Winter Sun: Poems

Winter Sun: Poems

by Shi Zhi

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Shi Zhi has been a major force in Chinese poetry since 1968, when several of his poems were circulated as secret handwritten manuscripts in the midst of China’s Cultural Revolution. He gave voice to the aspirations of dispirited youth, and although once relegated to obscurity, he is today celebrated as one of China’s most important cultural influences,

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Shi Zhi has been a major force in Chinese poetry since 1968, when several of his poems were circulated as secret handwritten manuscripts in the midst of China’s Cultural Revolution. He gave voice to the aspirations of dispirited youth, and although once relegated to obscurity, he is today celebrated as one of China’s most important cultural influences, having spawned the modern Chinese poetry revolution of the 1980s. This bilingual collection of Shi Zhi’s most significant poems, featuring an afterword by the poet himself, is the first book-length publication of his work in English. Masterfully translated by Jonathan Stalling, and with an introduction by leading poetry critic Zhang Qinqua, this landmark collection ensures that Shi Zhi’s poetry—so important to Chinese readers during the most challenging of times—will engage the hearts and minds of new readers the world over for years to come.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“To read Winter Sun from cover to cover is to travel on a journey that tests one’s fiber, for this is a collection that exhibits a combination of innate talent and acquired skill, a work that reveals suffering and joy in an often incomprehensible world, a work that ultimately rewards the reader with the final, redemptive voice of a poet who has gone right to the edge of the abyss and returned to inscribe it with palpable skill.”—Christopher Lupke, editor of Perspectives on Contemporary Chinese Poetry

Product Details

University of Oklahoma Press
Publication date:
Chinese Literature Today Book Series
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.80(d)

Read an Excerpt

Winter Sun


By Shi Zhi, Jonathan Stalling


Copyright © 2011 University of Oklahoma Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8061-4241-8



    1. Waves and Ocean

    Clamorous waves
    And a deep ocean
    Fervently attract me
    And eagerly draw me forward

    When I am depressed
    I find solace in its broad chest
    When I am weak
    I need its unwavering resolution

    It is because I am so ordinary
    That I yearn for the ocean's great power
    It is because I appear so homely
    That I love its deep, luminous blue

    I will always sing of you
    Of your loud, impassioned waves
    I will always bow before you
    Before this deep ocean blue

    2. The Ocean without Waves

    No! Friend, get as far away as you can
    Leave this ocean that can no longer lift its waves
    With scalding tears, I beg you
    Go search for your own promising future

    Get as far away as you can
    Leave this ocean without waves
    It has fallen fast asleep
    Like someone homeless dozing under an eave at night

    It has lost its youthful vigor
    Even its honest voice
    Worse still
    It has lost its righteous spirit

    My friend, why are you crying
    Let it out if you need to
    Just don't cry over its lost youth
    Cry instead for its ever-fighting spirit

    Please get as far away from this silent ocean as you can
    Yet never, ever forget
    How its waves once surged forward
    Rushing headlong into the future

    Today it remains unbearably silent
    How many feelings lie buried within
    It is still saving its power
    Anxiously waiting for its time ...

    No! Friend, get as far away as you can
    Leave me here alone ...
    So that I can stay with this waveless sea
    Staggering, hesitating

    3. For Friends

    —Fewer tears should be used to express grief and joy
    Instead, more poems should be used to praise bravery
    "Set Sail—"
    Passionate winds call out to me
    An excited joy takes hold
    And carries this voice far, so far away

    We are not reunited by our old dreams
    But fight shoulder-to-shoulder once more
    Young comrades-in-arms
    Quickly, hoist the sails and unfasten the cables

    This wretched little boat
    Cannot be used as the Red Guard's warship
    Forget it! A drunk leaning against the table
    Life's road is never a smooth one

    "Life's pleasures are but money squandered
    Courage can always be exchanged for a feast"
    The greed-contorted face of a money worshipper

    There are those who spend their days with the God of Love
    Young lovers walking down grass-covered paths
    No longer yearn for the joy of the storm
    But lose themselves in the warmth of their little families
    "Set Sail—"

    The dejected wind calls out, sobbing
    Warm tears fall upon the sand
    And kiss the footprints of those who have left for distant lands

    Suddenly I realize from the depths of my grief
    That the arms behind the oars are so puny
    And the sailor's clothes and bags
    Are so flimsy and cheap

    Mao Tse-tung's collected works
    Are tightly clasped to his warm chest
    A Chairman Mao badge
    Glows golden under the setting sun

    A washed-out army uniform
    Has endured the flames of war with his parents
    And the army belt

    Now follows the children to experience the storm
    Held high, waving toward the shore
    Are farewell's arms
    Sss sss, thickly raining down the chest
    Are departure's tears

    A graying old man hurries to send him off
    Sunken eyes glimmering with tears
    "My child, never stop moving forward
    Keep your eyes on the Big Dipper"

    With a soft, deeply trusting warning
    He drifts away with the winds, sailing
    As the winds carry them back to shore
    They are little more than the aching sounds of oars

    Tonight the infinite sky is only dimly lit by stars
    Gales ignite beacons across the ocean of fate
    Its sail lowered, the boat is an unbridled warhorse
    Courageously lifting its bloody mane
    Suddenly falling into a valley of waves
    It is buried in limitless depths
    Where, where has it gone
    The sailboat I have hoped for

    Wailing winds push waves into the sky
    Spirit craft, propelled by oars of will
    This is no longer a smiling solon
    But a blood-covered battlefield

    Like an autumn wind sweeping away a fallen leaf
    Oceanic fate
    Where are you leading this boat?
    To hell? Or heaven?

    "Pull the boat closer, keep left
    This is a bay of schooling fish"
    A sound arrives from far off on the left
    From a fishing boat trolling the sea of fate for profit

    "Let the storm break in all its fury!"
    A suppressed yell from deep beneath the ocean echoes
    "Let the cowards die
    The living will be all the more courageous"

    Look, our small boat
    It's riding the crest of a wave
    You can see her arrogant manner
    Like a proud petrel



    My friend, please don't ask me with your eyes
    Whether an end like this is too abrupt
    Just wait for the torrent of life to pass
    Then leave us your passionate and sincere words

    First draft, February 1965/final version, February 1, 1968


    This poem was inspired by a portrait of a woman that was given to
    her husband, a Decembrist, before he was sent to a labor camp.

    The god of melancholia has overtaken you
    My dear wife—
    He tortures me as well and
    Calls you back into memory time and again

    Yet I cannot abandon myself to grief
    Because the god of liberty needs me alive
    Who else will defend our garrison
    Who else will seize the enemy's position?

    Whenever I think of living on
    I miss you all the more
    Whenever I think of living on
    I am reminded of your pure devotion
    Is it possible that in life's hard travels

    God no longer lightens our loads?
    Is it possible that yesterday's endless love
    Will only sharpen today's bitter farewells?

    We must always plant truth firmly in our minds
    In times of joy and misery
    Our hearts must always look forward
    So we don't lose our courage forever


    Your portrait is wonderfully drawn
    Not because you look so beautiful
    But because it reveals your divine heart

    To thank you
    For your steadfast love
    I pray to the northern spring winds
    To kiss you full, my dear wife


    Tell me the truth
    My imprisoned love
    Who revealed to you
    The unspeakable grief I endure?

    Is it the darkened sight of misery
    Or the thinned face of melancholy
    Is it the cheeks atrophied by forever waiting
    Or the teeth marks left on painful lips

    Faint and endless grief
    Is really love's gardener
    Venus, no longer a knowing smile,
    Is but a pair of glazed eyes

    Tell me the truth, my imprisoned love
    Across a thousand miles of exhausting wind and dirt
    Has love embittered you with an even greater burden
    Or have tears moistened your eyes?

    Tell me the truth, my imprisoned love
    Under the leather whip can you still lose yourself in peace?
    Amid their crude insults is there any sympathy?
    Thinking of these, my heart pounds violently against my chest

    St. Petersburg is still hibernating under a quilt of snow
    As Siberia has long since begun to revive
    While St. Petersburg still waits under an endless night
    Siberia has already begun to rush toward dawn

    Tell me the truth, my imprisoned love
    Does Siberia have entangled vines nearby?
    Are there green leaves of hope densely woven into them?
    Is the dew forming on deadwood glittering like tears?

    Tell me, do tell me one more time
    When will we meet again?
    Will it be next year as green leaves hang from branches
    Or this year, snow drifting in the wind?



    A good reputation is a banknote that can never be broken
    A bad reputation is a chain from which one cannot break free
    If this is the nature of the real world
    Let me drift forever on the monotony of the sea

    Where can I find a reliable raft?
    Destitute, I can only wander empty city streets
    Looking for a friendly door to knock on
    To bum at least a little change

    My life is a withered leaf tossed and drifting
    My future, an infertile grain of barley
    If this is my destiny
    Let me sing with abandon for the wild brambles

    Even as their thorns puncture my heart
    My blood is like fire, red, flaming
    Creeping toward clamorous rivers
    Though my body dies, my spirit will never be silenced!




    Beneath layers of indifferent ice, a fish flows with the current
    Its bitter sighs cannot be heard
    Since it cannot find any warm sunlight
    Why would it greet and send off the glorious day?

    If there are no waves in reality
    Why does it bathe in the blood of struggle?
    If its future is distant beyond measure
    How can it take refuge in hope?

    Fish can only find spiritual solace
    In sweet memory
    Let its bittersweet tears
    Again hold up the pale stories of the past

    It is not the time for chasing blooms in spring winds
    Or resting peacefully beneath the summer sun
    Nor is it the time for feeling the chill of early spring winds
    Or seeing the rippling green water of midsummer

    But it's when nature is covered in white bandages
    And the bleeding wounds have just healed
    There are no more withered leaves lingering on the ground
    Or cold rain endlessly falling from the sky

    How fiercely it leaps from the water
    To not lose the freedom of breath
    How wildly it strikes back
    To not lose what advantages it still may possess

    Though every leap ends in failure
    Every jump falls short
    Yet the steely fish still has the nerve
    To hold back for the final push

    At last finding a thin patch of ice
    Yes, it bends back like a bow and springs
    With head down and tail extended, it soars into the air
    So nimble, so strong

    Faint sunlight ripples through the water
    Gently stroking its bleeding fins
    My child, I'm afraid this may be our last encounter
    Until we meet next spring

    Facing the sun, it joyously jumps again
    Able to breathe above the water now and then
    Its wisps of crimson blood disperse into the stream
    Waving like red flags upon the battlefield

    Suddenly, with a spasm of sharp pain,
    It sinks unconscious into the depths
    Oh my fish, you are still young
    How can this be your end?!

    Stop sinking, stop sinking
    My heart babbles in its hushed voice
    Finally snapping awake
    Desperate, it flashes toward the sunlight

    When it emerges from the water again
    It has given its all
    Cold lips opening and closing without a sound
    From the undulating water rises a noble voice

    "Never fear the callous wind and snow
    Never surrender to the bitter winter's breath"
    Voice fading, it plunges back into the water
    Without looking back, it swims onward

    Beneath layers of indifferent ice, a fish slides with the current
    Its suffering moans cannot be heard
    Since it cannot find any warm sunlight
    Why should it meet and send off the glorious day?


    Cutting a hole in the ice beneath the cover of night
    A fisherman quickly sets his nets
    Provisions of food and tobacco stacked on the shore
    Enveloped in clouds, he waits for the blue-gray dawn

    Why do the suspended stars glitter like translucent tears?
    Can there be true friendship in the dark?
    Why has the fish not yet discovered
    That the fingers of dawn have already plucked the cold, rattling stars?

    A brilliant ray of sunlight flashes
    And the fish can barely open its eyes
    It thaws dreams frozen in the ice
    And gently wakes the fish from its deep sleep

    "Oh my child, do you still remember me?
    Can you call out my name?
    Are you still searching for the destiny I have written for you?
    Are you still searching for freedom and the light?"

    Hearing the sun's questions
    The fish opens its baffled eyes
    It attempts to shake its numb tail
    A pair of fins gently patting its breast

    "Sunshine of freedom, please tell me the truth
    Is this the spring of hope?
    Is there inedible bait lying off the shore?
    Are there any traces of returning geese in the sky?"

    Silence, silence, awful silence
    It can't throw even the faintest echo
    The fish's heart quivers in a jolt
    It hears branches screaming in pain

    Vigilance urges the fish directly forward
    Infatuated with the sun's glow
    It wants to cast the sun's radiance down across
    The vague road of its future ...

    Only when all hope is lost
    Does the fish see the ferocious nets closing in
    "Where is spring?" tears pooling in its eyes
    Again it begins its journey beneath the ice

    Like the fisherman devouring his food
    The sun tears through his insatiable nets
    In the rising cloud of his tobacco
    The fisherman dreams of a bountiful harvest


    So long desired, spring's revival finally arrives
    The sun's long, sharp blade reveals its power
    And callously severs the icebound river
    As sheets of struggling ice crash together

    Beneath layers of ice, a python has slept the year through
    Barely emerging, it swiftly withdraws to the river bottom
    The frogs, wearing the banners of battlefield singers,
    Are frightened and scurry in all directions to hide

    My fish, my fish
    Where are you, where have you gone?
    Have you yearned for winter, and if you did die
    Your body should float up to the surface!

    It's true, the fish really did die
    Its dull eyes are as pale as the moon
    Just now, its gills moved so faintly
    Falling back like quiet waves

    It was still so young, so headstrong
    Because it so fervently sought the sun and its freedom
    It leapt from the water without fear of the consequences
    Only to fall upon the ice, which will melt in time

    At the point of death, the fish struggled upon the ice
    The sun quickly hid its light behind the clouds
    Unwilling to watch her child
    Such a young fish to share this fate

    But the fish was ready to give his life
    "Sun, I am your child
    Please pull out your sharp sword
    Let me dissolve together with the ice"

    It's true, the fish really did die
    Its dull eyes are as pale as the indifferent moon
    Just now, its gills moved so faintly
    Falling back like quiet waves

    One newborn leaf after another
    Falls without wind, scattering through the air
    With a faint tear-like rain
    To cover the dead fish in silence

    Is it a heap of sharp white bones
    Or a rich storehouse of spirit?
    My soul, its green tomb,
    Will it provoke deep, wandering thoughts?

    When the ice has dissolved
    And the river relaxes its waves
    Frogs leap from the grass
    Pythons swim out from the algae

    After a full meal, the pythons listen quietly
    To the frogs' elegiac songs
    And weep piteous tears
    When the frogs sing of the fish's death



    From a lit cigarette, a dream of the future rises
    The blue cloud is the dawn of hope once struggled for
    But now it becomes a fog of depression in my heart
    Condensed into a deep cloud of unfalling rain

    I push open the bright window
    To greet the refreshing rural breeze
    How I long to hold on to the fading smoke
    That is your shadow bidding me farewell

    Summer 1968


    As if brewed from blood, a fire-red wine
    Overflows a euphoric glass with fervor
    The glass trembles in my hand
    As your beautiful eyes appear upon the sloshing wine

    I am drunk with joy
    But for the peace of my soul
    I will finish this off
    Drinking down all of your passion

    Summer 1968


    When autumn winds scatter golden leaves
    Heartbroken, I feel the murmuring farewell of mourning
    A gentle rain mixing with bitter tears
    Fills the trembling wineglasses in our hands

    In autumn a broken-hearted day breaks
    A honied fruit falls from its stem
    Fruit-bearing branches and vines full of dew
    Her beloved friends are forever left behind

    A poignant voice speaks out:
    "Friends, remember me, always remember me"
    Yes, this is what I say

    As time passes numbly
    You will lose your finer memories
    Like quietly falling orchid petals
    Quilting Mother Earth with their bounty

    Perhaps it is the right time
    When white flowers open for me
    I leave footprints behind for death
    Still running on toward the future

    A cold voice speaks out
    "Friends, forget me, forget me forever"
    Yes, this is what I say

    Autumn 1968


Excerpted from Winter Sun by Shi Zhi, Jonathan Stalling. Copyright © 2011 University of Oklahoma Press. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF OKLAHOMA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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