The smallest citizen of Königsberg
spent a lifetime parasitically attached to his timepiece
whose faultless clockwork      began to turn at precisely 5 a.m.
when not another soul had stirred      and even god was still dreaming
scion of a master saddler      in his red-cloth nightcap
customary black frock      Kant built a saddle      to master the world
seven sharp      he clasps his hands behind his back and wends his way to school
where fate has gathered flocks of men who’ve forsaken hearth and home
put their livelihoods at risk       to hear this wizened old man discourse on the celestial body
Herr Professor raps the lectern      now and then looks up to gaze
from one object to another       like an aging orangutan      confronted with civilization      
dismissing class      Kant hurries home to his consonants and vowels
neither emperor nor geyser can break his stride
stroke of one      his valet appears by his inkwell and bows, saying:
“Sir, the soup is on the table.”
of music and art our scholar professes scant interest
abhors the very sound of marriage      dines but once a day
for as Confucius is alleged to have said      “noli satiari ex delicatissimis cibis”
dinner behind him      our aging wraith takes the air
with an elegant gait      tips his hat at every peer and grandee      allows the local belles
to kiss his hand       is wont to turn each lane and byway his neighbors go by on
into a segue to observations on the beautiful and sublime      and winds up at the citadel
where he halts his step before the ancient stones      then quickly turns for home
there he dons a sleeveless shirt      tidies up the house a bit      peruses his journals
at dusk he waits to light the lamp      takes his station by the window
where he and the church steeple      stare each other down
ten sharp       Kant snuffs out the light and goes to bed
and when he lays his massive Prussian brow upon his pillow
the Enlightenment is finally free       to put two thoughts together


“Yimannuer Kangde” © Yu Jian. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2011 by Steve Bradbury. All rights reserved.

伊曼努尔·康德  
哥尼斯堡最矮的市民
一生都蜇居在他的钟里
精确无误的齿轮 清晨5点钟开始运转
那时上帝还在做梦 该城空无一人
前马具匠家的男孩 头戴红睡帽
身着黑袍 他要为世界 打造一付鞍子
7点 他背着手去大学上课
注定有一批人要弃家前来
为了听这个小老头谈论天体 把生计耽误
教授敲着讲台 偶而望望某处
从一物到别一物 好像一头老猩猩
在张望文明 下课 他直接返回字母
遇着皇帝和喷泉 也不绕路
1点正 仆人出现在墨水旁 鞠躬:
“先生,汤在桌上。”
学者对音乐和艺术不感兴趣
讨厌婚姻的声音 每天用餐一次
要吃好的 食不厌精
饭后 这个幽灵溜出他的斗室
优雅的散步者 向公爵致敬 让美丽的妇人
吻他的手 他使邻居们用来回家 或外出的道路
只适用于审美 每次都是漫步到 那个要塞
在一堆古代的石头前驻足 随即返转
下午 他穿着背心整理房间 阅读杂志
黄昏后不点灯 站在窗子边
与一座教堂 对视良久
10点 康德关灯睡觉
当德意志这个大脑袋靠上枕头
十八世纪才有胆量 也跟着琢磨点什么

1992年

© Yu Jian




Yu JianYu Jian

Yu Jian was born on 8 August 1954 in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan. With the outbreak of the Cultural Revolution in 1966, his schooling was interrupted, and his parents were forced to leave home to undergo "re-education." In 1969, at the age of sixteen, he became an apprentice in a factory north of the city and worked as a riveter and welder. Influenced by his father's interest in classical Chinese poetry and aided by frequent power failures at the factory, Yu Jian became a voracious reader. At the age of twenty, Yu Jian began writing his first poems in free verse. In 1980, when university education once again became a possibility for young Chinese people, Yu Jian passed the entrance examinations for Yunnan University, becoming a student in the department of Chinese Language and Literature. He became known as a student poet and was an energetic literary activist, helping to establish several literary clubs as well as edit various publications. His big break came in 1986 when China's most prestigious official poetry magazine, Shikan, published his poem "No. 6 Shangyi Street." He later published the controversial long poem File Zero in 1994, then turned to prose and short poems, publishing a collection of travel sketches and impressions of daily life in 1999 under the title Notes from the Human World. He began his long poem Flight in 1996 and finally published it in 2000.

Translated from ChineseChinese by Steve BradburySteve Bradbury

Steve Bradbury lives in Taipei, Taiwan, where he edits Full Tilt: A Journal of East-Asian Poetry, Translation, and the Arts.