13 November 2018

杜牧 Du Mu: 赤壁 Red Cliff

Today, I am posting my rendition of a 7-character quatrain by the late Tang dynasty poet Du Mu 杜牧 entitled "Red Cliff".  I do hope you will find it interesting.  Here we go:-

Du Mu (803-852): Red Cliff

1  Sunken in sand a snapped halberd, its blade of iron remains;
2  I scrape, I scour to find it made in the warring Tri-Kingdom reigns.
3  Had the East Winds not risen, that Spring, to lend Zhou Yu a hand,
4  His wife Er-Qiao would have gone to Bronze Bird Tower in chains.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黄宏發
17 November 2017 (revised 6.11.2018)
Translated from the original - 杜牧: 赤壁

1  折戟沈沙鐵未銷
2  自將磨洗認前朝
3  東風不與周郎便
4  銅雀春深鎖二喬


*Form. Metre and Rhyme:  This English is in heptameter (7 feet or beats) to emulate the 7-character lines of the original.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Title and Background:  The title 赤壁 “Red Cliff” refers to a river battle on the 長江 “Long River” or “Yangzi River” between “Wei” (220-265) on the one side and (or蜀漢) “Shu” (221-263 CE) and (or東吳) “Wu” (222-280) on the other, in the last days of the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220) when the 3 said kingdoms emerged vying for supremacy over the whole of China.  Thanks to gusts of east winds, the Wu-Shu alliance led by the Wu commander 周瑜 Zhou Yu downstream on the east, launched a fire attack on the Wei fleet upstream on the west, and won the battle.    

*Line 1:  is translated literally as “snapped” after considering “broken”.  未銷 (not wasted) is rendered in the positive as “remains”.

*Line 2:  自將磨洗 is translated as “I scrape, I scour”, and as “to find it (was) made”.  I have chosen to translate 前朝 (a former dynasty) by adding words which explain e.g. which dynasty, and why and what war.  I have considered “the last of Han dynasty days” which although is closer to the original’s “former dynasty, is still wanting in explanatory power.  I have now rendered it as “in the warring Tri-Kingdom reigns”.

*Line 3:  For 東風 (east winds), I had considered “the Easterlies” but have decided for the literal “the East Winds”.  不與周郎便 is rendered as “Had … not risen … to lend Zhou Yu a hand” with the name of 周郎 (Minister Zhou) properly spelt out as 周瑜 “Zhou Yu”.  I have moved 深春 (deep spring) from the original’s line 4 to the middle of line 3 of my English rendition with “, that Spring,” inserted.  This may not be entirely proper, but it tells us in no uncertain terms that this crucial battle happened in Spring, and there is no space for any reference to Spring in my line 4 in English.

*Line 4:  I have not interpreted 二喬 (two ladies named Qiao) to mean the 2 sisters: 大喬 (elder Qiao) who married 吳王 the King of Wu and or二喬 (younger or second Qiao) who married 周瑜 Zhou Yu.  I think the poem refers simply to the younger of the 2 sisters who accompanied her husband Zhou in the battle.  二喬 is therefore rendered as Er-Qiao with “His wife” added for clarity.  Both sisters were much admired and coveted by 魏王 the King of Wu 曹操 Cao Cao whose palace was 銅雀樓 the Bronze Bird Tower.    

31 October 2018

Jia Dao: Two 5-Character Quatrains 賈島: 五言絕句兩首

Today, I am re-posting my rendition of two 5-character quatrains by Jia Dao.  I hope you will love them as much as I do:-

A:  Jia Dao (779 – 843): The Swordsman

For ten long years, a sword I whetted,  
Its frosty blade, as yet, untried.
Today I hold it, unsheathed, before you;
Of you, to whom was justice denied?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者黃宏發
4th May 2015 (revised 7.5.15; 18.5.15; 22.5.15)
Translated from the original - 賈島:  劍客

B:  Jia Dao (779—843): Visiting the Absent Hermit

Beneath the pine-trees, I ask of a lad I see.
Away is the master gathering herbs, says he,
Up in this mountain, but where? I cannot tell, 
For there the clouds are deep and dense as be. 

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)       譯者: 黃宏發
17 March 2008 (revised 19.3.08; 7.7.08; 17.7.08; 19.7.08; 21.11.08; 25.11.08; 26.11.08)
Translated from the original - 賈島: 尋隱者不遇


12 October 2018

韋莊 Wei Zhuang: 寄調 - 菩蕯蠻 To the Tune of - Pu Sa Man

Today, I am posting my rendition of a "lyric" or "ci" 詞 by the late Tang dynasty poet Wei Zhuang who lived past the demise of the Tang dynasty in 907 and continued to serve as an official in the state of 前蜀 "Former Shu" till his death in 910.

I had originally, some 10 years ago, rendered the whole poem in hexameter (6 feet or beats), but have now revised it to accord with the original format of 2 long and 6 short lines format.  In this English rendition, the 2 long lines are in hexameter, the 6 short line, in pentameter.

Here we go:- 

Wei Zhuang (836-910):  To the Tune of - Pu Sa Man

1    They say Jiangnan the South Bank is truly fine and fair;
2    He, who has come to Jiangnan, grows old agreeably there.
3    Its waters, in springtime, are bluer than the sky;
4    In a gaudy house-boat, to the music of drizzles I lie.

5    She, by the wine-stove, gleaming just like the moon;
6    Her wrists, milk-white, as frost and snow bestrewn.
7    While yet un-old, I’d leave not for my home of old,
8    For to leave is to languish in heartbreak pains untold.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黃宏發
25th May 2007 (revised 11.6.2007; 23.7.2007; 3.9.2008; 5.10.18)
Translated from the original –

韋莊:  寄調 - 菩蕯蠻

1    人人盡說江南好
2    遊人只合江南老
3    春水碧於天
4    畫船聽雨眠

5    爐邊人似月
6    腕凝霜雪
7    未老莫還鄉
8    還鄉須斷腸

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is primarily in pentameter (5 
feet or beats) with the first 2 lines in hexameter (6 feet or beats).  This is to 
emulate the original’s 2 longer 7-character lines and 6 shorter 5-character lines.  
The rhyme scheme is AABBCCDD as in the original.  I am indebted to C.Y. 
Hsu 徐兆鏞 for the rhymes of “fair - there”, “sky - lie” and “moon - strewn” in 
his translation of the poem and regret I have forgotten the source.

*Line 1:  江南 is rendered transliterally as “Jiangnan” with the literal translation
“the South Bank” added.

*Line 2:  遊人 is not just any visitor/tourist, but someone who has been sent or 
has come to stay somewhere away from home, cf. 宦遊人, an official sent to 
stay away from home and the capital.  As the poem was written before Wei 
Zhuang became an official, it is therefore rendered as “He, who has come”.  只合
江南老 “grows old agreeably there” can alternatively be rendered as “will age 
agreeably there”.

*Line 3:  is rendered literally as “waters” to cover both rivers and lakes.

*Line 4:  畫船 (painted boat) is a house-boat of pleasure painted gaudily, and is rendered as “gaudy house-boat” after considering “painted house-boat”, “boat of pleasure” and “barge of pleasure”.  聽雨眠 is rendered as “to the music of drizzles I lie”.

*Line 5:  爐邊人 (person by the stove) refers to the maid waiting by the wine-stove (not any stove, nor the fireplace) and is rendered as “She, by the wine-stove” rather than literally “fire-stove” as the Chinese yellow rice wine is drunk warmed.

*Line 6:  晧腕 (white wrists) is rendered as “Her wrists, milk-white” after considering “pure white” and “cream white”.  凝霜雪 (congeal, frost, snow) is rendered as “as (with) frost and snow bestrewn”.  I am unsure if the word “with” can be omitted.

Lines 7 and 8:  For 還鄉 (return home), I had considered “… return not to my home …” for line 7, and “To return …” for line 8, but had decided for rendering the idea of “returning home” as “leaving Jiangnan” which being the essence the these 2 lines.

*Line 7:  For 未老 (not yet old), I have coined the word “un-old” and have rendered it as “While yet un-old”.

*Line 8:  I have rendered 斷腸 (severed guts) as “heartbreak pains untold” but am still wondering if "heartbreak" should be substituted by “gnawing” which is closer to the literal meaning of 斷腸 (guts severed, hence, gnawing pains).   

30 September 2018

He Zhizhang: Two 7-character Quatrains 賀知章: 七言絕句 2首

Today, I am re-posting my rendition of two 7-character quatrains by He Zhizhang.  I have rendered poem A on the 'willow" in hexameter (6 feet or beats) and poem B on "returning home" in pentameter (5 feet or beats).  For my notes on their translation, please visit the relevant links.  Here we go:-

A:   He Zhizhang (659-744): An Ode to the Willow

1  Up to your crown, O willow, dressed in the green of jades,
2  Myriads of twigs so verdant, droop like your silken braids.
3  Who knows who the tailor is, who’s cut your leaves so fine? It’s
4  The vernal winds past February, sharp as the scissors’ blades.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黄宏發

Translated from the original - 賀知章: 詠柳

1  碧玉妝成一樹高
2  萬條垂下綠絲縧
3  不知細葉誰裁出
4  二月春風似剪刀

B:  He Zhizhang (659-744): Coming Home, Fortuitous Lines 

I left home young, now old, I return care free;
My tongue unchanged, my hair though thinner be. 
Unknown am I to the boys and girls I meet;
Smiling they ask, “Sir, from whence come thee?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者黃宏發

Translated from the original - 

賀知章回鄉偶書 其一 


19 September 2018

王維 Wang Wei: 鳥鳴澗 Birdsong Brook

Today, I am posting a beautiful little quatrain by Wang Wei entitled "Birdsong Brook"which I like very much.  I hope you too will like Wang's original poem and Vikram Seth's rendition (reproduced in my notes) and my rendition of here posted.  Here we go:-. 

Wang Wei (701-761): Birdsong Brook

1       At ease and I see osmanthus flowers falling---
2       A night so still, a mountain so hollow in spring.
3       Up comes the moon awaking the mountain birds,  
4       By the brook in spring, then and again they sing.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者黃宏發
30th April 2009 (revised 6.5.09; 7.5.09; 6.6.11)

Translated from the original - 

王維: 鳥鳴澗

1       人閒桂花落
2       夜靜春山空
3       月出驚山鳥
4       時鳴春澗中


*  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 metrical feet) to emulate the original 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA, more demanding than the original XAXA, both being rhyme schemes of the Chinese quatrain.  I am indebted to Vikram Seth from whose superb rendition of the same poem, I have borrowed not only the title of “Birdsong Brook” and his rhyme of “Spring” and “sing”, but also his phrase “Up comes the moon”.  His rendition, on p.4 of his “Three Chinese Poets: Wang Wei, Li Bai and Du Fu”, HarperCollins (1993) or Faber (1992) which I like very much (except for his stressing the first syllable in every single line which, in my view, makes the poem sound harsh), is as follows:-
1  Idly I watch cassia flowers fall.
2  Still is the night, empty the hill in Spring.
3   Up comes the moon, startling the mountain birds.
4  Once in a while in the Spring brook they sing.

*  Line 1:  I had first considered using the “lie idly/leisurely” approach to translate 人閒 but have eventually embraced the “at ease and see” approach, hence, “At ease and I see”.  The correct name for 桂花 is “osmanthus” while “cassia” is the name for 桂皮.  I have used “falling” rather than “fall” both for the rhyme and for being more descriptive of the scene.

*  Line 2:  For I have chosen “hollow” over “empty”.

*  Line 3:  I am indebted to Vikram Seth for the phrase “Up comes the moon” (see note above).  (startling) is taken to mean 驚醒, hence, “awaking”.

31 August 2018

Li Bai: 2 Quatrains of Plaintful Sentiments 李白: 怨情絕句 2首

Today, I am re-posting 2 quatrains by Li Bai on ladies's plaintive sentiments.  Notes can be found in the original posts here linked.  For poem A, I am now considering whether the original "Plaintful" should be changed to "Plaintive" which may by more proper.  Grateful for your advice.

A:  Li Bai (701-762):  Plaintful Sentiments

The lady rolls up her beaded curtain;
For long she sits, brows knit, she waits.
Seen on her face are but traces of tears,
Know not who, in her heart, she hates.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者:  黃宏發
25th June 2012 (revised 26.6.12; 27.6.12; 30.10.12)
Translated from the original - 
李白:  怨情

B:  Li Bai (701-762):  Sentiments on the Steps of Marble

All whitened with dew, these steps of marble,
Soaking by late night, her silk socks so soon.
Retiring, she lets down her crystalline curtain,
Still clinging to autumn’s clear, bright moon.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者黃宏發
15th June 2012 (revised 20.6.12; 25.6.12; 26.6.12; 3 7 12)
Translated from the original -
李白:  玉階怨

18 August 2018

白居易 Bai Juyi: 後宮詞 In the Rear Palace Chambers

Today, I am posting a palace plaint by Bai Juiyi which I translated some 5 years ago but had forgotten I had never posted it for sharing.  Here it is:-

Bai Juyi (772-846):  In the Rear Palace Chambers

1       Silken towel tear-soaked, to her dreams she cannot cling;  
2       Deep at night from the front hall, songs to the beat keep ringing.
3       Her face still fair, cheeks rosy, alas, no longer in grace, there
4       She leans by the perfume censer, sitting till day comes dawning

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
15th March 2013
Translated from the original - 白居易:  後宮詞

1       淚濕羅巾夢不成
2       夜深前殿按歌聲
3       红颜未老恩先斷
4       斜倚薰籠坐到明


*    This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.  The sound of the “cling(1) ringing(2) dawning(4)” rhyme, though imperfect, is quite accidentally identical to the original’s (1) (2) (4) rhyme if read in Cantonese.

*    Line 1:  Both and mean, in this context, 濕盡 “soak” and it does not matter which one is preferred.  I had originally penned the opening as “Tear-soaked her silken kerchief” but have now decided for “Silken towel tear-soaked” as I find the sound of the “silken kerchief” alliteration too harsh.  I have moved “tear-soaked” from the beginning to the end of the opening to make a softer alliteration of “towel tear-soaked”.

*    Line 2:  I have used “keep ringing” to translate instead of the literal “sound or noise”.

*    Line 3:  红颜 rosy face” refers to the lady and is translated as “Her face” with the meaning of “rosy” to follow in the translation of 未老 “not old yet” which is rendered through the word “still”, thus “still fair" followed by "cheeks rosy" (rather than "still rosy”).  I take the word to mean 恩寵 and have decided for “grace” (over “love” and “favour”).  I had considered but rejected “has fallen from grace” as it might give the impression that the lady had done something wrong.  I had also considered the more literal “his grace withdrawn (or recanted)” but have decided for the more poetic “no longer in grace”.  I have added “alas” which is not but implied in the original.  Although the last word “there” should belong to line 4, it is moved up to end line 3 so as to shorten somewhat the pause between lines 3 and 4.

*    Line 4:  To translate 斜倚 I have used “leans” and “by” without indicating any direction, whether forward, backward or sideways, which could be “against” but certainly not “on” .  坐到明 is rendered as “sitting till day comes dawning” which can cover both 明天 “the next day” and 天明 or 黎明 “dawn”.

*    Alternative version:  Below is an alternative version with a different rhyme:-

            Bai Juyi:  In the Rear Palace Chambers

1       Her silken towel tear-soaked, to her dreams she will not go;
2       Deep at night from the front hall, songs to the drumbeat flow.
3       Her face still fair, cheeks rosy, alas, no longer in grace, there
4       She leans by the perfume censer, sitting till dawn in sorrow.

31 July 2018

Wang Fanzhi: 2 Untitled 4-Character Quatrains王梵志: 無題四言絕句 2首

Today, I am re-posting 2 of Wang Fanzhi's 4 untitled 4-character quatrains.  These are so beautiful and so different in style to Wang's other poems that they may well have been attributed to him.  I have no wish to venture into any such research.  I will simply indulge myself in his tranquil, unworldly state of mind and state of being. Here are the 2 poems:-

A:  Wang Fanzhi (592? - 670?): Untitled 4-Character Quatrain, 2 of 4 (Worldly matters, we worry, weary)

Worldly matters, we worry, weary;
Up in the mountains, we’d better be.
Green pines for shade, to filter the sun;
Blue streams, as ever, flow free and easy.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者黃宏發
16th April 2015 (revised 17.4.15; 18.4.15)

Translated from the original – 

王梵志無題四言絕句 4 其2 (世事悠悠)


B:  Wang Fanzhi (592?-670?): Untitled Four-Character Quatrain, 3 of 4 (The mountain clouds, by night, my curtain)

The mountain clouds, by night, my curtain, 
Hooked to the crescent moon, a-spread.
 I lie, I sleep 'neath vines and climbers,
With a slab of stone to pillow my head.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)
18 April 2015 (revised 30.11.15)

Translated from the original – 

王梵志無題四言絕句 4 其3 (山雲當幕)