"The Wasteland" Centennial | Zhang Dinghao: Commemorating a Poet's Ability

    Every April, many people quote the beginning of Eliot's classic poem "The Wasteland" on social platforms: "April is the cruelest month" -- 2022 happens to be the 100th anniversary of the publication of "The Wasteland".
    "The Waste Land" is the representative work of British poet Eliot, whose publication is known as "a milestone in Western modern poetry". In October 1922, The Waste Land was first published in the inaugural issue of Eliot's own quarterly journal, The Standard. At the end of the same year, it was published in a single volume in the United States. Eliot also added more than fifty notes to the single volume.
    In April, The Paper reporters interviewed several Chinese poets, many of whom are critics, writers, Scholar, translator, editor of literary journals.
    This article is an exclusive interview with The Paper on "The Wasteland" by Zhang Dinghao, a poet and young critic. Zhang Dinghao

    Zhang Dinghao

    The Paper: When did you first read "The Wasteland" and how did you feel at the time?
    Zhang Dinghao : I actually forgot a little, maybe after the age of twenty-five, when I was a graduate student at Fudan University. Because I read the translation, I don't seem to have any special feelings. Eliot attracts and influences me mainly because of his poetry, because less is lost in prose translation than in poetry translation.
    Later I reread it occasionally, taking a sentence or two from it. For example, "Under the brown fog on a winter morning, / A group of people flowed across London Bridge, oh, so much / I didn't expect death to destroy so much" (translated by Zha Liangzheng), I wrote a poem I saw in the early morning beside the viaduct The flow of people to work, "so many figures pass under the bridge, / infiltrate the tall buildings along the way, in the winter wind", is an allusion to the words "The Wasteland". Of course, these lines of "The Waste Land" also have a source, that is, "The Divine Comedy", Eliot claimed that Dante had the greatest influence on him. I also love The Divine Comedy. But in general, the mood of The Waste Land was a little alien to me, and of course that belonged to Elliott as a young man. I'd be a little more intimate with "The Four Quartets" than "The Waste Land," a more determined and tempered Elliott.
    The Paper: Which of Eliot's poems influenced you?
    Zhang Dinghao: A few years ago, I read TS Eliot's "Andrew Marvell" and was deeply moved by the opening paragraph, "Marwell's grave does not need roses, rue or laurel to adorn it, There is no wrongful case here to be vindicated; his question, if any, is only for our own benefit." This is also the principle of "the ancient scholar for himself", but it is more modern and can be directly put into the practice of writing. Andrew Marvell was born in the seventeenth century. He lived in China about the same time as the late Ming Dynasty. He was a veritable classical poet. However, according to Eliot, the classical poets three hundred years ago were no longer lying Talking about the mummy in the coffin for exploration or appreciation, he resurrects and examines our writing, across the divisions and changes of languages and cultures, he hopes that we still have the ability to feel the full experience of the human mind, in this way, as older colleagues , he may also be helpful to us who are still writing poetry today. In this way, in the turmoil of "everything lost its center" at the beginning of the last century, Eliot established a certain revival of classicism with a fighter attitude.
    We must make it clear that the "classic" that Eliot said has its specific conceptual orientation, and the opposite concept is "romantic", not "present", and this "classic" is precisely capable of acting on " current. Eliot has repeatedly explained what the classics are in his articles. He believes that the classics are "the product of the mature mind", and the mature mind is derived from the complete historical consciousness, which allows the poet to move from the "here and now". Breaking out of the narrow space and time, with a humble attitude, it merges into a grander order.
    As far as the writing of the article is concerned, the past-oriented classification, comparison and judgment are commonly used by Eliot in criticizing articles, so the effect it produces is a panoramic view and an immersive sense of presence. The archangel leads the flight through the sky. "Four Quartets"

    "Four Quartets"

    The Paper: In The Waste Land, can you already feel that Eliot wants to revive a certain kind of classicism?
    Zhang Dinghao: I didn't feel that way when I first read "The Wasteland", because this poem has been described by literary history as the beginning of modernity. When I read it, it will not be linked to classicism at all. This will have to be read in the future. Only his own poetry can understand.
    The Paper: You said earlier that "Four Quartets" is a bit more intimate than "The Wasteland", that is a more determined and tempered Eliot. How is "The Tempered Elliott" different from the Elliott who wrote "The Waste Land"? Where is the specific characterization after "quenching"?
    Zhang Dinghao: Behind "The Wasteland" is an unfortunate marriage formed hastily at a young age. He doesn't love his wife Vivienne, and when she realizes this, she begins to burn his conscience with her own ailments and attachments, and he indulges it, both gently and darkly, until the heart changes. hard and desolate. And it was born out of such a state of mind, in Eliot's own words, "cutting yourself into small pieces every now and then, and seeing which piece sprouts", and in the words of his biographer Gordon, "Ai The key to Lott's life's writing is how to transform maddening moods into general dramatic conflicts." This is the self-salvation of the artist alone.
    And "Four Quartets" was born out of the consolation and purification of love after middle age. In this masterpiece, each line of poetry is like life, self-sufficient, with both its woes that can be told and its unspeakable. These multiple woes are like fire forging lines and people, until These lines become light and infinite, like the dry wind, like the sound of thunder, they stay above the passing river, the ashes stirred up by a vat of rose petals, or remain in a state of inextricable stalemate, like Most of the real life in the universe shakes the universe silently. And his secret lover, Emily Hale, stands behind this immortal poem, silently sharing the core of his creation, "The Center of Light." Lyndell Gordon, The Biography of T. S. Eliot

    Lyndell Gordon, TS Eliot

    The Paper: But "The Wasteland" still has an impact on you and your generation of Chinese poets?
    Zhang Dinghao: It is difficult for me to answer this, I have not observed it. All I can say is that for me, these translated poems affect me with specific sentences, specific fragments. Maybe this one this time, that one next time. Or a tone of voice. But on the whole, The Waste Land is not imitable, and imitations will end badly. What can be learned is to think about how Elliott draws some solid images and pictures, and even sounds, very boldly from various sources.
    The Paper: Why is it said that it cannot be imitated? Compared with other Chinese and Western classic poems, where is its "imitation"?
    Zhang Dinghao: Every classic poem cannot be imitated. Behind "The Waste Land" is not only the universal epochality he feels, but also his own personal emotional experience, which is the starting point of any lyric poetry. Eliot, taken in 1933, Visual China data map

    Elliott's 1933 Visual China Data Map

    The Paper: In April of this year, many people began to quote "April is the cruelest month". How do you see the relationship between this long poem and the present? When we commemorate Eliot, we commemorate The Waste Land, what are we commemorating?
    Zhang Dinghao: Probably the vast majority of people have only read the beginning of "The Wasteland". I also wrote a long poem in April with a few lines in dialogue with this famous opening, "In April, the spring rains are unusually calming, / Make us renounce memories and desires, and focus on / Deep in the refrigerator Nutrients that are getting sparser.”
    I don't think that the current Chinese mood can be explained and comforted from "The Wasteland", but as poets, we can learn from Eliot's writing style, and accumulate the emotions of the times we feel, instead of venting them. Going back to the depths of tradition with this accumulated emotion - for us, tradition is not only Chinese tradition, but also Western tradition; not only classical tradition, but also the tradition of the twentieth century that has just passed, find a way for this kind of emotion. The right voice mask, through which the truth can be told.
    When we commemorate Eliot, I feel like we are commemorating a poet's ability to hold the world together, especially in chaotic times, and revisiting his teachings on "tradition and individual talent" , in an age where the individual is less and less important, allowing yourself to be the intermediary between the past and the future.
    The Paper: What exactly is Eliot's ability to "accumulate the emotions of the times he feels"? Do you think that undiscriminated reality and experience are superficial, and that only through the accumulated emotions of the times can we truly capture and effectively face the reality of the world?
    Zhang Dinghao: Lyrical poetry is not to express emotions, but to digest and process emotions, and it can also be put into communication, which requires time and patience. There is no absolutely objective reality that is equally distributed to everyone, and if so, there is no need for any communication; at the same time, there is no completely subjective experience that cannot be shared, and if so, there is no communication possible . Poets bring their own experiences from this era back to history, traditions, and all things. With the help of various analogies, they transform individual experience into universal experience, and extract the reality beyond the specific era from the reality they feel.


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