01 May 2015

王梵志 Wang Fanzhi: 無題 (他人騎大馬) Untitled (Other men ride high on horses)

Thanks to Ray Heaton, who has been arduously contributing his perceptive and helpful comments on my previous posts, my interest in 王梵志 Wang Fanzhi's poetry (mostly vernacular and rough but, at times, simple yet elegant) has been aroused by his reference to (in one of his comments on my "Song on Ascending the Youzhou Tower" last month) Wang's line 世事悠悠 which I have rendered as "Worldly matters, we worry, weary" but on which I will not further elaborate, at least not for the time being.

Today, I am posting Wang's poem on the horsemen, the donkey rider and the man peddling on foot.  It looks like a fable from Aesop's.  I have not checked, but doesn't it.?  The moral is: Be content.  You are not the most unfortunate.

Now, just sit back, read it and enjoy it.   

Wang Fanzhi (592? – 670?): Untitled (Other men ride high on horses)

1    Other men ride high on horses,
2    A donkey I straddle, poor, poor me.
3    I turn and I see a firewood pedlar,
4    My heart, a wee bit less unhappy.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
22nd April 2015 (revised 26.4.15; 27.4.15; 28.4.15)
Translated from the original - 王梵志: 無題 (他人騎大馬)

1    他人騎大馬
2    我獨跨驢子
3    回顧擔柴漢
4    心下較些子


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain 五言絕句 rhyming XAXA.  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats or feet) with the same XAXA rhyme scheme.  Instead of following the 4-beat line length, I have been able to simplify and shorten the poem to the English “ballad form” (4 beats for lines 1 and 3 and 3 beats for lines 2 and 4) and rhyming it XAXA.  Although I consider my ballad rendition superior, I have decided to stick to the tetrametric quatrain as I may not be able to turn Wang Fanzhi’s other 5-character quatrains into ballads.  The ballad form alternative rendition is given at the end of the notes.

*Lines 1 and 2:  In line 1, I have used “ride high on horses” to translate 騎大馬 the inner meaning of which cannot be fully conveyed in the literal “ride big horses”.  In line 2, I have used “poor, poor me” instead of the literal “alone” to translate for the same reason.

*Lines 1 and 3:  I had considered adding “While” and “Then” to begin lines 1 and 3 respectively, but have decided against it in the interest of brevity.

*Line 3:  For 回顧, I had considered “I turn to/and find” and “I turn to/and see”, and have decided for “I turn and I see” with an extra “I” added before “see”.  This is done because, although “turn” precedes “see” and requires an “I”, “see” is more important to the meaning of the poem and I hope this extra “I” can adequately bring out its significance.  For I had considered “faggots” but have decided for “firewood”.  The word is a verb meaning to carry on a shoulder pole a load of goods usually in 2 bundles, baskets, buckets, packs, etc., and such a person travels on foot.  I have chosen to identify this man who carries on a shoulder pole a load of firewood as a “firewood pedlar” who (at least, in the old days) travels on foot (which meaning is all important in the context of this poem), carrying and selling his load of goods.  This added meaning of a salesman is amply justified as it is implied in the original.  擔柴漢 (like its current Cantonese equivalent 擔柴佬) usually refers to a pedlar of firewood peddling on foot.  This is best illustrated in a Cantonese children’s folk rhyme which goes: 落雨大(rhyme, or大雨 which I prefer though unrhymed)/ 水浸街(rhyme)/ 阿哥擔柴上街賣(rhyme)/ ….. “It’s raining very hard/ Water floods the streets/ My older brother shoulder-poles firewood out to the streets to sell …..” (My rough translation.)
*Line 4:  means “comparative/relative” and 些子 “a little bit”.  Although not spelt out in words in the original, it can only mean “a little more comfy” or “a little less unhappy” and I have decided for the latter, phrased as “a wee bit less unhappy”, which better echoes the sentiments of “poor, poor me” in line 2.
*Alternative Rendition in Ballad Form: 
1    Other men ride high on horses,
2    A donkey I straddle, poor me.
3    I turn and see a firewood pedlar,
4    My heart, a litt’l less unhappy.

03 April 2015

陳子昂 Chen Zi'ang: 登幽州臺歌 Song on Ascending the Youzhou Tower

Today is Good Friday 2015.  Some 2000 years ago, when Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross, He cried out, "Eloi. eloi (My God or Father), why have you forsaken me?" Here, I am not attempting to compare Chen Zi'ang to Jesus, even less, to explain why Jesus said what he said in his last words.  But on Jesus' human side, He must have felt lonely, desolate and forsaken, particularly because, on His divine side, He was to, through His death, bear the sins of humankind for our salvation and had to do it alone.

Chen Zi'ang was no divinity; he was all human.  He wanted to serve his country and the people.  Whether or not this poem is to be regarded as sentimental and, hence, inferior should best be judged in his being a gifted patriot relegated to a junior post in Youzhou.

Chen Zi-ang (661-702): Song on Ascending the Youzhou Tower

1        Ahead, I see no ancient sages,  
2        (Nor behind, the sages yet unborn.)  
Nor behind, those sages yet unborn.  (revised 14.4.15)
3   (So, on and on, heaven and earth shall roll,)  
While, on and on, heaven and earth shall roll,  (revised 14.4.15)
4   (Left all alone, in tears I stand, forlorn.)
Alone I stand, tears a-falling, forlorn.  (revised 14.4.15)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
25th March 2015 (revised 26.3.15; 28.3.15; 30.3.15; 31.3.15)
Translated from the original - 陳子昂: 登幽州臺歌

1        前不見古人
2        後不見來者
3        念天地之悠悠
4        獨愴然而涕下

*Form, Meter and Rhyme:  This poem is classified as a “七言古詩 7-Character Old-Style Verse”, a fairly loose classification which admits lines of 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 or even 10 characters in poems whose lines are predominantly of  7 characters.  This poem is rare in that no line is in 7 characters.  It is a quatrain of two 5-character lines followed by two of 7 characters.  This English rendition uses the tetrameter (4 beats) for the 5-character lines and the pentameter (5 beats) for the 6-character ones.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original where  and rhyme (上聲馬韻 rising tone “ma” rhyme) although they do not sound like rhymes in current Chinese.
*Lines 1 and 2:  For 前後 (in front/behind, before/behind, past/future, ahead/aback, before/after), I had considered Witter Bynner’s “before me/behind me” (p. 10 of his “Three Hundred Poems of the Tang Dynasty 618-906” 2005, first published as “The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology, Being (as stated above)” 1929) but have decided for the simpler “ahead/behind” for which, I am grateful to Innes Herdan (p. 120 of her “300 Tang Poems” 1973, 2000) and 施穎洲 (p. 27 of his “中英對照讀唐詩宋詞 Tang and Song Poetry: Chinese—English” 2006, 2007).
*Lines 1 and 2 - 古人 (men of the past):  I have interpreted “men of the past” to refer to “great men” or ”men good and wise” or “sages” of the past, and also the present (himself) and the future (those to come).  This allusion to sages is apparent in the title.  Youzhou Tower, near present-day Beijing, was the 黃金臺 Golden Tower built by the Lord of the State of Yan in the Warring States 戰國 Period in China (475-221 BCE) to recruit the good and wise to serve Yan.
*Line 2:  I had considered “yet to come” to translate (to come) (men to come), but have decided for “yet unborn” to create a rhyme for “forlorn” in line 4.
*Line 3:  To translate and to capture the repetition of in 悠悠 (long, remote, infinite), I had considered such repetitions as “long, long lasting” (the word “long” and the “l” sound), “vast and everlasting” (the “-ast-” sound), “lasting, everlasting” (the word “lasting”), and ”immense, immortal” (the “im-” sound), and have decided for “So on and on, heaven and earth shall roll” with the word “on” repeated in “(roll) on and on”.  I had originally penned “go (on and on)” but have decided for “roll on and on” to convey the passage of time and the ups and downs in the world and in life.  To translate (think, muse, brood) I have used the less than literal “So” which, I hope, is adequate in the context of the line.  The inversion of ending the line with “shall roll” instead of “on and on” is intended to avoid, in line 3, the “on” sound which is too close to the rhyme of “unborn” in line 2 and “forlorn” in line 4. 

*Line 4:  I had originally penned “Steeped in tears, alone I stand, forlorn”, then considered “Tears a-dripping, alone I stand, forlorn” and “While all alone, in tears I stand, forlorn”, and have now decided for “Left all alone, in tears I stand, forlorn” which is less sentimental and better echoes the situation of the poet given in the first 2 lines.  

01 March 2015

盧綸 Lu Lun: 塞下曲六首 其三 Border Song III of Six

This month I am posting #3 of Lu Lun's 6 Border Songs.  Songs #1 and #2 were respectively posted here in August 2014 and January 2015.  In my January post, in my discussion with Ray Heaton and Frank Yue, I suggested that these 6 songs can be understood as 6 scenes in the life of an anonymous general.  Now that you have read three of the six, are you inclined to agree?  

Lu Lun (748-800?):  Border Song III of Six

1    A moonless sky, wild geese flown out of sight;
2    (The Huns beaten, their prince at night takes flight.)
      The Hun beaten, their prince by night takes flight.  (revised 3.3.15)
3    (Our cavalry light, all set and due to pursue;)
      Our cavalry light, all set to duly pursue----  (revised 6.3.15)
4    (Our bows and sabres, laden with snow despite.)
      Our bows, our sabres, laden with snow despite.  (revised 6.3.15)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
15th May 2013 (revised 4.6.2013; 22.12.14)
Translated from the original - 盧綸塞下曲六首 其三

1    月黑雁飛高
2    于夜遁逃
3    欲將輕騎逐
4    大雪滿弓刀

*    This English rendition is in pentameter (5 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*    Line 1:  To translate 月黑  I had considered “Moonless and dark”, “The moon shrouded”, “A moonless night” and have now decided for “A moonless sky”..  I have interpreted 飛高 as 高飛遠走 or 遠走高飛 which literally mean “fly high” and “go far” but figuratively mean “out of sight”, hence, my “wild geese flown out of sight” for 雁飛高 instead of the literal “geese fly high”..
*    Line 2:  單于 is the title of a prince or chieftain of the 匈奴 Xiongnu (or Hun) nation and is translated as “The Huns … their prince” instead of the transliteration “Chanyu”.  is translated as “takes flight”.  I have added “beaten” which is not in the original but is implied in the word .
*    Line 3:  I have inversed the order of “light cavalry” 經騎  both for the daDUM (iambic)-dadaDUM (anapestic) meter of the line, and for the mid rhyme of “light” to rhyme with the end rhyme of “sight-flight-despite”. 
*    Line 4:  I had considered “heavy” to translate滿 but have decided for “laden”.  

07 February 2015

劉雪庵 Liu Xue'an: 踏雪尋梅 Over the Snow for Wintersweet Flowers

Following Tang poet Bai Juyi's "Flower No Flower" (白居易:花非花) which I posted in October 2014, today I am posting a second "sing-able" verse: "Over the Snow for Wintersweet Flowers" 踏雪尋梅, lyrics by Liu Xue'an 劉雪庵 and music by his music master Huang Zhi 黃自.  It was also Huang Zhi who composed the music for Bai Juyi's "Flower..." poem.

Again, I am grateful to my friend Charles Huang Yong 黃用 who is pursuing a similar hobby and has shared with me many of his renditions which have been a source of my inspiration.  He has, like me, chosen to translate the 梅 plum/mume here properly as 蠟/臘梅 wintersweet.  Please see my note on line 2 here in this post and my note on Wang Wei's "A Poem in Sundry Lines" 王維: 雜詩 posted on this blog in January 2010.

I have known this song all my life since primary school in the early 1950's, and rendering the lyrics into English gives me the greatest pleasure that I, for one, can now sing it in English.  The music is given (though not fully) at the end of the notes.  Please have a go at singing this tune, now in English. 

Liu Xue'an (1905-1985):  Over the Snow for Wintersweet Flowers

1    Snow wanes, the day so fine;
2    The wintersweet, sweet as wine.
3    On a mule, o’er the bridge,  
4    The bell goes tinkling-tine.
5    Tinkling-tine! Tinkling-tine!
6    Tinkling-tine! Tinkling-tine!
7    O flowers, gleaned for a vase of mine,
8    Be with me while I read or chime,
9    We’ll share a time divine.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黄宏發
20th September 2014 (revised 22.9.14; 23.9.14; 24.9.14; 26.9.14; 27.9.14; 28.9.14)
Translated from the original - 劉雪庵踏雪尋梅

1    雪霽天晴朗
2    臘梅處處香
3    騎驢把()橋過
4    鈐兒響叮噹

5    響叮噹 響叮噹
6    響叮噹 響叮噹
7    好花採得瓶供養
8    伴我書聲琴韻
9    共渡好時光

*Form, Meter and Rhyme:  The original is a 9-line rhymed verse (with A for rhyme A and X for unrhymed) but of varying line-lengths (number of words, which are monosyllabic in Chinese, marked in brackets), in a pattern of A(5)-A(5)-X(5)-A(5)-A(6)-A(6)-A(7)-X(6)-A(5).  This English rendition follows the same rhyme scheme and a similar pattern of line-lengths (counted in terms of feet or stresses or beats): A(3)-A(3)-X(3)-A(3)-A(4)-A(4)-A(4)-X(4)-A(3).  Since the original are the lyrics of a song, it is rendered with “sing-ability” very much in mind.                     
*Line 1:  I had originally penned “Snow wanes”, revised to “Snow’s waned”, but have now decided to revert to “Snow wanes”.  I had originally penned “the day is fine”, but have found “the day so fine” far superior whether sung or simply read out loud.
*Line 2:  /臘梅 should properly be translated as “wintersweet” (chimonanthus praecox) and not as “mume” or “plum” (prunus mume) which is the Japanese/Chinese .  They are different plants but have a lot in common: both native to China, have fragrant flowers, and blossom in winter.  Although /臘梅 is /臘梅 (wintersweet) and  is  (plum/mume), the latter, as a single word, may refer to either. Thus, the  in the title obviously refers to /臘梅.  I had elsewhere in Wang Wei’s “A Poem of Sundry Lines” 王維: 雜詩 (my January 2010 post) interpreted his 寒梅 “cold/winter plum flowers” to mean “wintersweet flowers”.  I have failed to translate the meaning of 處處 “everywhere/all over the place” and have taken it to be self-evident, but have been able to reproduce its reiterative beauty by repeating the word “sweet” in the line.  To the line, I have added the analogy of “as wine”, which is not in the original, for the “-ine” rhyme.
*Line 3:  should technically be “ass” or “donkey”, neither very pleasing to the ear.  I have, therefore, adopted  “mule”, a cross between a donkey and a mare, considering that it is like a horse but not a horse.  There are 2 versions of the third word: and .  I have chosen because is the proper name of a river and 灞橋過 (understood as 過灞橋) would mean “cross the bridge over the Ba River” which is unlikely to be the theme of the song.  I had originally penned “I cross the bridge” but have decided for “o’er the bridge”.
*Lines 4 to 6:  I am more than pleased to have rendered 響叮噹 as “tinkling-tine” with “tinkling” for the sound of the bell on the mule and “tine” for the pause in between.  This is not to say “tine” is not chosen for the “-ine” rhyme.
*Lines 7-9:  I have simply rendered line 7 as “O flowers, gleaned for a vase of mine” using the word “for” to translate, not literally, 供養 which term can mean either (1) “provide for” (e.g. 父母 “one’s parents” or someone dear) or (2) “enshrine for worship” (e.g. 神明 “a deity” or some adorable person/thing), or both.  And these last 3 lines of the song seem to indicate both meanings do exist: I will keep you well in a vase placed in my study to keep me company while I read aloud and play my lute, and we’ll have a good time together.  As such, it seems to me the best approach is to use “for a vase of mine” for line 7 and leave it to the next 2 lines to speak for themselves.  I had originally considered “With books and my lute for/in company” to translate line 8, but had rejected it as wrong as the line suggests the flowers (and not the lute and books) keeping the poet company.  I have, therefore, employed the structure of “O flowers . . .” in line 7 as the addressee and the “Be with me” in line 8 as the message addressed to the flowers, asking them to keep the poet company in his study while he reads and chimes. Please note “chime” is not a true “-ine” rhyme, but in any case, line 8 is unrhymed in the original.
*Line 8:  Although the line can be scanned and read as 2 trochees (DUM-da) followed by 2 iambs (da-DUM) making “Be with me while” read as DUM-da-DUM-da stressing “Be” and “me”, I suggest that it should be scanned and read as 4 iambs (i.e. a straightforward iambic tetrameter line which is what I have written) turning the same 4 words into da-DUM-da-DUM stressing “with” and “while”.  As the word “with” is, in my view, of crucial importance to the meaning of the line and the whole song, I strongly suggest it should be read stressed.  As for the second half of the line, I had originally penned “I read and chime” which appeared straightforward and unproblematic.   I now consider it flawed as it may be taken to mean the poet reading aloud and playing the lute at the same time (which no one can do) and have decided to use “or” instead of “and”.  This is to say, the company of the wintersweet flowers is all important whether the poet is reading or chiming or just relaxing in his study.
*Line 9:  I had originally penned “We’ll spend a time” with “We’ll” to translate and “spend” for .  Instead of “spend”, I have now decided for the word “share” which, in my view, best captures the idea of 共渡 but have decided to retain “We’ll” instead of revising it to “To”.  I have ended the line and the whole song in the “-ine” rhyme with the word “divine”, meaning “excellent in a superhuman degree, said of persons or things” (Shorter Oxford), “extremely good, unusually lovely” (Webster’s Unabridged).  Although this may be flawed for being informal (Webster’s) and colloquial (陸谷孫: 英汉大詞典), I will stick to it and take it to simply mean “heavenly” in the sense of “good, lovely” rather than “godly, sacred”.
*Music:  The music to the lyrics was composed by Huang Zhi (1904-1938), a famous composer in the Nationalist period (1911-1949).  The musical score in “numbered musical notation” (簡譜 jianpu) and the song lyrics in both English and Chinese are given below.  Please note that I have only put down the numbered musical notes (with “^” and “_” added to the number to stand for a higher and lower octave respectively), and the key signature (in this case, 1=E) and time signature (2/4).  Other information such as note length, musical rest, bar lines, etc. are omitted as I am unable to do them on my computer.  THE SONG follows:-

踏雪尋梅    Over the Snow for Wintersweet Flowers
: 劉雪庵    Lyrics by Liu Xuean (1905-1985)   
: 黄自     Music by Huang Zhi (1904-1938)

1=E    2/4
Snow wanes, the day so fine;
3              5        5    (5)  12   3
The wintersweet, sweet as wine.
3       (3) (3)  6            5      12    3
On a mule, o’er the bridge,
3    5  1^7     3       6      5
The bell goes tinkling-tine.
5_   (5_)   3      2     1     1
Tinkling-tine! Tinkling-tine!
3      5      5        2     5      5
Tinkling-tine! Tinkling-tine!
3      5       5        5    1^    1^
O       flowers, gleaned for a vase of mine,
1 3 5    1^           7            6    3 (3)     6   5
Be with me, while I read or chime,
5     (5)   12     3       4    5   (5)    5
We’ll share a time divine.
5_       (5_)   3    2      1  1