Taiwan Lit and the Global Sinosphere


Five Taiwan Master Poets

Editor's Note: The following consists of English translations of five Taiwan master poets' poems and their music video adaptations by Andrew Huang. These five poetry songs are culled from Huang's music album Master Tribute Songs released in early 2021.

Click here to view Chia-rong Wu's commentary, "Towards Sinophone Poetics: Andrew Huang and his Musical Poetry."

A Tug-of-War with Eternity

Poem by Yu Guangzhong
Translated by Andrew Huang

It’s inevitable that you would lose.
You lost in such failure that you stumbled across the line with the rope.
Thus the game ended
— another unjust competition.
That force from the other shore. Distracted,
They would also lose, stumbling across the line here,
with one or two persons remaining.
The miracle of footsteps stems from sudden fate.
Only in the darkness, can you sense the rival grappling the rope on the other side.
He is strong and steadfast, unwavering and growing stronger,
before he comes stumbling this way?
Exactly, what kind of a rival would that be?
Who hasn’t seen
the winds howling and the star lights trembling?
I'm the only one remaining,
waging a tug-of-war with eternity.

與永恆拔河 余光中

輸是最後 總歸要輸的
連人帶繩 都跌過界去
──又一場 不公平的競爭
但對岸的力量 一分神

The Promise

Poem by Zheng Chou-yu
Translation by Andrew Huang

Who knew! The slight touch
of the west winds and the falling leaves.
Love exists in the terminally ill person lying on the lawn.
Who knew! Grass and hairs.
Clothes and dirt.
Who knew! That slight touch between the winds and the leaves.

That person. He hails from afar,
to his friend’s farm,
to savor the last touch of Autumn sunlight.
He is the promise of that touch.
It seems like he is covered, or it seems like it’s scattered into the winds.
It seems like he falls asleep quietly in that far corner.

允諾 鄭愁予

誰識! 西風與落葉
誰辨! 草絲與髮絲,
誰識! 風葉輕微的一觸


Lonely Country

Poem by Chou Meng-Tieh
Translation by Andrew Huang

Last night, I dreamed of myself again,
Sitting naked on the mountain peak.
The climate here is stuck at the interface between winter and spring.
(The snow here is gentle) as gentle as velvet.
There is no clamour of the city.
There is only time to chew on the rumination of time.
There are no cobras, owls and human-faced beasts here.
There are only mandala flower, olive tree and jade butterfly.
Neither words, latitude and longitude, nor Buddha with thousand hands and thousand eyes.
The touch is a swarming force of recklessness and silence.
The day is as darkly and brilliant as the night here;
the night is more beautiful, plump, and radiant than the day.
The chilliness here is like wine,
Chilliness is like wine, sealed with poetry and beauty.
Even emptiness is fluent with hand language, inviting the sky full of forgotten stars...
The past will not go, and the future will not come.
I am the servant of “now” and the emperor.

孤獨國 周夢蝶

(這裏的雪是溫柔) 溫柔如天鵝絨的
只有曼陀羅花、橄欖樹 和玉蝴蝶
這裏白晝 幽闃窈窕如夜

For the Next Encounter

Lyrics: Chen I-chih, Andrew Huang

Will we meet again? I asked you.
Everyone will meet again. He answered.
In this mysterious, winding life, youth is indeed fragile and destructible.
Everything seems like a coincidence; but all journeys have their meanings.
Searching for love among the bumpy memories. There is no coincidence, but fate only.

Ah ah ah ah.
Ah ah ah ah.
Ah ah ah ah.

One carries a mysterious story and is befuddled by the reincarnated gods.
The unconsummated love will resume, in the next lifetime.
Is this just a dream in which I won’t wake up. The mundane life is drenched by my tears.
Will we meet again? I asked you.

For the next encounter. This is not a coincidence but fate.
The unconsummated love in this life will resume next time.
For the next encounter. This is not a coincidence but fate.
The unconsummated love in this life will resume next time.
I can’t stop thinking about you.
Who on this earth doesn’t live for love?

為了下一次的重逢 詞:陳義芝/黃安祖

沒有人不碰面的 他回應
無名流轉的人生 青春果真一無憑依
一切意外看似巧合 都是有意義的旅程
尋覓摯愛顛躓回憶 沒有巧合 只有注定


背一個神祕的故事 受輪迴的諸神迷離
未了的緣還會再續 下一次生命
一個不願醒的夢罷 我把這人間眼淚銹染

為了下一次的重逢 不是偶然的命運
今生未了的緣分 將依然再續
為了下一次的重逢 不是偶然的命運
今生未了的緣分 將依然再續


by Chen Ke-hwa

I casually opened my god’s eyes to glimpse at the earth.
Pity I’m the one whom I saw.

He uses my clothes, my body,
my eyes, ears, nose, and tongue to walk.
He uses my intention and ignorance to live on earth,
with the same age as me.

He raises flesh-like flowers with thick leaves,
which exude raw, filthy air.
He is accustomed to that.

His skin oozes reptilian saliva,
A glittery liquid.
It’s his intentional wound as emblem,
which he always carries while walking.

He wants to slaughter;
He also wants to salvage.
Between the unconsciousness of dusk
and the illusion of dawn,
He is eating the meat.

With one’s consciousness,
he uses my hand
to write the truth,
holding the erected stick:
loneliness is awesome.

Loneliness cures
that chronic disease of wanting to fly,
including repeatedly getting oneself wet,
cleaning his teeth again and again,
and fretting about stepping on the tip of a volcano.

Of course, that man
feels my pain.
I realize that,
even in the Ganges River,
there isn’t a speck of sand missing.

makes me see
that this so-called living symbolizes
a kind of oblique decadence.

Step down. Step down again.
For that man and my walking
once had the chance of dancing.
When I turned my body, no longer
with my back to that man—
when I think oh!

Already decaying.

沉淪 陳克華


那人以我的意與無意 活在地球,已經


是他蓄意傷出 的標誌




當然 那人

一種 微妙沈淪

若曾經有過 舞蹈的可能
當我旋身 不再


Chinese Master Poet Profiles

Yu Guangzhong

Yu Guangzhong (余光中, 1928–2017) was the pioneer of the “poetry song” form in the modern Chinese world. Born in China, Yu moved with his family with the Kuomintang Party government to Taiwan in 1949. After achieving fame at a young age as a poet, Yu went to the U.S. to study fine arts for a master’s degree in 1958. In 1969, Yu witnessed the booming rock ’n roll music that would change musical history. Deeply shaken and inspired, Yu started creating poetry in the form of “poetry song” after relocating back to Taiwan. He published the seminal poetry volume White Jade Bittermelon in 1974. In the same year, folk singer Yang Hsuen adapted Yu’s poem “Nostalgia” into a folk song and performed it publicly. Yang later on adapted nine of Yu’s poems and released a folk album. The album served as one of the catalysts jump-starting the “Folk Song Movement” in the 1970s in Taiwan. Prior to this movement, Taiwan had only a threadbare music industry and mostly consumed English and Japanese pop songs. The movement advocated for Taiwan singers to sing original songs composed by local composers. It also advocated for adapting Chinese-language modern poetry into songs. The movement gave birth to the modern era of Chinese-language pop music. Various Taiwanese musicians joined the movement to celebrate original Chinese-language pop music. Yu became an iconic figure because his “poetry song” poems made him the most adapted poet of all. His poems were adapted into folk songs, spreading to all Chinese communities around the globe, making him the most famous poet in modern China.

Zheng Chou-yu

Zheng Chou-yu (鄭愁予) is acclaimed as “the most romantic poet in modern Chinese literature.” Born in 1933 in Shandong, China, Zheng’s family moved with the Kuomintang Party government to Taiwan in 1949. Zheng published his seminal poetry volume, Dreamland, in 1952. The volume contains his most famous poem, “Mistake,” which became so popular among the public that it was incorporated into Taiwan’s Chinese language textbook. In 1968, he joined the International Writing Workshop at the University of Iowa and received his master’s degree there. He obtained his Ph.D. in literature from the World Culture and Arts College in California. In the 1970s, the “Folk Song Movement” started in Taiwan. Already a highly famous poet, Zheng became one of the poets whose works were adapted into songs the most. After numerous of his poems were adapted into songs in the 1970s, Zheng as a romantic poet continued to be the muse of many musicians. In 1995, classical composer Chang Shi-hao released a staggering three-CD set, Journey of Dream, with songs all adapted from Zheng’s poems.

Chou Meng-Tieh

Chou Meng-Tieh (周夢蝶, 1921–2014) was born in Hunan Province, China. He joined the Kuomintang Army and relocated to Taiwan with the KMT government in 1948. He has a wife and three children left behind in China. Because of the political lockdown between Taiwan and China, Chou was never able to return to see his family. He also decided not to marry again after relocating to Taiwan.

Dubbed by the media “The Ascetic Monk of Literature,” he chose to live a reclusive life in suburban Taipei and seldom joined unnecessary social functions. In 1959, he started a small book kiosk in front of a coffee shop, specializing in selling poetry books. The same year, he also published his debut and also his most famous poetry volume titled Lonely Country. He started studying Zen Buddhism and often meditated on the noisy street in Taipei. He wrapped up his book kiosk after twenty years in 1980 due to illness and retired. Chou was an introverted person with few words. He was equally careful and selective with his published works, having published only five poetry volumes in his lifetime. His poems are acclaimed for their influences from Buddhist thought and Chinese classical literature. His works often explore themes such as time, loneliness, life and death, and Buddhist concepts.

Chen I-chih

Chen I-chih (陳義芝) was born in 1953 in Hualien, Taiwan. He graduated with a Ph.D. in Chinese Literature from National Kaohsiung Normal University. As a middle-aged master poet in Taiwan, his works are acclaimed for his tender, elegant portrayal of human love and his love for the land. His representative works include his debut poetry volume, Dusk and Lingering Smoke (1977), as well as The Far Place One Can’t Forget (1993) and Song of Endlessness (2020). Despite being a highly lauded poet, his prose essay “For the Next Encounter” stands as his most famous and acclaimed work. The prose piece depicts how his son immigrated to Canada for education but ended up dying in a car crash. Chen attempts various Buddhist philosophies to try to come to peace with his son’s death and finds closure in believing that they will meet in heaven again. For the song “For the Next Encounter” from the Master Tribute Songs album, I collaborated with Chen to adapt the prose piece into song lyrics.

Chen Ke-hwa

Chen Ke-hwa (陳克華) was born in 1961 in Hualien, Taiwan. He graduated from Taipei Medical University and works as an ophthalmologist. He achieved fame at a young age, winning numerous literary awards. A multi-talented artist, Chen is a poet, prose writer, novelist, photographer, painter, and singer. Known for his romantic and innocent style in youth with his debut poetry volume, Whale-Riding Youth (1983), Chen moved into the territory of social-political commentary and became the most avant-garde poet in Taiwan. He came out publicly as a homosexual in 2006 and started writing poems about homosexual eroticism, such as Body Poems (2012). He is the pioneer of gay literature in modern Chinese literature. Chen is also a devout Buddhist and often ruminates about Buddhist ideology with works such as Flower Blossomings: Chen Ke-Hwa’s Heart Sutra Mandala (2010). The poem “Decadent” chosen for song adaptation in this album explores concepts of both sexuality and Buddhist Existentialism.