,
只带着纸、绳索和身影,
为了在审判前,
宣读那些被判决的声音。

告诉你吧,世界
我–不–相–信!
纵使你脚下有一千名挑战者,
那就把我算作第一千零一名。

我不相信天是蓝的,
我不相信雷的回声,
我不相信梦是假的,
我不相信死无报应。

如果海洋注定要决堤,
就让所有的苦水都注入我心中,
如果陆地注定要上升,
就让人类重新选择生存的峰顶。

新的转机和闪闪星斗,
正在缀满没有遮拦的天空。
那是五千年的象形文字,
那是未来人们凝视的眼睛。

–北岛

 

2 comments for this entry:
  1. Lucas

    There’s also the version that Clayton Eshleman and I translated, as “The Reply,” which you can see here: http://poemsandpoetics.blogspot.com/2009/10/bei-dao-four-poems-newly-translated.html. It’s the first poem in the 31-poem collection of his we published last spring with Black Widow, titled Endure (http://www.blackwidowpress.com/Endure.htm)

    irregular Lucas

  2. Joyelle McSweeney

    Yes, Lucas, thanks for the link– I especially like this from your translation:

    If the sea is doomed to smash the embankments,
    let all the brack dump into my heart;

    Which supports the necropastoral reading I’m performing above.