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One of the best poems from 北岛 – 回答 [The Answer] (Intermediate)

Posted by Grace Feng on February 23, 2013

In my generation, very few people would not be impressed by Bei Dao’s famous line: 卑鄙是卑鄙者的通行证,高尚是高尚者的墓志铭 bēibǐ shì bēibǐ zhě de tōngxíngzhèng, gāoshàng shì gāoshàng zhě de mù zhì míng [Shabbiness brands the passage of the shabby, and loftiness marks the death of the lofty.] It is actually the beginning line of his most notable poem 回答 huídá [The Answer]. In today’s post, I’d like to introduce both Bei Dao and his best poem to you through professional recitations.

Here is a brief introduction of Bei Dao’s life from wikipedia:

As a teenager, Bei Dao was a member of the Red Guards, the enthusiastic followers of Mao Zedong who enforced the dictates of the Cultural Revolution, often through violent means. He had misgivings about the Revolution and was “re-educated” as a construction worker, from 1969 to 1980.[4] Bei Dao and Mang Ke founded the magazine Jintian[5] (Today), the central publication of the Misty Poets, which was published from 1978 until 1980, when it was banned. The work of the Misty Poets and Bei Dao in particular were an inspiration to pro-democracy movements in China. Most notable was his poem “Huida” (回答, “The Answer”) which was written during the 1976 Tiananmen demonstrations in which he participated. The poem was taken up as a defiant anthem of the pro-democracy movement and appeared on posters during the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989. During the 1989 protests and subsequent shootings, Bei Dao was at a literary conference inBerlin and was not allowed to return to China until 2006. (Three other leading Misty Poets — Gu ChengDuo Duo, and Yang Lian — were also exiled.) His then wife, Shao Fei, and their daughter were not allowed to leave China to join him for another six years.

Since 1987, Bei Dao has lived and taught in England, Germany, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, France, and the United States. His work has been translated into twenty-five languages, including five poetry volumes in English[6] along with the story collection Waves (1990) and the essay collections Blue House (2000) and Midnight’s Gate (2005). Bei Dao continued his work in exile. His work has been included in anthologies such as The Red Azalea: Chinese Poetry Since the Cultural Revolution (1990)[7] and Out of the Howling Storm: The New Chinese poetry.[8]

Bei Dao has won numerous awards, including the Tucholsky Prize from Swedish PEN, International Poetry Argana Award from the House of Poetry in Morocco and the PEN/Barbara Goldsmith Freedom to Write Award. He is an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

 

This is the recitation of the poem by female voice:

For readers without youtube access, please use the following youku link to view a different recitation (male voice).

 

[simplified Chinese]

回答

北岛

卑鄙是卑鄙者的通行证,

高尚是高尚者的墓志铭,

看吧,在那镀金的天空中,

飘满了死者弯曲的倒影。

冰川纪过去了,

为什么到处都是冰凌?

好望角发现了,

为什么死海里千帆相竞?

我来到这个世界上,

只带着纸、绳索和身影,

为了在审判前,

宣读那些被判决的声音。

告诉你吧,世界

我–不–相–信!

纵使你脚下有一千名挑战者,

那就把我算作第一千零一名。

我不相信天是蓝的,

我不相信雷的回声,

我不相信梦是假的,

我不相信死无报应。

如果海洋注定要决堤,

就让所有的苦水都注入我心中,

如果陆地注定要上升,

就让人类重新选择生存的峰顶。

新的转机和闪闪星斗,

正在缀满没有遮拦的天空。

那是五千年的象形文字,

那是未来人们凝视的眼睛。

 

[pinyin]

huídá

Běi Dǎo

The Answer

bēibǐ shì bēibǐ zhě de tōngxíngzhèng,
gāoshàng shì gāoshàng zhě de mù zhì míng,
kàn ba, zài nà dùjīn de tiānkōng zhōng,
piāo mǎn le sǐzhě wānqū de dàoyǐng。

bīngchuān jì guòqu le,
wèishénme dàochù dōu shì bīng líng?
Hǎowàng Jiǎo fāxiàn le,
wèishénme Sǐ Hǎi lǐ qiān fān xiāng jìng?
wǒ láidào zhège shìjiè shàng,

zhǐ dài zhe zhǐ、 shéngsuǒ hé shēnyǐng,
wèile zài shěnpàn qián,
xuāndú nàxiē bèi pànjué de shēngyīn。

gàosu nǐ ba, shìjiè
wǒ– bù– xiāng– xìn!
zòngshǐ nǐ jiǎoxià yǒu yī qiān míng tiǎozhànzhě,
nà jiù bǎ wǒ suàn zuò dìyī qiān líng yī míng。

wǒ bù xiāngxìn tiān shì lán de,
wǒ bù xiāngxìn léi de huíshēng,
wǒ bù xiāngxìn mèng shì jiǎde,
wǒ bù xiāngxìn sǐ wú bàoyìng。

rúguǒ hǎiyáng zhùdìng yào jué dī,
jiù ràng suǒyǒu de kǔshuǐ dōu zhùrù wǒ xīnzhōng,
rúguǒ lùdì zhùdìng yào shàngshēng,
jiù ràng rénlèi chóngxīn xuǎnzé shēngcún de fēngdǐng。

xīn de zhuǎnjī hé shǎnshǎn xīng dòu,
zhèngzài zhuì mǎn méiyǒu zhē lán de tiānkōng。
nàshi wǔ qiānnián de xiàngxíngwénzì,
nàshi wèilái rénmen níngshì de yǎnjing。

 

[traditional Chinese]

回答

北島

卑鄙是卑鄙者的通行證,

高尚是高尚者的墓志銘,

看吧,在那鍍金的天空中,

飄滿了死者彎曲的倒影。

冰川紀過去了,

為什麼到處都是冰淩?

好望角發現了,

為什麼死海裏千帆相競?

我來到這個世界上,

只帶著紙、繩索和身影,

為了在審判前,

宣讀那些被判決的聲音。

告訴你吧,世界

我–不–相–信!

縱使你腳下有一千名挑戰者,

那就把我算作第一千零一名。

我不相信天是藍的,

我不相信雷的回聲,

我不相信夢是假的,

我不相信死無報應。

如果海洋注定要決堤,

就讓所有的苦水都注入我心中,

如果陸地注定要上升,

就讓人類重新選擇生存的峰頂。

新的轉機和閃閃星鬥,

正在綴滿沒有遮攔的天空。

那是五千年的象形文字,

那是未來人們凝視的眼睛。

 

[English translation]

The Answer

Bei Dao

Shabbiness brands the passage of the shabby
And loftiness marks the death of the lofty.
Behold — the heaven, high above and gilded,
Mirrors the dead below, adrift and twisted.

Why icicles abound
even with the Ice Age long gone?
Why in the Dead Sea sails spawn
even with the Good Hope found?

I came here with nothing
but paper, ropes and my own figure
to, before the judgement, utter
the voices that awaits judging.

Listen, the world —
I – do – not – believe!
I would fain challenge you
even if a thousand before me
have lain under your feet hurled.

I do not believe the sky is blue;
I do not believe the echoes of thunder;
I do not believe the dream is unreal;
I do not believe in undeserved death.

Let all the bitter water fill my heart
Were the sea destined to flood;
Let human choose a new peak to restart
Were the land destined to rise.

New turn-arounds and stars that glitter
Are studding the sky unsheltered; they’re
Hieroglyphs passed down over five millenia
And those gazing eyes in the future.

 

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Practice your Chinese speaking with a ten-line Chinese contemporary poem 偶然
Chinese contemporary poem - By Your Side 与你同行

 

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5 Responses to “One of the best poems from 北岛 – 回答 [The Answer] (Intermediate)”

  1. nothing

    白睿:

    02-26-2013 7:59 pm

    Ha,ha, Grace. I found that a little difficult….are you sure it’s just an elementary poem? :D

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      02-27-2013 3:14 am

      白睿, thanks for pointing this out! I thought the sentence patterns that appeared in this poem were easy and repetitive, that’s why I rated it as elementary. However, vocabulary is a bit difficult. He used lots of metaphors that made it difficult to understand for learners. Now I change it to “intermediate”, thanks! :-)

      Reply

  2. nothing

    白睿:

    02-27-2013 6:49 pm

    不用谢!

    Reply

  3. nothing

    sharon:

    12-07-2013 7:53 am

    Thank you, Grace, for your work on this website. I have been looking for some stories, poems etc for adult students of Chinese who are beginners ,
    To apply what I am learning in a meaningful way. I think this will help me a lot.

    Reply

    • nothing

      Grace Feng:

      12-07-2013 2:41 pm

      Hi Sharon, thanks for your kind words.

      That’s exactly my goal of putting together all the learning material here: to help learners to practice their language in meaningful, hopefully even joyful way.

      Welcome, Sharon. :-)

      Grace

      Reply

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