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Wu Xinghua’s hidden greatness as a poet, translator

Author  :  WU JIANWEN     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2017-05-16

Complete Works of Wu Xinghua

Author: Wu Xinghua

Publisher: Guangxi Normal University Press

Wu Xinghua (1921-66), a famous poet, scholar and translator, was regarded as a leader of the third generation of scholars proficient in both Chinese and Western cultures, followed by Chen Yinque and Qian Zhongshu. Wu, first and foremost, was a poet of the new poetry style, which was also a key part of his identity.

In 1937, at the age of 16, Wu Xinghua published his blank verse “The Silence of the Forest” in the magazine New Poetry, which was then acknowledged by famous poet and translator Zhou Xuliang as a “turning point for Chinese new poetry.” Zhou said that the rich images, fresh words and experienced rhythm of the poems were an exceptionally accomplishment for a such a young poet. As Wu himself put it: “even if my poems are good for nothing in other aspects, my versification is everything for modern poets to learn from.” In terms of the attitude to composition, Wu tended to repeatedly polish his work, leaving the identifying characteristics easy to find between the lines.

The current categorization of poetry classifies Wu as a neo-classical poet. However, after a closer reading of his work, it is more proper to say that his poems are “classic poems carrying new concepts” rather than “neo-classical poems.” His poems are regarded as the “best substitute for classic poems.”

Twenty years after the May Fourth movement, Wu began to realize the delicate relationship between old and new, and China and the West, and thus attempted to break new ground between traditonal Chinese and Western culture. Facing the legacy of the May Fourth movement that completely thrown down the past, Wu tried to bring order out of chaos, even showing an attitude of hypercorrection. This is because he knew clearly that the new literature had to show its legacy of the old literature, especially some traces of undeniable beauty, if it wanted to become an independent force. The new literature at that time appeared to cut off all links with the past, a feature which many people regarded as the highlight of new literature. Wu thought this stance to be completely ridiculous.

His poetry generally falls into two categories: classic poems that are “deeply rooted in Chinese cultural soil and grow under Chinese sunlight,” and these outcomes of four years dedication, including sonnets, blank verse experiments, and a variety of different verse, songs and classical rhythm experiments, such as laments, Sapphics and Alcaic.

Wu was also an outstanding translator who provided the best version of Shakespeare’s play Henry IV. He succefully presented Shakespeare’s fluent and flexible talent for comedy, as well as his simple but wise language, featuring both high readability and sophistication. In addition, Wu began to prepare for the translation of Dante’s The Divine Comedy since 1951, but the pity is, he destroyed the manuscripts after finishing one-third of the book because of social upheavals. The only remaining part is the 142 lines in the second stanza of the Inferno chapter that was hidden and preserved by Wu’s wife Xie Weiying.

Editor: Yu Hui

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