Zhuzhu and Chen Ziang
On the Staircase
by Zhu Zhu tr. Fan Jinghua
Now, too many men are on the staircase to be counted.
Go upstairs, but Chopin is already in the dark.
Go downstairs is to die lonely in the crowd.
There has been a time when every national literature has to face some “turns and crossroads,” and people will arrive at them at different times. When a majority of them reach here, the turns or crossroads do not present problems any longer, therefore it is always the loners who feel the deepest uncertainty and anxiety. However, these loners, perceptively keen and powerful as they are, may not write out the most accomplished or monumental works.
Contemporary Chinese poetry has faced many of this turns along its zigzagging course. Some poets, however, are not involved into the superficial debates over which turn to take but engaged into a kind of self-reflection. Essentially, before enough accumulation of texts, no debates about how to write can be substantial.
Zhu Zhu seems to maintain the status of a loner in writing poetry. This poem was written in 1991, when the two schools of “Academic poetry” and “Folk poetry (grassroot, unofficial)” were emerging to draw their lines. This gives this poem some added significance.
This poem was an obvious response to an early Tang poet Chen Zi-ang’s famous “Climbing Youzhou Terrace,” and the terrace becomes Zhu Zhu’s staircase. As a scholar and poet, Chen was intelligent, perceptive and insightful, and as a politician, Chen was imprisoned for being very critical of the Empress Wu Zetian. Chen’s overly famous poem reads:
Calligraphic work of the poem in Chen's museum in Chengdu, Suchuan
Climbing Youzhou Terrace
Chen Zi-ang (661-702 Tang Dynasty)
No one to resort to from the past,
No one to expect in the future.
Thinking of the infinity of heaven and earth,
I, alone, shed my tears of despair.
Chen Zi-ang (661-702) early Tang dynasty poet
Chen Zi-ang might not see himself as Atlas who held the earth on his back, but his despair was sincere and genuine. For the latecomers, the miseries of those forerunners may appear to be too self-inflicted, for history would go on all the same without the “sentimentality.” For us to really appreciate the sentiments, we have to first of all start by acknowledge the authenticity of the feelings, no matter how fragile they might appear.
What Zhu Zhu sees as his despair is not because no one can lead the way but because too many people to be lead. Those men become themselves (here, men should be understood as manly or masculine beings) by climbing to the staircase and keeping apart from the crowd, but they are still a bunch of strayers, like those “superfluous men” in the Russian literary history. They are too many to be counted as individuals.
The speaker in the poem is faced with two options. He can either follow the trodden way of the past masters to be effaced in the darkness or go downstairs to be a lonely sage or enlightener.
朱朱这首诗中看到的不是无人，而是人太多了，太多的迷茫者，太多本质上还是平庸的俗人。他看到的绝望不是无人领头，而是太多的人无法被领去。楼梯上的数不胜数的汉子们（这里的男人的意思便是指这些人也算是汉子了），似乎已经脱离了楼下的人群，然而他们还是迷途者，犹如俄国文学史上的一帮“多余人”。这个说话人却并不融入这些人。汉语中的“数不胜数”说的是数不完，其实也暗示着一眼看去太多了，我已经不愿尽数了，因此我的翻译是too many to be counted太多了，都可以不算数了。也就是说，实际上，这里的数不胜数应该是指“多到不具有个体意义了”，这就是所谓的大多数的意味。