Translating With Jiann I. Lin (1940-2023)
By David Young, Longman Emeritus Professor of English
Editor’s Note: Jiann Lin retired in 2007, after 38 years of service to Oberlin College as East Asian Librarian, overseeing a collection of 26,000 volumes. Jiann received his Bachelor’s degree in English and History from National Taiwan University, and two Master’s degrees: one in History and East Asian Studies from the University of Wisconsin, Madison; the other in Library Science from SUNY Albany. In his later years, he enjoyed a new career as a translator of both history and poetry where he collaborated with David Young. For additional information about Jiann and a memorial celebration of his life on March 25, see jiannlin.com.
"Given your interest in classical Chinese poetry," a colleague once said, "you ought to get to know our East Asian librarian; he reads the stuff on his lunch hour." This good suggestion led eventually to four projects. First was Yu Xuanji, one of China's rare woman poets (The Clouds Float North, Wesleyan University Press, 1998). Next was Du Mu (Out on the Autumn River, Rager Media Press, 2007). Our Su Dongpo collection, Listening All Night to the Rain, appeared in 2020 from Pinyon Publishing, which will also publish our fourth project, Spring Flower, Autumn Moon, Poems of Li Yu, next fall. Given his final illness, it was positively heroic on Lin's part to finish his work on this project.
Translation is a strange art, difficult to understand or appreciate fully. What Lin and I were doing was translating each other, growing and learning by exploring the genius of our poets, finding out the myriad ways that Chinese works and the myriad ways that English can express experience and emotion. The time gap of a thousand years or so makes the whole thing even more miraculous. We sensed our own growth and enriched imagination but could only express that through our results.
As a collaborator in translating Lin was good-natured, gracious, hard-working and funny. He made clear what didn't work and what did. His scholarship amazed me and delights our readers. I shall miss him terribly.
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