Thoughts on the Lost River
Translated by Bai Shuihe
I could hardly put down the journal Poetry Hall Issue 2 when I caught sight of the elegant and grand cover design. It turned out that Bai Shuihe was the artist of the oil painting used for the cover. I was even more amazed when I flipped through its pages and saw the poem The Lost River she wrote. Here is the complete quote of the poem:
The Lost River
A river is lost –
Nowhere to be found, or rather unwilling to be
It manifests itself only in sound, but that’s far from enough
So, we search for it
Dig for it
And make marks here and there
Because we are humans
Who like to uncover truth and see it with our naked eyes
But this river remains a mystery
Like many others in the world
Because we don’t have the ability to uncover them
We are only humans
Not the creator of this river nor of others
*In Natural Bridge State Park, Virginia, there is a underground river called “The Lost River”. In the past 200 years, several unsuccessful attempts were made to locate the underground channels of the Lost River. But all the efforts have failed to determine the source and final destination of this river.
(Note: The above poem was translated by its writer Bai Shuihe)
This poem was written to make known the invisible but hearable river (named “The Lost River”) running underground in the Natural Bridge State Park in Virginia.
Using what is called the personification rhetoric device, the poet tells us that she (the river) is lost, nowhere to found, or perhaps, unwilling to be found.
Since she is gone, why does she then leave behind herself the running sound? This is where the poetic story gets interesting and appealing.
接着作者又说“只给我们水声？这远远不够”。这句很有力度。说出了人类要探寻源由的渴望。“我们探测 / 挖掘 / 标记 / 因我们是人 / 要亲眼看见并揭示一切真相”。
The poet continues “It manifests itself only in sound, but that’s far from enough.” This line is powerful since it reveals the human eagerness for the exploration of the source. “So, we search for it / Dig for it / And make marks here and there / We do so because we are humans / Who like to uncover truth and see it with our naked eyes.”
It is simply man’s curiosity that entices us to dig out its past, but despite the continuous search for the past two hundred years, this “Lost River” remains an enigma.
This enigma naturally reminds the poet of many other enigmas in the world.
接下来作者又说：“因我们只是人 / 未曾创造这河 或别的河”。
The poet continues, “We are only humans / Not the creator of this river nor of others.”
This line “we are only humans” differs from the similar line in the previous paragraph “we are humans” in just one word -- “only,” but more depth and layers and objectivity are thus added. Yes, confronted by nature, human cognitive ability is very limited. The very fact that we fail to explain something in this world indicates that the human cognitive ability of the world is indeed limited. Even if we make progress in the exploration of nature, it is just a discovery at most, not invention or creation.
Using first-person narration, without noticeable effort by self- questioning, self-reasoning, and self-answering, the poet puts her readers on the site to feel and admire the nature with her. I was immediately touched when done reading the poem.
Although we can’t see the “Lost River,” it manifests itself by its gurgling sound. This reminds me that things discernible in this world could very well be fake, while true nature could very well be indiscernible. This is where philosophy lies.
I do not want to be arbitrary in telling you what theme the poet’s implies, but the fact of what can remind me of the above shows that this poem has given readers enough room to ponder. And this is where the secret of a good poem lies. I think this little poem is very strong in after taste.