In Deep

vera Schwarcz
Author photo by John Wareham  

In Ancestral Intelligence, Vera Schwarcz has added a forceful and fascinating work to her ever-growing list of publications depicting the cultural landscape of contemporary China. Here, she has created stunning “renditions” of poems by a mid-20th Century dissident poet, Chen Yinke, and has added a group of her own poems in harmony with Chen Yinke’s. Like his, her poems show a degradation of culture and humanity, in this case through comparison of classic and modern Chinese logographs. Early readers of the book have been universally enthusiastic. Sam Hamill writes, “This deeply engaging celebration of the life and work of Chen Yinke is masterful in its blending of biography, history, linguistics, and poetic adaptation. If the scholarship is vast, the presentation is elegantly swift and insightful. And the poetry (not only Chen Yinke’s but also the author’s own collection of ‘logograph poems’) speaks clearly, powerfully, and passionately. Ancestral Intelligence is a magnificent accomplishment.” Mai Mang (Yibing Huang) adds this: “Through Ancestral Intelligence, Vera Schwarcz proves that a poet and a historian are one and the same: both must work against the flow of time and revive buried voices. That’s why we continue to read and listen.” And this praise from Eleanor Goodman: “The language of these poems lives in two worlds, gleaming across boundaries, thanks to the skill and insight of poet and historian Vera Schwarcz. In the tragic yet inspiring story of Chen Yinke, Schwarcz finds her own powerful way of articulating the horrors of political oppression, and also the smaller but no less difficult personal afflictions of growing old, seeing loved ones suffer, and

front cover design by Andy Youlieguo Zhou
witnessing the degradation of one’s culture and language. Along with their illuminating exploration of the loss of traditional Chinese ideograms on the mainland, these poems are a kind of primer in empathy, as Schwarcz opens a window onto twentieth-century China and one brave man who, with his intellectual courage and creative output, stood in the way of a dubious ‘progress.’ ”

Vera Schwarcz was born and raised in Cluj, Romania, where she began her explorations of poetry in several languages. Her mother tongues include Hungarian and Romanian, with Yiddish, German, Hebrew, Russian and French added along the way. After emigrating to the United States in 1962, she pursued degrees in East Asian studies and history at Vassar, Yale and Stanford. A member of the first group of exchange scholars to be sent to China in the spring of 1979, she has returned to Beijing repeatedly during the past three decades. All along, her corpus of scholarly writing has been accompanied by the publication of poems in several languages in the United States, Europe and Asia. The daughter of Holocaust survivors, Schwarcz has made the quest for remembrance a central theme in all her works. Her writing has been nominated for the National Jewish Book Award and has been accorded several major grants, including a Guggenheim Fellowship. She holds the Freeman Chair in East Asian Studies at Wesleyan University. Vera Schwarcz lives in West Hartford, Connecticut.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-49-8

Copyright © 2013 by Vera Schwarcz

6" x 9" paperback, 120 pages


Chen Yinke Poems

Midnight Sun (1911)

I cast my loneliness
on northern seas,
seek out words
by borderless

On this voyage north,
and still father north,
where earth’s girdle
is loosened by diminishing
latitudes, heaven
is battered
by gulls, puffins, albatross
heading south.

Here, slanted rays guard a giant
moon, and for one moment,
I hear fresh verses from my old land,
its laughter a rhyming chant.

Suddenly, I dream of bamboo,
Yellow River’s fishing junks,
guests crowding my courtyard,

far, far from Norway’s
chilling midnight sun.

Chen Yinke

Disjointed Times (1937)

Aimlessly, I go to greet
a barbarous spring,
seek out a lake
where I mourn

What is the use of reading history
only to have premonitions of fading
flowers, recall men who are
no more?

No one remembers an old monk
who would rather starve
than have nothing new
to teach.

These are disjointed times:
pomegranates bloom
blood red,
pagoda trees
jade green,

while the broken bones of our country
lie scattered and a cold, cold
wind sweeps autumn’s gloom
into the guesthouse.

Bitter rains beat down remaining blossoms,
noisy sparrows chatter as crowds stumble into chaos,
beggars pick through the baggage of exile.

I wring my hands,
bemoan the Will of Heaven,
wait for the deadly fight to start,
for my hair to turn white.

Chen Yinke

Funeral Oration for My Wife,
Before She Leaves (1968)

I bury my face in a fetid
burlap blanket fit for cattle,
like the impoverished scholar
from the Han.

His shivering nightmares
were auguries of hope
compared to the bitter rains
drenching our hovel.

His wife’s tears became a shield
for virtue, until the day a ruler
rose who knew the worth
of learned men,

while I, a maimed
and useless remnant
cannot hide you from calamity.

I only plead—
linger a little longer
by hell’s nine rivers.

This man with withered eyes
will follow.

Chen Yinke

Logograph Poems by Vera Schwarcz




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