City and Its Underground Worker / Blue Boy Smuggling Birds’ Nests up the Trees

[translated poetry]

City and Its Underground Worker 


Serving as an underground worker just like a gopher 

I engage in the everyday work of crossing tunnels under the ground 

Or digging out burrows deeper than before  

Every day I clean the sludge, sewage, gravels and mixed garbage     

Stuck in the underground passages as if clearing bowel obstruction 

Wearing a headlamp continuously lighting up the path 

On which I must venture forward or retreat when chased by death 

Every day I experience the earth, the city and the darkness in its depths 

The subterranean tunnels’ wide openness resembling a giant’s throat 

Is like another world and its secrets 

Like a bird loving to fly alone I keep watching 

The secrets not only so myriad but also monotonous 

Never able to be put on the table 

And only enjoyable by a gopher 


The endless yet fatuous quietude of the tunnels  

And the underworld’s cast iron pipe networks as outrageously tortuous as roots 

Require somnambulant willpower to contest with 

Just like a gopher 

I have been used to all of it 

This sweet and eventful darkness 

Blue Boy Smuggling Birds’ Nests up the Trees


The blue kid    has a body as crystally bluish as the ocean 


The ocean’s dark blue lit by a beacon 

Grayish blue completely invaded by sunshine and thick fogs 

Blue belly gashed by giant plowing ships 

And dark chest effervescing big bubbles and then filled up 

Again and again by the horizon and sorrowful stars 

Are all the blue of the blue kid     

As staunch and steadfast as sea rocks 

As capricious and vagarious as the ocean 

And hardly controllable by a base person or devil 


Afar in the ocean    quietly enduring the pain of the mundane world 

The blue kid alone is furtively transporting nests on trees 

Such curious and dangerous work    piles of endangered eggs 

He must be as cool as a cucumber like a senior carrier  

And remain daring and scrupulous in venturing his life 

Those nests    he will mount among the stars 

Place on the moon and its fragrant tea olive 1 

And put inside the universe with nebulas gliding like bird flocks 


The blue kid secretly transporting nests towards the stars 

The planner and designer of the trees of stars 

Wants all the birds, planes and spacecraft 

To take off at the blue lake where he dives while holding his breath 


He wants doves, birds and even blue peacocks with their showy clumsiness 

To fly hither and thither in flocks and musters 

In the thick dense shade of the trees of the stars 

In and out the superficially changed nests he has stealthily transported to there 



1 In traditional Chinese folklore, it says that there is a cinnamon tree on the moon. Since last imperial China, many scholars have mistaken the cinnamon tree as Osmanthus fragrans, sweet olive, or fragrant tea olive. Some contemporary scholars translate the tree as “the katsura tree. 









污泥浊水    碎石料和混合型垃圾 




















蓝孩子    像大海一样通体透蓝 







都是蓝孩子的蓝    像海岩一样坚贞不渝 




而在大海的远方    隐忍着尘世之痛 


这是一项好奇而危险的工作    垒垒危卵 


他必须胆大心细    将生死置之度外 

那些鸟巢    他要把它们安放在星辰之中 













成群结队    飞来飞去 

Translator’s Statement 

These two poems are from Yan An’s latest book, A Naturalist’s Manor, which is published by China Youth Publishing Group, and which won the “Ten Best Poetry Books in China” award in 2018. Yan An’s poems are highly experimental, unconventional, and unique according to the standards and traditions of Chinese culture, considering their aesthetic value, contents, philosophical denotations, and meanings. As a pioneer in modern westernized Chinese poetry, Yan An has completely transformed Chinese readers’ concepts and understanding of poetry through his unique views about the universe, life, society, and people. His way of thinking is unusual and unconventional. His poems do not contain any of the Chinese elements traditionally and commonly depicted by other Chinese poets and even if they do, they are addressed from unique perspectives. Therefore, they can transcend the boundaries between nations and cultures, reaching for a wider audience across the world. In each of his poems, behind his boundless imagination, there lies a story and An’s sentiments and understandings of life, people, society, and the universe.  


His language is intense and abstract. Just like his other poems, these poems are rich in literary devices, such as similes, metaphors, personifications, and parallelisms. These literary devices have well served their purpose in the Chinese versions. Nevertheless, in their English versions, some transcreation techniques have to be exploited to retain the same or similar effect.  


To put this into perspective, several different kinds of restructuring techniques are used. For example, in the first stanza of the poem “City and Its Underground Worker,” the order of the fourth and fifth lines is reversed due to the differences in the word order between the Chinese and English languages. For another example, in the same stanza, the phrase “the path” is restructured from the seventh line to the sixth line and the two verb phrases to modify “the path” in the source text are restructured into an attributive clause, i.e., the seventh line in the target text.  


In this example, the addition technique and restructuring technique are combined together. In particular, a relative expression, “on which I,” is added to the translation. Sometimes, the addition technique is used alone in the transcreation process, as in the case of “I” in the eighth line of the first stanza. In this way, the logic of this line is clearer than the source text. 


During the transcreation process, the technique of changing grammar categories is also used. For example, in the eleventh line of the first stanza of the poem “City and Its Underground Worker,” the gerund “keeping watching” is translated to the predicate “keep watching,” and the predicative “like a bird that loves to fly alone” is translated to an adverbial “Like a bird that loves to fly alone.” The emphasis of this sentence is shifted from “like a bird that loves to fly alone” to “keep watching.” In this way, the transcreation is smarter and more iambic and logical. 


All in all, we have attempted to bring something new and foreign into English to enrich it, by helping English poets and readers unleash their creativity, imagination, inspiration, and by bridging or integrating American and Chinese ways of thinking and culture. Also, we have endeavored to create some novel transcreation techniques to help with any future translation of Yan An’s poems. 

Chen Du has a master’s degree in biophysics from Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the State University of New York at Buffalo, and another from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She revised more than eight chapters of the Chinese translation of the biography of Helen Snow, Helen Foster SnowAn American Woman in Revolutionary China. In the United States, her translations have appeared or are forthcoming in Columbia JournalLunch TicketPilgrimageSinking Water ReviewAnomaly, etc. Three poems co-translated by her and Xisheng Chen are a finalist in The Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation & Multilingual Texts. Find her online at

Xisheng Chen, a Chinese American, is an ESL grammarian, lexicologist, linguist, translator, and educator. His educational background includes: a BA and an MA from Fudan University, Shanghai, China, and a Mandarin healthcare interpreter certificate from the City College of San Francisco, CA, USA. His working history includes: lecturer at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China, and adjunct professor at the departments of English and social sciences of Trine University (formerly Tri-State University), Angola, IN. As a translator for over three decades, he has published a lot of translations in various fields in newspapers and journals in China and abroad. 

Yan An is one of the most famous poets in contemporary China, author of fourteen full-length poetry collections, including his most famous poetry collection Rock Arrangement, which has won him the sixth Lu Xun Literary Prize, one of China’s top four literary prizes. He is the winner of various national awards and prizes. He is also the Vice President of Shaanxi Writers Association, the head and executive editor-in-chief of the literary journal Yan River, one of the oldest and most famous literary journals in Northwestern China. These poems are from Yan An’s book A Naturalist’s Manor which will be published by Chax Press.