Poetry translation and modernity in the late 19th century China : on T.F. Wade’s Chinese translation of H.W. Longfellow’s poem ‘A Psalm of Life’
Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) 21st Biennial Conference
Australian National University
British Diplomat and Sinologist Thomas Francis Wades (1811-1895) translation of American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s (1807-1882) A Psalm of Life into Chinese in the 1860s (shortly after the signing of the Treaty of Tientsin) has been read as a piece that gives away Wades poor mastery of Chinese language and his lack of knowledge in classical Chinese poetry, based on its unrhymed verses, its translation flaws, and its being prevailed by a Chinese official Dong Xun’s rewrite into a seven-word poem in 1865. Nevertheless, Wades translation created a sense of pre-matured literary modernity that has been neglected in previous scholarship. There are a few questions about Wades translation that have never been fully discussed, although they were playfully raised by Qian Zhongshu in 1935, including (1) Why A Psalm of Life? (2) Why Longfellow? Moreover, (3) could Wades translation be read otherwise than a pure aesthetic attempt? This paper tries to answer these questions by reading Wades translation in the light of Longfellow’s admiration for Goethe’s idea of weltliteratur and Wades Sino-Western cooperative policy in the 1860s. The paper looks at Wades translation as an instance in which Chinese poetry was exposed to modernity generated in the process of translation as an instance in which Chinese poetry was exposed to modernity generated in the process of translating. It argues against the current scholarly reading of the poetry translation in the late 19th century China as a conservative regressive propensity towards the tradition of classical Chinese poetry. The nature of translating created an inevitable ambivalent propensity towards modernity that was elusive in the poetry translated into late-Qing China.
Song, Z. (2016, July). Poetry translation and modernity in the late 19th century China : on T.F. Wade’s Chinese translation of H.W. Longfellow’s poem ‘A Psalm of Life’. Paper presented at the Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) 21st Biennial Conference, Canberra.