A Melancholy Voice

(Polly Ho)

Do you believe there is a voice that always sings its melody to the world, a voice of truth and certainty? Rainer Maria Rilke heard this voice and wrote for three days “in a single breathless obedience”.

Wolfgang Kubin is a German Sinologist, poet and translator. He came to Hong Kong to teach at the Lingnan University for one semester in 2010. Being a widely-known Sinologist, he confesses that he doesn’t recognize himself as much as a Sinologist than a poet or translator or simply a scholar for the reason that most Sinologists don’t really “think”. How does he see China in the 21st century? To him, China is getting the attention only because of its economical strength but not of its culture influence and history.

Kubin is trying to understand the world by learning as many languages as possible, at least those countries he has visited. He is fluent in three languages: German, Mandarin and English. Fluency by definition is read and spoken comfortably and effectively. He taught himself other languages, including some ancient language like Greek, Hebrew, Latin and ancient Chinese. Ancient Chinese is one of the most difficult language to learn for him. Why it is important to learn a foreign language? “It’s a total different thinking pattern from one language system to another. When I am speaking German, my logical thinking is not the same when I am speaking Mandarin.”

Poetry doesn’t sell. It is not only true in Hong Kong but also true in Germany. Kubin said frankly that even his publisher urge him to write more essay than poetry. However, he insists on writing poem every morning as early as 5am. Strange enough, if he doesn’t write, he will fall ill that day. “I cannot write poem at night. I spend the whole day preparing for a poem in the next morning to write it down.” Kubin read his poetry in three languages: German, English and Mandarin. A poem speaks different melody in three different languages but his German reading is the most striking. It is the source voice, the melancholy voice. To him, poetry is the expression of melancholy. What is melancholy? It is not pure sorrow or sadness, but a deep understanding and consciousness of the sorrow of life.

(photos by Paul Wan)