Bijaan Noormohamed ’23 has been published in the May issue of Poetry magazine, the oldest monthly devoted to verse in the English-speaking world. The poem, Jiangnan Song, is an original translation of a Chinese poem from the Qing Dynasty.
More than 21,000 submissions were received for this issue, chiefly from professional poets, professors and translators. With an acceptance rate of just 0.23%, this makes Bijaan’s inclusion as a high school student particularly noteworthy.
“Bijaan’s translation immediately caught my eye for its lush imagery and thoughtful rendition of the Chinese original’s melancholy tone,” said Srikanth Reddy, professor of English and creative writing at the University of Chicago and editor of the issue. “Bijaan can count William Butler Yeats and Rabindranath Tagore among his peers!”
Translation of poetry demands the translator be well-versed in historical context and cultural nuances to create an accurate representation of the poem. When translating 17th century imperial Chinese poetry into English, Bijaan had to thoroughly analyze every character and, as is often the case in literary Chinese, interpret their metaphorical meanings. Using a combination of anthologies, dictionaries and scholarly web sources, Bijaan was able to resuscitate this poetry from the depths of the Qing archives.
“Bijaan is gifted at writing luminous images and at expressing complex emotional states in an astonishingly concise form. He has a nuanced understanding of prosody and the unit of the poetic line,” said Dr. Lauren Brozovich, English instructor.
Bijaan learned how to analyze the thematic and formal features of poems at an advanced level in Dr. Lauren Brozovich’s AP English class this fall. The poetry unit was modeled after a tutorial she taught at Harvard University.
“Dr. Brozovich’s AP English literature poetry seminars encouraged me to approach poetry from a different perspective; studying Marianne Moore’s ekphrastic ‘The Steeple-Jack’ and Elizabeth Bishop’s heartfelt ‘Sestina’ at an advanced level challenged me to explore the endless possibilities of poetry,” Bijaan said. “Additionally, Dr. Brozovich inspired me to submit to The Marque, fueling my creative juices to send my work to Poetry. Finally, combined with a study of Chinese poetry in Ms. Lin’s AP Chinese class and explorations of Qing-era China in Dr. Westrate’s history class, this passion for poetry ultimately allowed me to share Zhang Xun’s beautiful ‘Jiangnan Song’ with the world.”
By Zhang Xun
Translated by By Bijaan Noormohamed
Do not return to the king for some days; sunflowers and wild grains will serve the people. Store your money in your belt; the autumn winds stir your silks.
Colorful hibisci are boundless; the red quilts fold over the cold waves. This autumn night is so long: I feel lonely in the golden boudoir.
Atop the bridge, it is difficult for the purple martin to take flight; the phoenix intends to die before the mirror. Thinking and remembering, yet not seeing, the king, Jiangnan dreams of being ferried west, above the clouds of Longxi Mountain.
The day before yesterday, the book was wet with tears—there’s no need to inspect the pomegranate skirt.