01 February 2017

鄭燮 (鄭板橋) Zheng Xie (Zheng Banqiao): 詠雪 On Snowflakes

Last month, I posted here my first ever octet (or 8-line verse) rendition, that of Du Fu's "Beholding the Mountain" 望嶽, but was disappointed to find there had only been about 100 viewers.  Today, I am reverting to quatrains and am posting one by a Qing 清 dynasty poet/painter 鄭燮 Zheng Xie, more popularly known as 鄭板橋 Zheng Banqiao.

This quatrain is not of the traditional type.  All 4 lines rhyme and the language sounds colloquial. Some claim this may be the beginning of modern colloquial verse in Chinese which I doubt as the language used by his Tang dynasty predecessor Wang Fanzhi is even more colloquial.

This poem "On Snowflakes" is a fun poem which plays on numbers (from 1 to 10, then to 10,000, delightfully written and, I hope, equally delightfully rendered into English.  The beauty of it lies in snowflakes transforming into plum-flowers, particularly beautify in this Chinese Lunar New Year season of plum flowers and snow.

I hope you will enjoy this.  Here we go:-

Zheng Xie (Zheng Banqiao) (1693-1765): On Snowflakes

1   One, and two flakes, snowflakes three and four;
2   Five six, sev’n eight, nine flakes, ten and more;
3   A thousand, ten thousand, myriad flakes galore,
4   Glide into plum-flow’rs, snowflakes seen no more.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
19th January 2017 (revised 20.1.17)
Translated from the original - 鄭燮 (鄭板橋): 詠雪

1   一片兩片三四片
2   五六七八九十片
3   千片萬片無數片
4   飛入梅花都不見


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain but not of the traditional kind with (a) the word (piece or flake) appearing 7 times, (b) the use of the same word for rhyme in 3 lines, and (c) all 4 lines have the same end rhyme in violation of the rule that line 3 should never rhyme, and all in addition to the language being colloquial.  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 beats or feet) while the original is in 7-syllable lines.  My rhyme scheme follows the original’s unorthodox AAAA.

*Title:  is literally “to sing” or “to versify” or, as the product, “a verse” or “an ode”.  I have left it out as being superfluous.  is literally “snow”.  As the poem is not about “snow”, but about flakes of snow, I have decided to entitle it “On Snowflakes” or just “Snowflakes” without seriously suggesting to change the original name to 詠雪花 or just 雪花.

*Line 1:  In this line, I have reduced the number of times or flakes appear from 3 to 2.  One of these two appear in the word “snowflakes” which brings in the theme early.

*Line 2:  The word “seven” is shortened to “sev’n” so as to make “sev’n eight” disyllabic with “sev’n” read stressed.

*Line 3:  I suggest reading “A thousand” and “ten thousand” as amphibrachs (da-DUM-da). 

*Line 4:  (fly) is rendered as “Glide” which means to fly gracefully downwards. To translate都不見 (all, not, see), I had originally penned “to remain in sight no more” which is faithful, if not entirely literal, but have found it wanting as it makes no sense at all.  The snow of the snowflakes is still in sight, not flying but staying on the plum-trees’ branches and twigs.  I then considered adding to this last half-line the word “snow” (not in the original) which makes it possible for me to say to the effect “snow not seen as snow”.  After considering “not seen as snow at all” and “seen as snow no more”, I have decided for “snowflakes seen no more” which is a rather literal translation of 都不見 but with “snowflakes” added.  The line now reads: “Glide into plum-flow’rs, snowflakes seen no more”.  Snow is still in sight, not seen as snowflakes but as plum-flowers: a beautiful picture of the transformation of snowflakes into plum-flowers. 

03 January 2017

杜甫 Du Fu: 望嶽 Beholding the Mountain (Mount Dai or Taishan)

Happy New Year 2017!!!

You may recall that I first began this blog  in January 2008 after half a year's  search on how to best translate classical Chinese poems into English.  I have yet to come to a final conclusion  on the matter, but have decided  from the very beginning to work  on  the very short ones, particularly verses of 4 lines of equal line-length which I will term "quatrains" 四行詩  which  includes the new style (very stringently) regulated verse 近體詩, the 4-lined "jueju" 絕句, and equivalent less regulated  old style poem  古詩.  I had, at times,  ventured into  the easier-going long and short lined verses 長短句 i.e. "ci"  詞, and song lyrics.  Hence, from the very beginning, I had abandoned translating 8-lined poems including  the new style (extremely stringent because of the parallelism requirement for lines 3 and 4, and 5 and 6) regulated verse  近體詩 called "lushi" 律詩 with 8 lines, and less regulated 8-lined old style poems 古詩  like this Du Fu  poem on Mount Taishan.

The first drafts of this English rendition  were read by many of my friends 9 years ago.  I  thank them for their views, comment and encouraging words.  I am glad I am now able to post/publish it after having convinced myself that it is well nigh impossi ble to stick to the original rhyme scheme of a single rhyme.  Like what I have done for my "ci" (long short lines) translations (please see Li Yu 李煜 for example), I have settled  for less than a single  rhyme with, I hope, success.

Here  we go:-

Du Fu (712770):  Beholding the Mountain (Mount Dai or Taishan)

1  O majestic Mount Taishan, how shall I speak of you?
2  A landmark of green unfolding beyond all Qi and Lu.
3  Endowed, by the Creator, with heavenly beauty true;
4  Your shaded North severed from Southsides sunny milieu.

5  Cleansed in clusters of clouds, your bosom not in sight;
6  I set my eyes to follow the homing birds in flight.
7  One day for sure will I, ascend your utmost height,
8  To see the other summits dwarfed by your towering might.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)         譯者:  黄宏發
21 May 2007 (revised 11.6.07; 31.7.07; 31.10.16; 30.11.16; 21.12.16)
Translated from the original - 杜甫: 望嶽

1  岱宗夫如何     
2  齊魯青未了
3  造化鍾神秀
4  陰陽割昏曉    

5  盪胸生曾雲  
6  決眥入歸鳥
7  會當凌絕項  
8  一覽衆山小


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character old style verse 五言古詩 (or 五古) which just happens to be in 8 lines.  Although, technically, it is not a new style 近體 5-character regulated verse 五言律詩 (or 五律) which must be in 8 lines and which is subject to more stringent rules, I will take it as if they were the same and refer to all 8-line verses with the same number of characters simply as octets (8-line verses八行詩) in my English renditions.  While the original is in 5-character (= 5-syllable) lines, this English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet)  I have failed to emulate the rhyme scheme of the original which is XAXA XAXA and have adopted AAAA BBBB as my rhyme scheme.

*Title and line 1:   (mountain) refers to 五嶽 the 5 sacred mountains in the East, South, West, North, and Middle of China, respectively named 泰山 Taishan, 衡山 Hengshan, 華山 Huashan, 恒山 Hengshan, and 嵩山 Songshan.   Dai is another name for Taishan; and of these 5 mountains, Taishan ranks the highest, hence, 岱宗 means Dai the greatest, which I have translated as majestic Mount Taishan.  This makes the line readily comprehensible.   is an exclamation which is rendered as O.

*Line 2:  齊魯 Qi and Lu are the old names of respectively the northern and southern parts of the present-day Shantung 山東 Province.  未了 “not ending in is rendered as unfolding beyond after considering extending, stretching, spreading, covering, straddling and following my making clear Dai is a mountain in line 1, I have here in line 2 added landmark rather than landscape to make sure that 青 “green refers not just to green but to the green mountain.  I had considered but rejected the verdant landmark formulation as landmark of green unfolding beyond best translates 青未了.

*Line 3:  造物 is translated literally as the Creator, and rendered as Endowed.  It is suggested that Endowed, by the creator should be read with by also stressed to make 3 beats in the first half of the line.  I had considered but rejected rendering it as Endowed by the Lord Creator which would wrongly make it look too Christian.  For the second half, 神秀 is rendered as heavenly beauty true rather than divine beauty true for the same reasons.  The word true is added to make the you rhyme.

*Line 4:   and here refer to 山陰 and 山陽 the North (hence shaded) and South (hence sunny) sides respectively of the mountain range.   and which should mean dusk and dawn respectively are understood as metaphors for shaded and sunny and are rendered as such.   is translated literally as severed.

*Line 5:   is the same word as 層 “layers and /層雲 is rendered as clusters of clouds.   is rendered as cleansed.  I had considered bathed but have decided for cleansed for the alliteration of the k sound.   can be rendered as chest or breast, but I do not take 蕩胸 to mean the poets chest being bathed, as he is simply beholding the mountain and not up in the mountain.   is, therefore, rendered as bosom to mean the mountains midriff covered by or bathed/cleansed in clusters of clouds.  I have added the logical picture of not in sight to make an -ight rhyme for the second stanza.  I have dropped translating which is implied in the word in in in clusters of clouds.

*Line 6:  决眥 is rendered as I set my eyes after considering strain, focus, aim,  turn.   (enter) is rendered as to follow after considering capture, take in, observe, and 歸鳥 rendered as the homing birds, with in flight (which is implied in returning) added for the -ight rhyme.

*Line 7:  I had originally penned Endeavour and strive shall I for 會當 which, taken together, means ought to but, separately, means ought to and means surely will/can.  I have, therefore, decided for One day for sure will I".  凌   is rendered as ascend after considering clamber", "scale and reach.  I had considered dazzling for to parallel towering in line 8, but have decided for the literal utmost.   is rendered as height for the rhyme.

*Line 8:  一覽衆山 is rendered as To see the other summits, and rendered as dwarfed with by your towering might added for the rhyme and to bring the poem to a forceful end.   


01 December 2016

王梵志 Wang Fanzhi: 無題/我見那漢死 Untitled/A man drops dead before me

Today I am posting yet another of Wang Fanzhi's untitled 5-character quatrains on the subject of death.  On the face of it, the poem is on the fear of dying, and even my rendition lends support to this reading of fear of death: fear of dropping dead all of a sudden, fear of being the next to die.  But is this a correct reading?

In my view, the poem should be read as a reminder of the impermanence of life and inevitability of death, and that these truths are to be accepted and lived with and not feared.  I have, therefore, attempted to build in an ambiguity in line 4.  I have used the word "afraid" rather than "scared", "frightened" or "fearful" to tone down the "fear" to the extent that it can be read as "unhappiness" much like toning 恐畏 from 恐懼 down to 恐怕, and have narrowed down that it is the death next in turn that the poet is unhappy, uneasy about.  Acceptance, with reluctance?  Added 15.12.16:  I have, today, undertaken a simple (yet, in my view, major) revision of my rendition.  In my original rendition, I had added the idea of "next" which is not in the original Chinese version.  I did that so as to augment the urgency and, hence, the fear.  I now consider this addition as working against the ambiguity I was trying to build.  I have, therefore, revised line 4 from "But afraid me be next in turn" to"But afraid that it be my turn" with "-fraid", "be" and "turn"read stressed.  The "it be" formulation makes it possible to understand the line ambiguously as "shall", "would", "could", etc., and "my turn" is a more faithful rendition.  I have also taken the opportunity to effect some minor amendments which are shown on my revised version which follows the original version below.  I will, in due course, revise my notes on this post.

I hope you will enjoy this simple poem:-        

Wang Fanzhi (592?-670?): Untitled/A man drops dead before me

Original version (1.12.2016):
1  A man drops dead before me;
2  Like on fire, my bowels burn.
3  Not "cos I feel for that man,1   
4  But afraid me be next in turn.

Revised version (15.12.2916)
1  A man drops dead before me,
2  Like on fire my bowels burn; 
3  Not 'cos I feel for the man,
4  But afraid that it be my turn.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黄宏發
23rd November 2016 (revised 24.11.16; 30.11.16; 15.12.16)
Translated from the original - 王梵志: 無題/我見那漢死

1     我見那漢死
2     肚裏熱如火
3     不是惜那漢
4     恐畏還到我


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain in language which is less than elegant.  This English rendition is in trimester (3 beats or feet) which shortens the original 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  我見 (I see) is rendered as “before me” and (dies, dying, dead) rendered as “drops dead” so as to make the death more abrupt and closer to the poet.  那漢 (that man) is rendered as “A man” here , which is a normal opening but which subtly brings out the message of the poem (according to my interpretation) that this man is every man. 

*Line 2:  is rendered as “bowels” and (in/the inside) is omitted as its meaning is included in “bowels”.  熱如火 is rendered as “Like on fire … burn”.  The juxtaposition of “bowels” and “burn” evokes the ailment called “heartburn”.

*Line 3:  For 不是, I had originally penned “Not that” but have decided for “Not ‘cos (because)”.  is rendered as “I feel for” after considering ”pity, love, care about”.  那漢 is translated  as “the man”.

*Line 4:  恐畏 is rendered as “But afraid” (after considering “scared”, “frightened” and “fear”) with “But” added to complete the “Not ‘cos” rendition of 不是 (not) in line 3.  in 還到我 should be pronounced “hai” to mean “also” (= , 也要/), in contrast to the same character or word pronounced “huan” which means “return” (e.g. 還書) , “repay” (e.g. 還錢), “retribute” ( e.g. 以牙還牙).  到我 means literally “happens/occurs to me” or idiomatically “my turn comes”.  For 還到我, I had originally penned “I’m to follow in turn” but have now decided for “I’d be next in turn” and, ultimately, the rather colloquial “me be next in turn”.  Added 22.12.2016:    I have further revised this on 15.12.2016 to restore the original literal meaning of 到我 as "my turn" rather than the very specific and less literal rendering as "next in turn".  Line 4 now reads "But afraid that it be my turn" with "-fraid", "be" and "turn" read stressed. 


05 November 2016

佚名 (中國民謠) Anonymous (Chinese Folk Song): 茉莉花 Jasmine Flower

Added (24.11.2016):  I thank Ray Heaton for providing this link to the "Moli Hua" or "Jasmine Flower" on the Wikipedia which is most informative and interesting.

Original post:  Today, I am posting my rendition of a Chinese folk song together with its musical score.  I hope it will prove to be sing-able.  Shall we sing along?

Anonymous (Chinese Folk Song): Jasmine Flower

1  O what a beautiful Moli flower!
2  O what a beautiful jasmine flower!
3  Fair and fragrant, you deck your sprays;
4  Pure and sweet and how we all praise.
5  Let me glean your blossoms so fair,
6  Send to neighbours to share.
7  Moli flower, O jasmine flower!
8  Jasmine flower, O Moli flower!

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黄宏發
21st September 2014 (revised 18.1.16)
Translated from the Chinese original - 佚名  (中國民謠): 茉莉花 

1  好一朵美麗的茉莉花
2  好一呆美麗的茉莉花
3  芬芳美麗滿枝椏
4  又香又白人人誇
5  讓我來將你摘下
6  送給別人家
7  茉莉花呀茉莉花
8  茉莉花呀茉莉花

*Acknowledgement:  I am grateful to my friend Charles Y. Huang 黃用 who kindly let me have sight of his English rendition of this song in the summer of 2014 and from which  I have borrowed heavily.
*Rhyme and form:  The original is in one single rhyme with line 2 repeating line 1 and line 8 repeating line 7.  This English rendition is in rhyming couplets with a rhyme scheme of AABBCCAA.
Lines 1 and 2:  Although “jasmine” translates 茉莉perfectly, I have retained the transliteration of “Moli” in the opening line for its musicality and have done the same to open and close the last 2 lines.  I have omitted translating as the rest of the song makes sense only if understood as the plant and not a single flower.  I had originally penned “How fair, how lovely, O Moli/jasmine flower” but have rejected it as I need to use the word “fair” in subsequent lines.
*Line 3:  The order of 美麗 “fair (beautiful)” and 芬芳 “fragrant” is reversed to make it sound more pleasing in English.
*Line 4:  The order of “pure (white)” and “sweet (fragrant)” is reversed for the same reason.
*Line 5:  I have translated   (you) as “your blossoms” (which makes better sense) and have added “so fair” so as to create a rhyme for line 6.
*Line 6:  I have translated 別人家 as “neighbours rather than “others” or “friends”.  I have added “to share” which is implied in the line.
*THE MUSIC:  The musical score in “Numbered Musical Notation” 簡譜 together with the lyrics in both English and Chinese is given below.  Please note that I have only put down the numbered musical notes (with the symbol “^” or “_” added next to the note to stand for a higher or lower octave respectively).  Other information such as note length, musical rest, bar lines, etc. are omitted as I am unable to do them on my computer.  Here goes the song:-
Anonymous (Chinese folk song): Jasmine Flower (Moli Flower)
佚名: 茉莉花 (中國民謠)

3  3        5 61^   1^ 6    5     56  5
O what a beau-ti--ful Mo-li    flower
好一     朵美     麗的     

3  3        5 61^   1^ 6    5    56    5
O what a beau-ti--ful jasmine flower
好一     朵美           

5      5     5    35       5    6        6      5
Fair and fragrant you deck your sprays

3        23    5        32    1       2    3    1
Pure and sweet and how we all praise

32  13  2         3       5      6       1^  5
Let me glean your blossoms so fair

2       35   23      1        6_ 5_
Send to  neighbours to share.

6_ 1  2           3 12  16_  5_ 
Moli flower O jasmine flower
茉莉花         呀茉     

6_ 1        2           3  12  16_  5
Jasmine flower O  Mo-li    flower


06 October 2016

杜甫 Du Fu: 八陣圖 The Eightfold Battle Formation

Today, I am posting my rendition of a little poem by Du Fu on the achievements and regrets of Zhuge 諸葛 Liang 亮 who should be no stranger to those of you familiar with Chinese history.  My notes may help a bit, at least insofar as the Battle Formation is concerned. Postscript (7 October 2016):  Thanks to Ray Heaton, I can now give you a wiki link to an alternative interpretation of the Battle Formation as a defensive construct (kind of fortress?) translated as "Stone Sentinel Maze" and another link to Chapter 84 of the Luo Guanzhong historical novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" translated by C.H. Brewitt-Taylor.

The big picture, Shu should have allied with Wu to counter Wei, the strongest of the three.  The King of Shu Liu Bei decided, probably against Zhuge's advice, to attack Wu, but failed, leading to the ultimate demise of Shu.

No more history.  Please sit back and enjoy the poem.

Du Fu (712-770): The Eightfold Battle Formation

1  Of all, in all Three Kingdoms, his feats, the greatest;
2  His Eightfold Battle Formation, his fame, thus, spread.
3  The river churns but turns not the stone cairns he laid;
4  Shu’s failed move to annex Wu----his lasting regret.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黄宏發
4th September 2013 (revised 9.9.13; 11.9.13; 12.9.16; 27.9.16)
Translated from the original - 杜甫八陣圖

1  功蓋三分國
2  名成八陣圖
3  江流石不轉
4  遺恨失吞吳


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 feet or beats) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme, as in the original, is XAXA with a less than perfect rhyme of “spread (2) - regret (4)”.

*Title and line 2:  means battle formation, and 八陣 should, in my view, be understood as one battle formation with the number 8 as the key formation concept, hence, capable of, at least, up to (8 by 8) 64 variations.  I have, therefore, translated it as “Eightfold Battle Formation” rather than “Eight Battle Formations” or “Eight-sided/-faced/Octagonal Battle Formation”.  The term 八陣 was first referred to without details in 孫臏兵法 “Sun Bin’s Art of War” by 孫臏 (the Master Sun 孫子 of the 4th century BCE), probably a descendant of 孫武 “Sun Wu” (the Master Sun 孫子 of the 6th century).  It is believed that this Battle Formation was first fleshed out by 諸葛亮 Zhuge Liang (181-214), the prime minister of the Kingdom of Shu (or 蜀漢 Shu Han) in the period of the Three Kingdoms 三國時代 (220-280), the other 2 Kingdoms being Wei (to Shu’s north) and Wu (to Shu’s east).  I have omitted translating the word (plan/diagram) which is covered by implication by the word “Formation”.

*Line 1:  I have decided to translate 三分國 as “all Three Kingdoms”, omitting the idea of (divide/divided) which idea is implied though not emphasized.  I could have used “trisected” for 三分, but this would dictate that the entity (kingdom/state, empire/country) must be translated in the singular, and neither “kingdom/state trisected” nor “empire/country trisected” is considered superior.

*Line 3:  (pebbles, stones, rocks, boulders) is translated as “stone cairns” with “cairns” added so as to make it clear that the word refers not to any stone in the river or on the river bank, but to stones laid by Zhuge Liang on the river bank to form an 8 by 8 matrix of 64 “cairns”, [相去二丈] spaced  2 ‘zhang’ or 6.66 metres apart, [各高五尺] each measuring 5 ‘chi’ or 1.66 metres high, and [廣十圍] 10 ‘wei’ (2 ‘wei’ = 1 ‘chi’) or 1.66 metres wide.  I am inclined to take the matrix to be a training ground rather than a fortress.

*Line 4:  For 失吞吳,  I had considered “ill move to annex Wu” but have decided for the plainer “failed move to annex Wu”, and for 遺恨, his lasting regret.  Although I am inclined to blame the King Liu Bei 劉備 rather than Zhuge Liang, I hope I have succeeded in retaining all the ambiguities of the original by opening the line with the added word “Shu’s”