Golden Rice Sheaves

translated by 

Golden rice stands in sheaves
in the freshly cut autumn field.
I think of many exhausted mothers and see
beautiful, wrinkled faces along the road at dusk.
This is the day of harvest, a full moon hangs
atop the towering trees
and in the twilight, distant mountains
circling my heart.
No statues can ever be more solemn.
Shouldering great weariness, you
lower your head in thought
in the far-reaching field of autumn.
Silence. Silence. History is but a small
stream flowing under your feet.
And you—you just stand there, your thought
becoming a thought of the human race.

Translation from the Chinese

Translator’s note: Zheng Min, who turned 101 in July, is the last living writer of the Nine Leaves of Chinese modernist poets, a term used for nine of the pioneering writers who were active in the 1940s and later published in a monumental collection entitled Nine Leaves (1981). The anthology started a new period of poetry in contemporary China that lasted till the present time with continual debates, several of which were ignited by Zheng’s essays or interviews. This poem was written during the war when three major universities were relocated to Kunming, Yunnan province, named Southwest United University. Zheng attended Southwest United and graduated in 1943. She saw rice fields on the way from the classroom to her dormitory one day.

Zheng Min (b. 1920, Beijing) is one of the most important poets from China. She taught poetry at the Beijing Normal University from 1960 till retirement in 2006. She has published Poems 1942–1947 (1949), Searching (1986), Picking Flowers in the Morning Rain (1991), Poems 1979–1999 (2000), and Collected Poems by Zheng Min (2016). She is also an accomplished translator and critic and published Contemporary American Poetry (1987) and four books of critical essays on Western philosophy and comparative poetics.

Ming Di is a Chinese poet living in the US with six books of poetry published in China. Co-founder and editor of PoetryEastWest, she translates both ways and has published four books of poetry in Chinese translation, including Observations, by Marianne Moore (2018). She has edited and co-translated New Cathay: Contemporary Chinese Poetry (2013) and New Poetry from China, 1917–2017 (2019). She received the 2021 Lishan Poetry Award (for translation) in China.

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