Shanghai Daily says that we ought to expect to see some famous British poems adorning our city’s subways in the near future. From the report:
According to the Cultural and Education Section of the British Consulate General, the selected British classics are “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake, “Daffodils” by William Wordsworth, “Butterfly” by Michael Bullock, and “The Blue Boat” by Kathleen Jamie.
According to a preliminary plan, the Chinese poems on the London underground include works by two Tang Dynasty (618-907) masters — Li Bai and Bai Juyi.
Most of you will know who Wordsworth and Blake are, but might be wondering who the heck Michael Bullock and Kathleen Jamie are. After some searching we found that Michael Bullock was a well-regarded surrealist poet and writer of British extraction who lived and worked in Vancouver for many decades until his death in 2003. Kathleen Jamie is Scottish and the only one of these poets still alive. She was the 2004 winner of the Forward Prize, the UK’s most prestigious annual poetry award. The poem “The Blue Boat” is from her 2004 book entitled The Tree House. You can read a review of it here and it’s easily available for purchase online. In any case, all this should prove quite an interesting cultural exploration, since the poems are to be translated into Chinese with some (or all?) of the lines remaining in English for comparison. Shanghaiist tried tackling Blake’s poem, and it’s a bitch in English, so we hope that either the Chinese version is easier to understand or else we’ll just have to resort to the tried and true method of reading poetry while on drugs.
Another part of this program is the English poetry writing competition, where “contestants are advised to use the ’70 Most Beautiful English Words’ selected by the British Cultural Council in their creation.” Seventy most beautiful English words? Learn all about them here and here. Keep in mind that these words were not chosen by native English speakers, but by learners of the language. That explains words like “shipshape” (#65) and “oi” (which is Yiddish in origin and comes in #65). Bringing up the rear (#70) is “hen night”, and we have no frickin’ clue what that means, but if you want to look it up online be our guest. Shanghaiist would like to conclude by offering this passage from Blake’s “Auguries of Innocence” to all the enlightened leaders of China in case, you know, they miss the subway one day and have to find some other way to get to work:
The whore and gambler, by the state
Licensed, build that nation’s fate.
The harlot’s cry from street to street
Shall weave old England’s winding sheet.
The winner’s shout, the loser’s curse,
Dance before dead England’s hearse.
Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born.
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night.
Image of a Blake painting from ibiblio.org.