A love poem written by jailed Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo to his wife Liu Xia and published in an English translation by the U.K.'s Observer Magazine at the weekend sheds light on the dissident's inner life and the dark world inhabited by political dissidents, commentators said.
U.S.-based China commentator Liu Nianchun said the poem, part of a forthcoming Harvard University Press collection of English translations of Liu's poems, came from a collection originally published in Chinese by Nobel laureate Liu Xiaobo and Liu Xia, who is herself a poet.
"This poem expresses a very deep love for his wife," Liu Nianchun said. "In it, we get a glimpse of his inner world."
Liu, 55, was sentenced in December 2009 to prison for his role in authoring Charter 08, which called for sweeping changes in China's government.
At the December 2010 Nobel Peace Prize award ceremony in Oslo, his medal and diploma were presented to an empty chair.
Liu Nianchun said the darkness of the poem was also a metaphor for the political oppression of dissidents under the authoritarian rule of the Chinese Communist Party.
"Life in China is a life lived in darkness," he said, adding: "He writes pretty contemporary poems, not like the 'misty' poets like Bei Dao, Gu Cheng, and Yang Lian."
The opening line of the poem reads: "Dearest, I am your life prisoner/ preferring to be in your darkness always."
Detailing a dazzling and frightening outside world into which the poet "does not wish to be born," the poem is titled "For Xia."
Written shortly after the couple married, the poem is dated Jan. 1, 1997, as Liu was serving a three-year term in labor camp for "disturbing public order" following an essay critical of Beijing's aggressive stance on Taiwan.
It concludes, in an unofficial English translation by RFA: "The outside world dazzles me/I fear its light and weary of its brilliance/I care only for your darkness —pure and indivisible."
Liu Xia is believed to have been held under house arrest at her home in Beijing since Liu was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize, and has had virtually no contact with the outside world.
The authorities last allowed Liu a family visit in September, one year after the Nobel Peace Prize committee angered Beijing by granting him the award after he was jailed for co-authoring a controversial political reform document that championed an open political system and respect for human rights.
"[Charter 08] was a piece of political thinking," Liu Nianchun said. "It expressed the wish that China would become a democratic society."
"In refusing to release [Liu Xiaobo], the Chinese government is sending a message to the world that there will be no political U-turn," he said.
U.S.-based author Dong Dingshan said the poem's publication in an overseas newspaper had a strong political meaning for overseas Chinese, in spite of its personal nature.
"I only familiarized myself with [Liu Xiaobo's] thinking after the big event," Dong said, referring to Liu's 2008 arrest and subsequent sentencing to 12 years' imprisonment for subversion the next year.
"After that, I really admired it," he said. "He didn't get the Nobel Prize for Literature, but for politics."
"If I had been in China at the time, I would have signed Charter 08," Dong added.
An unofficial English translation of Liu's poem:
Dearest, I am your life prisoner
preferring to be in your darkness always living on the residues of your blood; depending on your estrogen to think.
The daily meter of your heartbeat
wears me down, day in, day out
drop by drop, meltwater from a mountain stream until I, like an ancient rock, am pierced through.
Here, I can only fumble darkly
writing a few lines of poetry
in the wine you drink,
trying to find you.
I only want, as a deaf man craves sound, to be drunk with you in the dance of love.
As you smoke, I am amazed
at the constant rhythm of your lungs
in and out. You cough out all my poison
and my spirit feeds on clean air.
My dear, I am your life prisoner
a child that won't be born
clinging to your womb's warmth
I breathe in your breath
and feel your calm.
This infant prisoner in your depths
fears neither alcohol nor nicotine.
Only your loneliness will sicken me.
I need your poisons, need them too much.
Perhaps, as your prisoner,
I'll never see daylight.
Darkness is my lot in life,
but living inside your body
I'll be fine.
The outside world dazzles me
I fear its light and weary
of its brilliance
I care only for your darkness --
pure and indivisible.
Jan. 1, 1997
Reported by Yang Jiadai for RFA's Mandarin service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.