Happy (?) Friday. I put that question mark in there because I’m at the point in the semester when weekends aren’t actually breaks from working, and all my days are starting to blur together…but anyway, it is Friday. And I should remember to always be thankful for Fridays!
My guest today is Xiaofei, a speaker of Mandarin Chinese. Xiaofei grew up in Beijing. She studied Spanish for several years as a young teenager, and began learning English in college at Beijing University, but says “I did not get to seriously learn English until after I came to the US in 1990.” She now lives in Falls Church, Virginia, where English is the dominant language, but Mandarin Chinese is still the primary language in her home.
She says we might be surprised to know that Chinese has no verb tenses! She also says she has “no idea how others would react to spoken Chinese,” and hopes that listeners can recognize the rhythm of the text she has selected.
*For those of you who might not know this, Chinese is a tonal language, so what you will hear in this clip is both tone, which is part of the language, and rhythm, which is part of the poem.
Xiaofei’s sample is a famous poem by Li Po, one of the greatest poets in Chinese history, and “is about the beauty of being alone and the melancholic joy of solitude.”
Drinking Alone in the Moonlight
Beneath the blossoms with a pot of wine
No friends at hand, so poured wine
I raised my cup to invite the moon
Turned to my shadow, and we became three
Now the moon had never learned about my drinking
And my shadow had merely followed my form
But I quickly made friends with the moon and my shadow
To find pleasure in life, make the most of the spring
Wherever I sang, the moon swayed with me
Whenever I danced, my shadow went wild
Drinking, we shared our enjoyment together
Drunk, then each went off on his own
But forever agreed on dispassionate revels
We promised to meet in the far Milky Way
[The translation is by Elling Eide in Victor Mair, ed., The Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994), p. 203.]
Mandarin Chinese is the world’s most widely spoken language, with 840 million speakers; for comparison, English only has about 330 million native speakers. Even so, I’ve never had the pleasure of listening to poetry in spoken Chinese! Thank you very much Xiaofei, for sharing with us!