Last spring I took the course “Politics and Poetry” with Professor Ilan Stavans and worked on my own poetry collection. During that time on campus, I also took the liberty to compose a poem for the College’s Bicentennial.
It roughly follows a traditional Song-dynasty Chinese meter (tune) called “When the Willow First Sprouts” (柳初新). At the Bicentennial, we project the past into the future and ask: What can be preserved? What should we change? We see and feel traces of history and signals of transformation. I hope the institution will stay youthful while keeping its good traditions, like an old, steady tree that sprouts every spring.
I wrote this poem in Chinese and translated it into English.
Our Story Keeps Writing Itself
Through a moonlit mist hovering over fresh snow,
roofs swaying and hiding away—
the Holyoke Range stretches far,
which the voices from our books prolong.
We flow in the dim lamplight,
seeking encounter with each other’s shadows.
In this quiet town turned home
(where dated oaks implant their seeds in wet soil),
greetings from two hundred years
coalesce into a faithful present.
Without questioning who we were or one day might be,
we all converge to illuminate the mind
until the last evening glow
burgeons from imaginary petals.
Earth and sky allow me
to search, to find liberation,
to bear witness to the truth,
to explore with scholars and friends
solemn chimeras made of words.
Our story keeps writing itself.
Still water runs deep,
red leaves tint the brick walls,
pavements crisscross, making us converge
in the delicate scent of pine trees.
Together we linger as the warmth of poems
and, as the late wind sweeps across the hills,
the ripples from a shooting star are collectively heard.
Tong is the 2017 young poet laureate of China and a member of Poets Unite Worldwide, an association for international and translingual poets. His academic interests are in LJST, economics, physics and English. At Amherst he chairs the Model United Nations, sings in the Choral Society, hosts Chinese literary history seminars and works as a photographer.