I really loved this short essay by the Chinese artist AI Wei Wei, which I found while seeking inspiration today. Did not know that he came from an artistic family: that his father was an accomplished poet who first studied in France, then began writing, then accepted Mao’s teachings and joined the party, then was determined an enemy by the party for publishing government criticism in the 1950s, then was sentenced to labor in a desert state for his crimes, and forbidden to write, then returned from exile and resumed writing, all before his death at the very old age of 86. His life seems like one of those where you consider the end and the start, and almost marvel that a single person could have witnessed (and in this case been an intimate part of) all the tumultuous events in between..
Today’s poem by Ai Qing (1910-1996) falls, I think, into the general category of "aubade," a hymn of praise to the dawn. I’m guessing that that’s a type that goes back to the classical poets, but I am certainly willing to be corrected or confirmed. Here, though, Ai switches the address: Rather than the poet saluting the dawn, the speaker in this poem is the dawn, heralding the poet to his duty.
Ai Wei Wei mentions in his essay that he read Whitman at an early age, thanks to his dad. Do you hear that egalitarian, universalizing spirit in these lines? -ed
PS: Since I found this on some random, unauthorized website, I do not have access to the Chinese original, nor to the translator’s identity. Apologies for the lack!
THE ANNOUNCEMENT OF THE DAWN
For my sake,
And please tell them
That what they wait for is coming.
Tell them I have come, treading the dew,
Guided by the light of the last star.
I come out of the east,
From the sea of billowing waves.
I shall bring light to the world,
Carry warmth to humankind.
Poet, through the lips of a good man,
Please bring them the message.
Tell those whose eyes smart with longing,
Those distant cities and villages steeped in sorrow.
Let them welcome me,
The harbinger of day, messenger of light.
Open every window to welcome me,
Open all the gates to welcome me.
Please blow every whistle in welcome,
Sound every trumpet in welcome.
Let street-cleaners sweep the streets clean,
Let trucks come to remove the garbage,
Let the workers walk on the streets with big strides,
Let the trams pass the squares in splendid procession.
Let the villages wake up in the damp mist,
And open their gates to welcome me,
Let village women release their chicks from the coops,
Let the peasants bring out their cattle from the sheds.
Poet, announce to them through your passionate lips,
That I am coming from beyond the woods and mountains.
Let them sweep clean their threshing floors
And those always-dirty courtyards,
Let them open those windows pasted with coloured paper,
Let them open those doors pasted with spring couplets.
Please wake up those industrious women,
And those snoring men,
Let young lovers get up too,
And young girls fond of sleeping.
Wake up those mothers who are tired,
And the babies sleeping beside them.
Please wake up every one,
Even the invalid and the pregnant,
Even the infirm with age,
Those groaning in their beds,
Even those wounded in the just war,
And refugees from homes burnt by the enemy.
Please awaken all the miserable people,
I shall give them all comfort.
Please awaken all those who love life.
Workers, engineers and artists.
Let singers come singing to welcome me
With voices savouring of the grass and dew,
Let dancers come dancing to welcome me
Clad in the white mist of the morning.
Let all those who are healthy and beautiful awake,
Tell them that I am coming to knock on their windows.
You, poet, who are loyal to time,
Please bring humanity the news of comfort.
Let all people prepare to welcome me,
I shall come when the cock crows for the last time.
Let them look at the horizon with reverent eyes,
I shall give all those awaiting me the kindest light.
Poet, as night is nearly over, please tell them
That what they have been waiting for is coming.
1942 (first published 1979)