Shanghai Rainy Night

March 22 2014

“Into the rainy street I came
And heard the motors swiftly splash away.
Cascades from the eaves like ‘water from a high mountain’ – ]
With my Hangchow umbrella perhaps I’ll saunter forth. …

Water has drenched the endless pavement.
Aloft in a lane there is somebody playing the nan-hu,
A tune of abstract long-forgotten sorrow:
‘Mêng Chiang Nü, to seek her husband,
Has gone to the Great Wall.’”


Lin Kêng, Shanghai Rainy Night in Harold Acton with Ch’en Shih-Hsiang, translators, Modern Chinese Poetry, Duckworth, 1936.

As in some shin-hanga prints in Japan, a modern element, here cars, is added to a scene observed with an older sensibility. Chinese and Japanese poetry is more pointillist than Western; the motors create not a jarring note, but a frisson.

The quotation in the third line isn’t explained.

The nan-hu is a southern form of the erh-hu, a two-stringed violin. Is that line rather awkwardly translated?

Mêng Chiang Nü was the heroine of many popular ballads and legends connected with the building of the Great Wall. Her husband was pressed into a labour-gang and sent north to build the Wall. No word came from him, and she set forth alone in search of him.

Lin Kêng was born in Peking in 1910 of a Fukienese family of scholars. “His father, Mr. Lin Tsai-p’ing was an authority on Chinese and Indian philosophy, which he taught at Tsing Hua and Peking National Universities. Mr. Lin Kêng studied Chinese literature at Tsing Hua University and graduated in 1933.” The book prints a note by him about his ideas on modern poetry.

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