11 June 2009

Sylvia Plath in Chinese

Earlier this month I received an email from Fan Jinghua that I thought could be a wonderful guest post for this blog. You should know Fan's name and work for he contributed the wonderful essay "Sylvia Plath's Visual Poetics" to Kathleen Connors and Sally Bayley's Eye Rhymes: Sylvia Plath's Art of the Visual. Fan also maintains the blog Poetry Chinese. Fan's blog regularly publishes his own translations of Plath's poems into Chinese. From Fan:

I was planning to read a paper on Plath's reception (and mis-reading) in China, and this is a book cover I would like to illustrate. The poetry book is entitled Haizi (and) Luo Yihe Work, which was published in 1991 in Nanjing. Haizi was a graduate from Peking University, a poet, born on March 26, 1964, and committed suicide on the same day at his 25 birthday in 1989 by lying on a railroad. His suicide is the most celebrated suicide and he is now a poet martyr.

He had nothing to do Plath, but when this book was published, with his friend Luo Yihe who died from heart attack three months after Haizi's death, the book cover related them to Plath in a strange way. On the back cover, there are two lines of words, with the author's country and name, which literally reads:

death is an art, poet's death
actually equals to poet's rebirth.
-----[US] Sylvia Plath

As there is no distinction between "dying" and "death" in Chinese translation (and there is no distinction between singular and plural forms of "poet" here), the first half line should be a "faithful" translation from Plath, but no one knows how come there are the following one and a half lines. Still, these two lines were once quite popular and much quoted.

In terms of "dying," misquotes include "suicide is an art," and the story goes that Plath was fascinated by "suicide" that she did it ten times. Ten, of course, is another misreading of "I have done it again. One year in every ten."

Her (and Hughes) publication in Chinese includes The Bell Jar (three versions already in the Mainland and one in Taiwan) and Anne Stevenson's Bitter Fame, Hughes's Birthday Letters (with quite a few notes from his sister, probably on the condition of copyright arrangement).

There is not a Plath poetry book in Chinese, and about forty poems have appeared in official publications (books and magazines with ISBN).


Fan indicated that later this summer Plath's poems - translated into Chinese - will be published in two or three issues of a privately published and circulated magazine. This includes all the poems in 1961, 1962 and 1963 section in her Collected Poems (except for Three Women).

He also told me about a book which talks much about Sylvia Plath's influence on contemporary Chinese women poetry:

Zhang, Jeanne Hong. The Invention of a Discourse: Women's Poetry from Contemporary China. Leiden: CNWS Publication. 2004. pp.304 (ISBN 978-90-5789-096-3). This book is perhaps the first and only one that focuses on Sylvia Plath's influence on Chinese women's poetry. Copies can be found at libraries throughout the US and internationally. From my perspective it is so refreshing - and important - to know that Plath has made an impact outside of English speakers.

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Publications & Acknowledgements

  • BBC Four.A Poet's Guide to Britain: Sylvia Plath. London: BBC Four, 2009. (Acknowledged in)
  • Biography: Sylvia Plath. New York: A & E Television Networks, 2005. (Photographs used)
  • Connell, Elaine. Sylvia Plath: Killing the angel in the house. 2d ed. Hebden Bridge: Pennine Pens, 1998. (Acknowledged in)
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 3." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 119-138.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 4: Looking for New England." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012: 11-56.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives 5: Reanimating the Past." Plath Profiles 6. Summer 2013: 27-62.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives, Redux." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 232-246.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. "These Ghostly Archives." Plath Profiles 2. Summer 2009: 183-208.
  • Crowther, Gail and Peter K. Steinberg. These Ghostly Archives: The Unearthing of Sylvia Plath. Oxford: Fonthill, 2017.
  • Death Be Not Proud: The Graves of Poets. New York: Poets.org. (Photographs used)
  • Doel, Irralie, Lena Friesen and Peter K. Steinberg. "An Unacknowledged Publication by Sylvia Plath." Notes & Queries 56:3. September 2009: 428-430.
  • Elements of Literature, Third Course. Austin, Tex. : Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 2009. (Photograph used)
  • Gill, Jo. "Sylvia Plath in the South West." University of Exeter Centre for South West Writing, 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Helle, Anita Plath. The Unraveling Archive: Essays on Sylvia Plath. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2007. (Photographs used, acknowledged in)
  • Helle, Anita. "Lessons from the Archive: Sylvia Plath and the Politics of Memory". Feminist Studies 31:3. Fall 2005: 631-652.. (Acknowledged in)
  • Holden, Constance. "Sad Poets' Society." Science Magazine. 27 July 2008. (Photograph used)
  • Making Trouble: Three Generations of Funny Jewish Women, Motion Picture. Directed by Rachel Talbot. Brookline (Mass.): Jewish Women's Archive, 2007. (Photograph used)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Karen V. Kukil. The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath, 1950-1962. New York: Anchor Books, 2000. (Acknowledged in)
  • Plath, Sylvia, and Peter K. Steinberg and Karen V. Kukil (eds.). The Letters of Sylvia Plath, Volume 1, 1940-1956. London: Faber, 2017. Forthcoming.
  • Plath, Sylvia. Glassklokken. Oslo: De norske Bokklubbene, 2004. (Photograph used on cover)
  • Reiff, Raychel Haugrud. Sylvia Plath: The Bell Jar and Poems (Writers and Their Works). Marshall Cavendish Children's Books, 2008.. (Images provided)
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'A Fetish: Somehow': A Sylvia Plath Bookmark." Court Green 13. 2017.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'I Should Be Loving This': Sylvia Plath's 'The Perfect Place' and The Bell Jar." Plath Profiles 1. Summer 2008: 253-262.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "'They Had to Call and Call': The Search for Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3. Summer 2010: 106-132.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "A Perfectly Beautiful Time: Sylvia Plath at Camp Helen Storrow." Plath Profiles 4. Summer 2011: 149-166.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Proof of Plath." Fine Books & Collections 9:2. Spring 2011: 11-12.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Sylvia Plath." The Spoken Word: Sylvia Plath. London: British Library, 2010.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Textual Variations in The Bell Jar Publications." Plath Profiles 5. Summer 2012.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "The Persistence of Plath." Fine Books & Collections. Autumn 2017: 24-29
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "This is a Celebration: A Festschrift for The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath." Plath Profiles 3 Supplement. Fall 2010: 3-14.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. "Writing Life" [Introduction]. Sylvia Plath in Devon: A Year's Turning. Stroud, Eng.: Fonthill Media, 2014.
  • Steinberg, Peter K. Sylvia Plath (Great Writers). Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2004.