Class Readers








Interpreting Lu Xun

By Jon Eugene von Kowallis


Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews 18 (1996) pp. 153-164 


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The title Das trunkene Land (The drunken country), Kubin's creation as a volume title, not Lu Xun's, seems to be derived from a line in one of Lu Xun's classical-style poems and is intended as a reference to China. In Gu's and Kubin's translation (p. 30), the whole poem


Fur 0. E. mit Orchideen auf dem Weg nach Japan

Der Pfeffer wird verbrannt, die Kassia gefallt, was ohne Fehl ist, kommt in die Jahre,
Allein die Orchidee erbliiht in dunklem Tal.
Wie gem folgt sie dem Fremden in die Feme,
Hierzulande lebt's sich trunken angesichts der Dornen.

literally, from the German:

For O.E. on his Way back to Japan with Orchids

The pepper is burned, the cassia fallen, what is without fault grows old,
Alone the orchid blooms in [a] dark valley.
How happily it follows the stranger / foreigner in the distance,
Here at home one lives drunken in the face of thorns.

finally, in my version:

Pepper plant put to flame, cassia plucked up, comely men grow old;
Only consigned to some remote crag can the orchid's pure heart unfold.
How can we begrudge this fragrant lot to one from afar;
When our own homeland, as if drunk, has its brambles and thorns to prick and scar.[14]

Neither Kubin nor I delve into the debate about the proper translation of the Chinese lan; to be sure, that is better left to others more qualified than I. What concerns me more here is that the simile in the Chinese line guxiang zui you jingzhen (lit. old land like/as drunk, has brambles/thorns) does not work completely in either English or German. This can be dealt with by altering the simile, which I did not do, or adding to it, which I did, in this case, partially for the sake of rhyme, but partly to clarify the meaning of the original. Kubin's choice is not to modify or amplify in any way, which is admirable in its restraint, but places the burden of interpreting the simile squarely back on the reader. Perhaps this is one reason why Kubin chooses to paraphrase the image elsewhere (Das trunkene Land = "The Drunken Land" of the volume's title), seeking thereby to clarify it. But what does Das trunkene Land imply to the German reader? I would hope it conjures up the final scene from Lu Xun's Zhufu [Benediction; "The New-Year Sacrifice" in the Yangs' translation and also "Das Neujahrsopfer"[15] in Kubin's rendering] where Lu Xun writes with great irony:

Ich lag miissig und bequem inmitten dieser Umarmung aus Lirm und Getose, und die Zweifel, die mich bis in den Abend hinein bewegt hatten, schienen durch die Atmosphire der Feierlichkeiten hinweggefegt. Ich spiirte nur, dass die Heiligen des Himmels und der Erde die Opfergaben, den siissen Wein und den Weihra~ch angenommen und sich daran erfreut hatten und nun volltrunken in der Luft herumtorkelten und voller Freude Luzhen mit grenzenlosem Gliick belohnen wollten.

In the Yangs' English version:

Enveloped in this medley of sound I relaxed; the doubt which had preyed on my mind from dawn till night was swept clean away by the festive atmosphere and I felt only that the saints of heaven and earth had accepted the sacrifice and incense and were reeling with intoxication in the sky, preparing to give Luzhen's people boundless good fortune.[16]

and in William Lyell's translation:

All the worries and concerns that had plagued me from morning till night the day before had been totally swept away by the happy atmosphere of the New Year. I was conscious of nothing except that the various gods of heaven and earth were enjoying the ritual offerings and all the incense that burned in their honor. Comfortably tipsy by now, they staggered through the sky and prepared to shower the people of Lu Town with infinite blessings.[17]



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