Homages to Seamus Heaney have been pouring out from his friends and admirers across the world, including, it turns out, China. On August 30 and soon after, my poet friends here in Beijing and around the PRC posted expressions of their sadness, often along with a Chinese translation of one of Heaney’s poems. “Digging” is a particular favorite here, as elsewhere. The piece below is my translation of the distinguished Chinese poet Zang Di’s (臧棣) own private eulogy to Heaney, printed here with his permission. This moving tribute from a distant literary culture is a testament the universal nature of Heaney’s poetry, and to the basic humanity that underpinned his work.
After the New Society for Wisdom
--in memory of Seamus Heaney 1939-2013
By Zang Di
The love of Ireland. Far enough
but not unfamiliar. With every dig,
Ireland’s orchids follow
that new wisdom, and find in the language of loneliness
a supreme support. The deep green tips of leaves sway
the careful heart. How will the pistils trembling
in those worded intentions regard
this side of human life, now poetry’s prisoners.
As for the hole left by the digging, only sweat
can fill it. Only this kind of hole
leads to a deeper trust in this wearisome world.
Call the after-images—
they’ve already persisted this long
in a landscape set in the landscape. Love is ice.
If you don’t believe it, you can go see for yourself.
The last day of August came like an elephant.
Don’t look at me that way—for now, I’m blind.
Blind men for dark times.
As Delmore Schwartz, Humboldt’s model
in Humboldt’s Gift, painfully said—
“For like a gun is touch.” All grim,
but still you open the blacksmith’s oily shop curtain,
to teach me to be like a hammer, to trust in every touch.
--trans. Eleanor Goodman
——纪念谢默斯·希尼( Seamus Heaney 1939- 2013)
Eleanor Goodman is a writer and a translator from Chinese. Her work appears in journals such as PN Review, Chutzpah 天南, Pleiades, Cha, and The Best American Poetry website. She is a Research Associate at the Fairbank Center for Chinese Studies at Harvard University, and this year she will be at Beijing University on a Fulbright Fellowship. She has held writing residencies at the Vermont Studio Center and the American Academy in Rome. Her book of translations, The Selected Poems of Wang Xiaoni, is forthcoming from Zephyr Press.