Hai An






ELEGY (Excerpts)


Chinese Poet Hai An, has been working on ELEGY, a therapeutic long poem, for over 25 years. The poem starts with a meditation on his experience of pain and anxiety alongside his desire for peace and tranquility, enacting a struggle to emerge “from the shadow of death” and “enter the palace of wisdom”, going beyond an expression of individual pain and values to one of deep care for humankind’s collective suffering. While crying out against his own personal misfortune, he simultaneously insists that writing must seek to bring relief to other suffering souls, convinced of the long poem’s ability to soothe others’ heartache and forge bridges of empathy among and between people. Images of disease repeat throughout the poem as chanted lines in East Asian cultures, enacting a kind of exorcism and self-therapy. As he writes in the poem’s preface, though “disease and death may darken life’s sky at any time, poetry has a unique ability to traverse time and space: whether in light or through darkness, rejoicing or in sorrow, hope or despair, poetry can be medicine that dissolves pain, purifies the soul, and taps into a source of vitality that can bring one back to living life, stoking the inner courage needed to confront darkness, and to separate light from darkness.”




1. Prologue


The first blood flows deep from vessels within, to flood yet another world

Flooding the seasons, from end to beginning, again and again

The first cry hits blunt teeth

The tongue far from its source, and the heart yet farther still

The first tears efface the gaze

Overflowing trenches, boundary channels, and personal alienation

The first day’s biopsy determines everything

The first intracranial imbalance…


I am lying in my human bed, sick and facing death


Earth, a whole blood corpuscle of the universe

Day by day, exhausts all its energies

Rivers and lakes form deep within the face

Carved by floods of blood and tears

Climate mourning over land and sea

Modern humans, we lose land, our ends, our bare courage

Mourning is deep suffering, throbbing in every blood cell


World! I have tasted enough of my own blood!

Time bleeds into hell!


Without thinking without living

Hand grasping the old doorframe fated

Looking back at my visitors, needle stab pains in the arm

No matter whatever busy weeks, business undone

Whatever discarded images

There is a storm arising whenever it wants

There is one’s own portion of ill fortune…


Bare life, the terror being barely alive!

Unspeakable pain!


Extensive bleeding, yet the will to beat despair in the distance

Beyond words, bargaining, deep prayer

Beyond love and random ruin

From dry inflammation, through red palace walls

From one district to another

From flooded river bank to surging shore

To die proves an art, a scene from the matter at hand



2. The Childhood


Childhood is a gathering, where a river meets sea

Shifting dreams of rice and wheat in flower


Pain’s dragon. A ridge of undulating dunes

A child walked the embankment, iron hoe in hand

Past a grave, through a grove of oleander

Ideals unfurling over the billowing wheat

Crepe myrtles bloom purple to the sea’s edge


Birds flocked over the White Pagoda of his hometown

Toward the estuary, toward the whirlpool

The teen too swept over the waters in his mind

Stars reel in a vision in the rain

A flash of rusting ironware, girls and seeds

Such a flight in flame, such a flame in flight

Penetrating into darkness like the teen’s eyes


And human suffering rose in his body

Teenage poetry vivid in the perilous season


The grass withered, the fountain dried up

The genius of teen years short-lived

The sun set in dusk

A fallen bird, a singing flute and scattering wheat awn

The teen lost on a muddy path.

The wind coughing in the cold winter

The youth in full bloom, deep in the field


The teenage in flight in the sun

The sky full of fears

His poetry grew with the night

One change after another, he stood still on an arrow

A beacon of truth in his hand

Illuminated an empty skull, a lonely tear of mankind



3. Youth’s Flight


The moment of youth’s flight, lighting a flame in the heart

The fire let the world realize its own position.

I bear that soil, provisions and salt

Bear up under social alienation and indifference

With these human wounds, dust like a drum

Beyond the roughness of our souls

Beyond that child with the sunset of hometown in his dull eyes


I crossed the sun-scorched stone cottage

The bronze or stone stature

And the weak imagination of humankind

In the rainy season I fell in love or hurt a girl

Her heart turned into a cloud, into a drop of rain

I held a drop clinging to a piece of iron until it fell into the yard

Can this rain bring back that aura in the coming year?


I loved the rain, loved the sky I passed through in the rain,

Spreading the seeds of happiness along the road

Spring rain appearing as the phantom of my tomorrow

With a banner of beauty

The end of the earth forever extended the deep blue of the ocean

Forever extended youth

The prairie and its charging horses

Forever extended a thousand years of hunger

A pair of invisible hands holding his head all over the world


In summer, I was reclining with her on the meadow

Various kinds of green grass, two or three trees

Failed in the end to grow into a scene of the summer

In autumn, I was more in love with the daybreak body of my love

My sense of touch was bathed in desire of love

Touched the depths of her desire

As the endless tremor of a river


My thoughts walked along my lover’s eyes

As roaming in the waters

Her hand went deep into my bones.

My chest flooded in the rain all night

I came close to my lover’s heart

Listened to the expanse of love

Listened to life, inseparable from earth


And a huge cloud of suffering in the dark

Invaded my body without a sound


At this moment, I approached a tower of knowledge

Each floor of the tower held the deposition of history

A pale face attracted by an enchanting masterpiece

The base is the shrine where those in hunger worship

The higher I went, the thinner the air

The denser my desire

More to the spire, more taboo there

My youth set on the high altar of sacrifice

I approached to the depths of hell, suffering deepening



4. In the Winter of December


I finally fell down in December, a snow-swept winter

The wheel of fate devoured all desires and achievements

Grave was the sin of life

The earth died before mankind

A primitive force repeated death

A horse galloping over it


“One, two, three, to the mountains,

Please call a red ambulance. ”


The jaundice patient in the next bed, pale as death

His blind eyes open

As a dark light, swept the sky

Light reflecting his oblique skull

A bunch of stone toes

A shadow jumping from the window to the heaven

A smile of despair


I finally fell down in December, a snow-frozen winter

Grain away from the straw

Genius echoless away from the skull

Survival was the human garden of no harvest

A piece of silence

A bird in flight in darkness


“One, two, three, all aboard,

Pick you up, ferry on the oars.”


The hull took in the shell and his last crazy words

In the birth or the vanish of season

Only I chanted in a low voice

Only a wandering poet

Grabbed her own hair, trekking on the river

Only I chanted the decay and renewal of one generation

I finally fell down in December, a river-frozen winter

I finally fell down into the river in the snowy winter of December



5. The Face in Flash


A face of mine flashed up on several mirrors

A shadow of thought flashed into my mind

Time hoarded its emptiness

My memory switched the door open


I trod on daytime, on the broken time

I walked along the season

My gum went bleeding

My mouth smelled of sweet, poisoned with sugar.

I remained merely the shell of my body.

Machines kept sustaining my life

None of my sight crossed the pass of mixed time


The face in flash repeated none but a name

None but just a letter for words

None but just a memory

None but just a future


Life, always another kind of existence, remained forever in the sky

I lived beyond my body, beyond you and me

Boundless is the dark night

I lost my space, my position and my sense of hearing

Except for a cough, ceaseless in my throat

Who exactly am I?

All of behaviors waved goodbye to my inner will


The face in flash suffered from the punishment of the original sin

Or compensated an emotional disorder

A family or a clan of sins

A nation of deposited defilement



6. Reincarnation


The wind was swooping in her heart to beat her breast

Sadness, as a mad woman, found no gap for a cry

But to fondle the giant wound at the bedside

The sky was grey

Outside the gate extended a cold piece of land

A blizzard was blasting a drift of snow toward the roof

An involuntary sadness and sorrow hunting

Toward the hereditary family


Women, lest lighting up to lose the hope to pray for

For fear of the clear magic at a glance in the light

For fear of touching the suffering

A gust of wind from the estuary

Brought back the sad news again

From the blood, from generation to generation


Who will break away from the misery?

Who finally forgives the bedridden child?


And my daughter was coming to me through the womb’s darkness

She opened her eyes of the morning glow

Her sensual face, half of light, half of water

Came up against the wind

To the proximal end or far from my disillusionment

In the last afterglow of my life

Completed my eternal life cycle

At the moment when the sky drew to a close


Generations of clan, generations of crude soul

A family cemetery ever set

For the death

Life ever face to face the death

The other side of the light would be the boundless darkness forever


Let me take all your misery

To bury me in the land of my countryside, along with lovely crops

To retain or nourish the lost blood of generation

Let my soul take its way on a snowy night

Residing in the wood or surging in the water

Or profound into infinity

At the moment to take the genesis

Take a recombinant life of light and dark




7. Between Birth and Death


None but across the ocean, the shore fulfilled its final ending

Sank the annihilated fin of the shark

Birth and death stretched their hands, the sea still on the horizon

Amphioxus swam to the end of annals

Trees stood afar, love hanging full branch


Even now smashes the sun, unable to warm the shell of thought

An anchor of five living fingers

Anchored the last light in the heart

A boat afloat in the world

Too far to closer, too close to farther


Where does the soul sail to? Where is the hometown?

Can love burn to the reverse of reality?


The sunshine ashore lighted up the growth of human beings

Lighted up crape myrtles in bloom in childhood

Time spreads smoothly without waves

The other shore was the embrace of a different happiness

The imperishable lighthouse kept watching the channel at night


Refuse to create a style of life or death

Half alive or half dead

Spring tides echoing the king fish

Let the soul off the body, resist the temptation of shore

Destined to be alone, suffered from sufferings


Where does the soul sail to? Where is the hometown?

Can love penetrate into the real heart?




8. I Emerged from the Cage of Disease


At this moment, I emerged from the cage of disease

My heart shrank as the residency

My skull sacrificed in a cave of worship

Faced with beautiful fresco from time immemorial

I stepped into a new world

With discarded desire and great care

Along the fissure to search for the trace of water


A resonating growl

A lamp for advance

A pregnant season with truth

God’s will rehearsed in the vast sky


At this moment, I emerge from the cage of disease

The cloudy weather

Reminds me of the wheels in exile, bumpy all the way

Little by little away from the waves, from the vast expanse of water

I want to hijack the inner soul

Clad in free-beaten fire

Rush to the virgin forest, to the land in misery


A kind of rhythm

A flight in darkness

A conflict across the rock floor at twilight

The new flame spreads with dawn over the land


At this moment, I emerge from the cage of disease

Life bursts into flames once again

The blood free from the vessel

Out of a heavy siege time breaks

A storm burns loneliness out

A poem buried in December

Humans have sent away the last element of painful land




9. Resurrection


At this moment of beauty, vast and boundless

I rise up by myself, glorious and magnificent


The door of life opens the eyes of dawn

Let me look at the authentic face of the world.

Let me look at the world tonight

In order to see the bread, the water and the air

I try hard to move on

I despise death in the world

I write poetry to renew my limited life


At this moment of beauty, vast and boundless

I rise up by myself, glorious and magnificent

The imagination beats faster than my heart.

In the distance rise the mountains

No crying, no sorrow

Once receded moisture returns to my body and soul

Newborn desire flows throughout the vessel

My bones moved with flaming fire and spewing water

My ears heard of horse’s neighing and lion’s roaring


At this moment of beauty, vast and boundless

I rise up by myself, glorious and magnificent


The wind sends a signal in the sky

I throw back the abyss of death

Raising up great youth, waves and salts

To separate light from darkness

I am the self-burning flame on earth

Penetrating and melting everything

I swallow twinkling light, wandering everywhere


Transcending time and space, transcending rays of century

I have flown over the paradise of Bluebird, reaching the origin of life

I have crossed Styx, grasping the meaning of life

At the moment of alternate light and darkness

I feel the god of death in full retreat

At the end of the sky echoes an infinite voice

—Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow is your resurrection day!



© Trans. by the author & David Perry











HAI AN, originally named LI Ding-Jun, Chinese scholarly-poet and translator, the winner of STA-2016 Translation Achievement Award issued by the Shanghai Translator Association, has been serving as the Associate Professor of English at College of Foreign Languages and Literature, as well as the member of Sino-Australian Creative Writing Center/ Literary Translation Research Center, The Fudan University. He has published ten books of poetry as the author, translator and editor, including Selected Poems by Hai An, Elegy—Hai An’s First Therapeutic Long Poem, Selected Poems of Dylan Thomas, Collected Poems of Samuel Beckett, A Centennial Collected Papers on Sino-Occidental Poetry Translation, The Frontier Tide: Contemporary Chinese Poetry. He was once invited to attend several international poetry festivals, such as the 15th International Poetry Festival in Rosario, Argentina (2007), the 48th International Poetry Evenings in Struga, Macedonia (2009) and the International Poetry Festival of Mihai Eminescu in Craiova, Romania (2014).

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