After the Chinese


A.C. Graham, Introduction to Poems of the Late T’ang

Because of this combination of phonetic poverty and graphic wealth the system of meanings and associations touched off by a Chinese word inheres not in its sound structure but in the construction of the character. […] It is rather difficult to estimate this effect since a habitual reader of Chinese is hardly conscious of it without deliberately analysing his reactions, just as the reader of an English poem may not notice that the spelling of SPHINX, by marking it as a Greek borrowing, has effects which would be damaged by spelling it SFINKS. Certainly one can give too much weight to the visual aspect of Chinese writing. Poems in China, as elsewhere, are firstly patterns of sound, and many verse forms have begun as song forms; it is untrue, for example, that a poet will choose a word for the appearance of its character in the poem seen as a piece of calligraphy. But it is reasonable to say that the character does exert a sort of visual onomatopoeia, stimulating the eye […] Obviously, there is no way of reproducing this effect short of inventing a similar system of logographic writing for English.

What is called for here is a sensitivity to semantic fields whether they are conveyed visually or vocally. And it was Graham’s introduction in mind that my sight was arrested by Anne-Marie Wheeler’s version of a line from Nicole Brossard’s Aviva (Nomados, 2008).

all awakening of being in he(a)r hair


toute d’éveil d’être en ses cheveux ouïe

By ear, Wheeler’s he(a)r introduces a being present by homophony (“here”). A worthy enrichment which replaces the French’s play between “hearing” and “yes”.

yes all waking being through her hair hearing yes

And so for day 1564

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