Fishing Up Stars from a Rotten Orchard2 min read

Poems by Yu Xinqiao – translated by Denis Mair


Translator’s note: Yu Xinqiao styles himself a recluse, but I have never met anyone whose private life is so seamlessly interwoven with the activities of a large cultural circle. Evenings in his studio are a spontaneous salon, where artists, filmmakers, cultural officials and business people all meet. Yu is close to some of the most active figures of Beijing’s 798 Art District, where he often speaks on cultural trends. His finger is firmly on the pulse of his era, yet his poetry transmits an intensely personal response to the times. He is an incurable romantic, a man who often views himself through relationships with women, a man quietly connected to the world around him. – Denis Mair



At any given time or place

I only need one lock

Beauty is a lock

Kindness is a lock

Loyalty is a lock

Happiness is a lock

I make a request to these four locks

To keep my whole life locked up

And you… you too are a lock

I request that you lock me up firmly

Why is pain also a lock?

Why does a cloud lock half of me to the sky

And a forest lock half of me to the earth?

Why do all locks get opened?

Why do all locks finally get locked to emptiness?


At the Most Painful Place in the Chinese Language

Distant civilization flickers and gutters

Distant persons recede even farther

I batten down doors and windows

Even so an ocean

Overfills my drinking vessel

Once again I see gang fights

Among beautiful women

Feathers are strewn around my house

Once again the ugliest faces

Are getting extra layers of makeup

Our peaceful era gets ever more dangerous

The nobler you are, the more you have to clean up garbage

The lowlier you are, the more you have to gaze at stars

Once again

I stand amid clumps of grass

Roots entangled with roots

Once again

My pen-tip emits smoke

A stone spits up blood

At the most painful place of the Chinese language

I switch on the dawn


Fishing up Stars from a Rotten Orchard

The axe of poetry splits open a fogbank

Music fills a fisherman’s pensive hours

Your clarity still goes all the way down

Fleeting love flows away more swiftly

Yet you are still loyal

Though anyone in the world

Might hurl a slur at you

You never let it do a hair of damage

O solitary fisherman

You cast your long line of beauty

Amid all kinds of foolish ignorance

Your time has finally come

From a rotten orchard, you fish up stars

From hell’s maelstrom, you fish up heaven ∎

See the original versions here.