Xiao Junyi, MA student, Institute of Taiwan Literature, National Tsing Hua University
“Planets of the Supreme Ultimate”
“Darling, I never thought…”
Leech-like, your tongue
has already sucked up my words and
entered my deepest body
to unearth the unspoken gatha of love.
Our without is urban camouflage
in decadent fin-de-siècle clarity;
but fleshly implications
have sunk into a volcanism of primitive desire.
The soul belongs to metaphysics.
But you and I, formed of flesh and blood, are
another type of microcosm where
the five elements are at work.
You don’t want my musing to carry on
and breed in my blood an ant nest
to dissolve with their spit
my lifetime’s hoard of honeyed words.
But when Adam first licked the body of Eve
they, too, must have known this truth:
the most passionate planetary collision
is a man, a woman,
dangerously, sweetly intertwining yin and yang.
Poem by Yan Ailin
Translated by Edward Lindon
Written from a woman’s perspective,“Planets of the Supreme Ultimate” is an interpretation of men and women’s differing views of love and desire. The poem begins with a line of dialogue – “Darling, I never thought…” – hinting at the conflicts of opinion and difficulties in communication the poet experiences with her lover. The next lines “Leech-like, your tongue / has already sucked up my words” imply that her male lover expresses himself physically rather than verbally. His tongue has unearthed her “unspoken gatha of love” – gatha is a type of Buddhist poem; thus, for the poet, love is the equivalent of a religious creed.
In the second stanza the poet explores the relationship further: “but fleshly implications / have sunk into a volcanism of primitive desire,” likening their love and passion to a volcano. Nevertheless, the lines “the soul belongs to metaphysics. / But you and I, formed of flesh and blood, are / another type of microcosm…” contrast the physical body with the “soul” and “metaphysics.” Here, as in the first stanza, the poet elevates the commingling of fleshly desires, equating them to the “five elements” – metal, wood, water, fire, and earth – of Chinese philosophy, the principles that enable the workings of the universe.(According to the Yijing, the interactions of the “five elements” – “mutually engendering” and “mutually overcoming” – brought the universe into being.)
Although the poet elevates love to the level of religion and philosophy in the first two stanzas, her male lover remains silent, focused only on satisfying his own physical desires. Hence, in the third stanza she writes, “You don’t want my musing to carry on / and breed in my blood an ant nest / to dissolve with their spit / my lifetime’s hoard of honeyed words. / But when Adam first licked the body of Eve / they, too, must have known this truth.” And that truth is, men and women’s understanding and expression of love are vastly different.
The lines “the most passionate planetary collision / is a man, a woman/ dangerously, sweetly intertwining yin and yang” conclude the poem, casting the melding of the lovers’ souls and desires as a magnificent cosmic event. “Yin” represents the feminine, and “yang” the masculine, another idea drawn from the Yijing. Because these forces are opposites, they complement and animate each other. “Planets of the Supreme Ultimate,” a woman’s multifaceted exploration of heterosexual love, borrows concepts from Chinese philosophy to redefine men and women’s conflicting yet complementary relationships.
A native of Tainan, Yan Ailin (b.1968) graduated from Fu Jen University’s Department of History and studied in a master’s program at National Taipei University of Education’s Graduate Institute of Language and Creative Writing. She began writing modern poetry early on. As a youth she worked as an editor for the Torchlight Poetry Society, and became a member of the Thornapple Poetry Society. Written from a feminist perspective, Yan’s poems explore both the spiritual and fleshly aspects of love between the sexes. Abstract Map (1994) and Bones, Skin, Flesh (1997) deal primarily with women’s bodies and desires, with frank descriptions of womb, breasts, and sexual longings. Equating sex with power, the poems defined Yan’s style of literary eroticism. In 1998 Yan, Jiang Wenyu and others founded the Whale Cow Poetry Society, giving voice to female poets. Her later collections – Her Side (2004) and A Trace of Beauty (2010) – describe women’s inner worlds as well as their sensual experiences. A distinctly feminine voice, Yan Ailin has staked her place among Taiwan’s leading poets. She is a winner of the Taipei Literature Award, the Wu Zhuoliu Modern Poetry Prize, and other literary honors.
Yan is an experienced editor, having served as chief literary editor at Linking Publishing and other publishing houses. She has also been involved in educational and cultural promotional activities, and has worked as a university lecturer and artist-in-residence. This diverse work experience is reflected in the broad range of her creative activities – in addition to poetry, Yan has published essays, reader’s notes, and cartoon criticism. Recently, she expanded her interests to broadcasting media – hosting and news reporting – and has been involved in installing and curating visual arts’ exhibits. In 2010 she collaborated with Liu Liangyan in writing and directing the Uncolour, a stage production in which she played herself, acting out elements of her life. Throughout her career she has remained in the forefront of literary and artistic innovation in Taiwan.
|Work(English)：||The Planets of the Supreme Ultimate|
|Anthology：||Taiwan Literature: English Translation Series（《台灣文學英譯叢刊 》）|
|Translator：||Robert Backus（拔苦子）、杜國清（K. C. Tu）|
|Publisher：||Forum for the Study of World Literatures in Chinese, University of California, Santa Barbara|
|Ordering information for original work(Link)：||http://www.linkingbooks.com.tw|
Ordering information for original work(Note)：
|Linking Publishing Co.|
|Ordering information for translation(Link)：||http://paper-republic.org/publishers/taiwan-literature-english-translation-series/|
|Ordering information for translation(Note)：||The English Translation|