The reweaving of time, Bei Dao’s poetry

by Paul Stubbs 

The Rose of Time: New and Selected Poems by Bei Dao
Edited by Eliot Weinberger, Translated by Yanbing Chen, David Hinton, Chen Maiping,
Iona Ma-Cheong, Bonnie S. McDougall and Eliot Weinberger
New Directions, 2010, $16.95 (288pp)

Just as Hölderlin through his writings wanted to make ‘disappear’ the ‘divisions in which we think and exist’, so too in the poetry of Bei Dao we experience consciousness again as a hypothesis; a new world problem to solve through the regeneration of language. From poem to poem a battle is fought between image and word upon the coterminous continents of his imagination as, like a poetical glass-blower, Bei Dao breathes new eternal shapes into words. To Western twenty-first-century eyes, his poems may appear born of the American ‘Imagist’ or ‘Objectivist’ schools, but they are in fact new concentrated structures of his own Chinese language—elliptical and oneiric images turning over the lathe of the planet. This selection by New Directions brings together, for the first time, five previous collections translated into English, beginning with The August Sleepwalker, in which we encounter the early work, much of which initially appeared in the influential underground journal that Bei Dao co-founded in 1978, Today (orJintian). The journal was banned after two years, but not before his name, and poetry, had been spread widely.

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