blurring via bei dao

Sometimes a poem blurs the line between where one is and what one feels in a fruitful way. In Bei Dao’s “The Boundary,” one sees this kind of blurring happen in the repetition of the phrase “I want to go to the other bank”  and the images between them. The repeated phrase has the directness of desire and logic, which is tested by the images of the river “altering” both sky and speaker. These observations lead up to the repetition of the opening phrase, which, in being repeated, feels like an attempt to counter the altering just implied.

Yangshuo Li River Valley Fisherman China BoatAs the poem develops its ending, the image of a pigeon flying towards the speaker is another observation, another thing altering what is in the poem, and completely interrupting the desire of the opening phrase. The image of the pigeon is one of action; the boundary of the title, then, can be seen as being between this active reaction to the world and the more passive, internal (re)action of observing and desiring that is poetry.


The Boundary – Bei Dao

I want to go to the other bank

The river water alters the sky’s colour
and alters me
I am in the current
my shadow stands by the river bank
like a tree struck by lightning

I want to go to the other bank

In the trees on the other bank
a solitary startled wood pigeon
flies towards me

translated by Bonnie S. McDougall from THE AUGUST SLEEPWALKER


Happy banking!


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2 responses to “blurring via bei dao”

  1. Lovely poem – I like your musings on the writing, too.

    Thanks for sharing

    1. Thank you for stopping, Bill! I appreciate the kind words. Be well! José

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