04 May 2020

韋莊 Wei Zhuang: 金陵圖 Six Landscapes of Jinling

Here is my rendition of another Jinling landscape quatrain by Wei Zhuang entitled "Six Landscapes of Jinling" which I promised in my last post (April 2020) when I posted Wei Zhuang's "A Landscape of Jinling -- The Capital City".  You may wish to go to it after this.

You may also wish to spend some time on the Comments made by my friend Ray Heaton on the last poem and my Comments in reply.  They may be lengthy but worth the while, particularly on the interpretation of the first 2 lines of this poem.

Here we go.  Thank you, Ray.

Wei Zhuang (836-910): Six Landscapes of Jinling

1   Who says ‘tis really impossible, to portray a grieving heart ---
2   Painters being prone to paint, what the worldly deem as art.
3   O look at these six landscapes of Jinling, her Six Dynasties gone,
4   See dying trees and chilling clouds, all over the city rampart.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
31 October 2019 (revised 1.11.19; 2.11.19)
Translated from the original - 韋莊: 金陵圖

1   誰謂傷心畫不成
2   畫人心逐世人情
3   君看六幅南朝事
4   老木寒雲滿故城


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is a quatrain in heptameter (7 feet or beats) to emulate the original which is a 7-character “jueju” 絕句 (quatrain).  To further emulate the original, I have given to each of the four 7-beat lines a caesura (pause) after the first 4 beats.  The rhyme scheme is AAxA as in the original.

*Title and Line 3:  金陵 (present day: 南京 Nanjing) in the title is rendered simply as “Jinling” in transliteration.  Jinling was the capital of the 4 successive Southern Dynasties of Song, Qi, Liang and Chen in the 南北朝 North and South Dynasties period (420-581) and their 2 southern predecessors, namely Wu (222-280) and 東晉Eastern Jin (317-420).  These 6 dynasties in the South, with Jinling as capital, are collectively known as 六朝 “Six Dynasties” or as 南朝 “South Dynasties”.  Although referred to in line 3 of the original as “South Dynasties”, it is rendered as “Six Dynasties” in my rendition in “her Six Dynasties gone” to evoke sentiments of the decay and fall of dynasties.  in the title is rendered as “Landscape(s)” to mean landscape paintings.  The title of the poem 金陵圖 is, therefore, rendered as “Six Landscapes of Jinling” as line 3 of the poem clearly refers to 6 paintings: 六幅 (six, scrolls, matters).  Wei Zhuang has another poem with the same title of 金陵圖 (with 臺城 added or as an alternative title) which title I have rendered as “A Landscape of Jinling – The Capital City”.

*Line 1:  誰謂 is translated literally as “Who says”.  傷心 (hurt, heart) is rendered as “a grieving heart”.  畫不成 (paint, not, succeed) is rendered as “… ’tis really impossible to portray” after considering “… truly/ well/ well nigh impossible …”  The line is not a mere question, but a rhetorical one, to say it is possible to portray a grieving heart, as will be made clear in lines 3 and 4.

*Line 2:  畫人 (paint, man) is taken to mean “one who paints” and not “to paint people” and is, therefore, translated literally as “Painters”.  心逐 (heart, pursue) is understood as “the heart is after” and is rendered as “being prone to paint”.  世人情 (world, men, sentiments) is understood as “the taste of the worldly people” and is rendered as “what the worldly (to mean, the worldly people) deem as art”.  This line is interpreted as an elaboration and explanation of why it is so hard to portray a grieving heart, but more importantly as a rejection of “what the worldly deem as art”.

*Line 3:  君看 (you, look) is rendered as “O look at”, with “O” added to lead on to the painter’s and poet’s grieving heart brought out by the “dying trees and chilling clouds” in line 4.  六幅 (six, scrolls, … matters) is rendered as “these six landscapes of Jinling”.  南朝 (south, dynasties) is rendered as “her Six Dynasties gone” after considering “… past”.  (Please see note above on “Title and Line 3”.)

*Line 4:  老木寒雲 (old, wood, cold, clouds) is rendered as “See dying trees and chilling clouds”, with “See” added to follow from “O look” in line 3.  I suggest reading “See dying trees and chilling clouds” as 4 iambuses (didum didum didum didum) with “See” read unstressed.  滿故城 (fill, old, city) is rendered as “all over the city rampart”.

12 April 2020

韋莊 Wei Zhuang: 金陵圖 / 臺城 A Landscape of Jinling/ The Capital City

POSTSCRIPT (23.4.2020):  Thanks to Ray Heaton's Comment of my rendering 鳥 (birds) as "roosters" 公雞, I have decided to reinstate in my Note on Line 2 a reference to 祖逖 who was instrumental in warding off offences from the North between the end of the West and the beginning of the East Jin Dynasty

ORIGINAL POST:  Here is a 7-character quatrain by the late Tang dynasty poet Wei Zhuang on a landscape painting of Jinling (present day Nanjing) which I have rendered into English in heptameter with a caesura after the 4th beat and rhymed AAxA.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Today is Easter Sunday, the day our Lord Jesus rose from the dead.  Let us pray we be rid of the novel coronavirus the soonest.  Amen. 

Wei Zhuang (836-910): A Landscape of Jinling/ The Capital City

1   The River in rain, in mizzling mizzles, her reeds in stretches grow;
2   Your Six Dynasties now gone like dreams, roosters in vain do crow.
3   Heartless, utmost, therein your City, the unfeeling willow trees, still
4   Veil and shroud the dyke for miles while their misty catkins blow.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黃宏發
23 October 2019 (revised 24.10.19; 25.10.19)
Translated from the original - 韋莊: 金陵圖/ 臺城

1   江雨霏霏江草齊
2   六朝如夢鳥空啼
3   無情最是臺城柳
4   依舊煙籠十里堤


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is a quatrain in heptameter (7 feet or beats) to emulate the original which is a 7-character “jueju” 絕句 (quatrain).  To emulate the original, I have also given to each of the 7-beat lines a caesura (main pause) mid-line after the first 4 feet or beats.  The rhyme scheme is AAxA as in the original.

*Title and lines 2 and 3:  金陵 (present day: 南京 Nanjing) in the first title is rendered simply as “Jinling” in transliteration as the second title lay bare Jinling was “The Capital City”.  Jinling was the capital of the 4 successive Southern Dynasties of Song, Qi, Liang and Chen in the 南北朝 Northern and Southern Dynasties period (420-581) and their 2 southern predecessors, namely Wu (222-280) and 東晉Eastern Jin (317-420).  These 6 are collectively known as the 六朝 “Six Dynasties” referred to in line 2.  is rendered as “A Landscape (meaning landscape painting) of”.  Wei has another poem with the same title of 金陵圖 said to have been written after viewing 6 paintings of Jinling in the Six Dynasties which runs: 誰謂傷心畫不成/ 畫人心遂世人情/ 君看六幅南朝事/ 老木寒雲滿故城.  (I have yet to attempt a translation.)  The present poem was probably similarly inspired.  The other title 臺城 refers to the old royal palace which had fallen into disuse.  I have taken this to stand for the whole city, hence, rendered as “The Capital City” in the title and simply “City” (capitalized) in line 3.

Line 1:  江雨 (river, rain) is rendered as “The River in rain” with River capitalized to indicate it is the Yangzi River 揚子江 or Long River 長江 being referred to.  霏霏 has 2 completely different meanings: torrential rains and drizzles.  I have opted for the latter as it fits the tone of the whole poem and have, therefore, rendered it “in mizzling mizzles”.  The in 江草 is not repeated but replaced by and rendered as “her” (a personification of the River).  is rendered as “reeds” rather than sedges (for being too pretty) and grass (for being too general).  is not taken to mean “neat, tidy, trimmed, level”, but “uniform, unmixed”.  Hence, 草齊 is rendered as “in stretches (large and/or long patches of unmixed reeds) grow”.

Line 2: 六朝 is translated literally as “Your Six Dynasties” with “Your” added to personify Jinling.  如夢 is rendered as “now gone like dreams” with “now gone” added.  is taken not to refer to “birds” in general, but to “cocks or chicken of the masculine gender” and I have decided for “roosters” after considering “cocks” and “chanticleers”.  You may wish to put this speculation of mine in the context of the Chinese idiom 聞雞起舞 "hearing the cock crows, rise to practise swordsmanship" derived from 晉書 "The History of the Jin Dynasty" which records the biography of a man called 祖逖 Zu Di (266-321, between the end of West and beginning of East Jin) who when young rose to practise swordsmanship every day upon hearing the first crow of the cock.  空 (empty) is rendered as "in vain" after considering "to no avail" and “for naught”.  is translated literally as “crow”.

Line 3:  無情 (no feeling) is rendered as “Heartless”, and 最是 (the most) as “utmost”.  臺城
(elevated city) is rendered as “therein your City” with “City” capitalized to indicate it is the Capital city.  (Please see note on the Title.)  (willow) is rendered as “the unfeeling willow trees” with “unfeeling” added to reinforce the opening translation of 無情 as “Heartless”.  I have enjambed the line by adding at the end the word “still” to cover the translation of 依舊 (as of old) in the original’s line 4.

Line 4:  依舊 is moved up to line 3 and rendered as “still”. (smoke, or mist) (encage, cover) is rendered as “Veil and shroud”.  十里 (10 ‘li’ is about 3 miles) may well be just a hyperbole to say very long.  I have rendered it as “for miles” rather than “ten ‘li’s’” or “three miles”.  (embankment) is rendered as “dyke” after considering “embankment/ bank/ banking”.  And to end the poem and complete the rhyme, I have added “while their misty catkins blow” which is not in the original, but useful for an understanding of how willows work to produce the “misty” look.

06 March 2020

李端 Li Duan: 聽箏 Listening to the Zither

In these novel coronavirus days, when we should best remain secluded, poetry and music should prove to be our best company.

Today, I am posting my English rendition of a beautiful little poem by the Tang dynasty poet Li Duan on a string musical instrument called 箏 "zheng" or 古箏 "Guzheng".  I have translated it as "Zither" which is a similar European (Austrian, Tyrolese, Bavarian) instrument.  If you wish to know a bit more about this musical instrument, please consult my notes on the title and lines 1 and 2 of my English rendition of the poem.

As the Chinese Zither or Guzheng 古箏 has spread to other countries and peoples in East Asia, you may also wish to "google search" the following 7 items to seek more information and to listen to the music made by instruments of the Zither family via the videos provided:

(1) Zither
(2) Chinese Guzheng
(3) Japanese Koto
(4) Korean Gayageum
(5) Vietnamese Dan Tranh
(6) Mongolian Yatga
(7) Sundanese Kacapi

Please enjoy yourselves!!! 

Li Duan (738?-786?):  Listening to the Zither

1   Its strings on their golden bridges, the zither in tune arises;
2   At her fair hands’ fingertips, its resonance chamber in chime.
3   Desiring the caring attention of the man dear to her heart,
4   Coyly, she plucks and plays a wrong note from time to time.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
26 February 2020
Translated from the original – 李端: 聽箏

1   鳴箏金粟柱    
2   素手玉房前    
3   欲得周郎顧    
4   時時誤拂絃    


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain (of 4 lines of equal length).  As Chinese is a mono-syllabic language while English is accentual, stressed syllables (or beats or feet) in the English language are used to determine the line length of the English rendition.  While the original is in penta-syllabic lines (of 5 syllables), this English rendition, also a quatrain, is in hexameter (6 feet or beats), which is less than perfect than the pentameter (5 feet or beats).  There is, in the original, a caesura in every line after the second foot or beat.  To further emulate the original, I have invariably provided a mid-line caesura between the third and fourth beats.  As for the rhyme scheme, although (line 1) and (line 3) rhyme perfectly under current Modern Chinese pronunciation, apparently constituting a rhyme scheme of ABAB, the two words were in fact pronounced rather differently and did not rhyme in Tang dynasty (618-907) Medieval Chinese.  Without venturing into any research on their true pronunciation, I will simply say: (1) they do not rhyme under current Cantonese Chinese pronunciation, and (2) they were classified into different rhyme sections in the classical Chinese rhyme book 佩文韻府 with in 上聲七  (Rising Tone Section 7: ) and in 去聲七遇 (Falling Tone Section 7: ).  The poet’s rhyme scheme must, therefore, be XAXA and this is what I have used.

* Title, and the Zither:  The title (hear) (zither) has been criticized by some as improper as the poem is about the zither in play, not about hearing or listening to it.  I am of the view that the poet is gently asking us readers of the poem and the man represented by 周郎 in the poem to listen to “the sound beyond the strings” 絃外之音 and have, therefore, decided for the literal translation of 聽箏 as “Listening to the Zither”.  (zheng) or 古箏 (guzheng, i.e. ancient zheng) is a rectangular string musical instrument of many strings (13 strings in Tang dynasty days, 26 nowadays, and there had been changes throughout the ages), with each string supported by a moveable bridge.  It is placed horizontally before the player and played with the fingertips with or without a plectrum. It dates from 400 BCE or earlier, probably preceded by the Chinese “qin” or guqin” without the moveable bridges and the Chinese “se” with moveable bridges and with even more strings (now rarely played).  Related instruments (with moveable bridges) can be found in East Asia in (1) the Japanese “koto”, (2) the Korean “gayageum”, (3) the Vietnamese “dan tranh”, (4) the Mongolian “yatga”, and (5) the Sundanese (of West Java, Indonesia) “kacapi”, all probably derived from the Chinese instruments).   On the basis that the European (Austrian,Tyrolese, Bavarian) zither is the only rectangular plucked string musical instrument placed and played horizontally in the West, I have decided to name all these instruments (whether with or without moveable bridges) “zithers” in English, much like naming all string instruments in Chinese.   Depending on the context and the choice of the translator, can either be transliterated as “zheng” (like the “pipa” 琵琶) if one wishes to foreignize it, or be translated as “zither” and nothing else if one wishes to domesticate it.  This is because a “harp” (Witter Bynner) stands, and other plucked instruments such as the “lute” (Tang Li-chang), the “cittern or cithern” (Betty Tsang), and others are all guitar like with a pear shape or round or triangular body.  A possible third option is to use “strings” as a synecdoche for the instrument which, in the case of the title, is of little help.

*Line 1:  (sound) (zither) is rendered as “the zither in tune arises” and moved to end the line.  (pillar) in金粟柱 refers to “bridges” which, in string musical instruments, hold the strings between the two ends.  In the case of the Chinese “zither” (please look up 古箏 “guzheng” on the web), each bridge holds only one string, and are moveable along the string for fine tuning.   They are not “frets”, nor “pegs”.  is therefore rendered as “Its strings on their … bridges” with the addition of (1) “strings” to make clear these are bridges to hold strings, (2) “Its” to say these are the zither’s strings, and (3) “on their (… bridges)” to mean there are as many bridges as strings.  (gold) (millet) is used to describe the bridges and can be interpreted as a gold inlaid or gold colour engraving (of a pattern of either the ripe, hence, yellow millet grains or the yellow 桂花  osmanthus flowers) decorating the bridges.  For brevity, it is simply rendered as “golden” after considering “gilded” and “gilden” without specifying the pattern.

*Line 2:  (white) (hands, or arms, or fingers) is rendered as “At her fair hands’ fingertips” (originally penned as “… arms’ …”) with “her fair hands’ finger(tip)s” used as its literal translation and with “At … (finger)tips” added to pave the way for my rendition of (jade) (room, or chamber) (front) which follows.   The term玉房 is taken by most to mean a luxurious chamber or a lady’s bowers, and the word is understood as in front of such places.  I am of the view that 玉房 refers to the sounding box or resonant cavity (or chamber) of the zither, a term used in the original as a synecdoche for the zither, which has nothing to do with “jade” except to mean the zither is very precious with “golden bridges” (see note on line 1 above) and a “jade-like (to mean ornate) body”.  I have decided for rendering it as “its resonance chamber” after considering and rejecting “its jade-like chamber”.  This interpretation turns the whole line to literally mean “Her fair hands’ fingers in front of the precious zither”, however, to do what and with what result?   I have, therefore, decided to render as “At her (fair hands’) fingertips” to cover both the front position and the fingering action, and to even cover she is in command of and playing the zither.  The result of her action is given through the addition of “in chime” to end the line.  This “chime” is implied in 玉房 as the zither’s “resonance chamber”, and is a resounding complement to “the zither in tune arises” that ends line 1.

*Line 3:  (desire) (obtain) is translated literally as “Desiring” after considering “Wishing”, “Seeking” and “Craving”.  (surname Zhou) (noble young man) refers to the young General Zhou Yu 周瑜 of the Kingdom of Wu (and of Red Cliff 赤壁 Battle fame) in China’s Three Kingdoms Period (220-280), who was also a great musician.  Here, 周郎 is rendered as “the man dear to her heart” which is what it means in this context, after considering “… prince …”.  (glance; care, or attention) is rendered as “the caring attention of”, after considering “a caring glance from”.

*Line 4:  時時 (time and time), which should be understood as “time and again” and not as “always”, is rendered as “from time to time” and moved to end the line, with the reduplication of “time” to emulate the reduplication of in the original.  (mistake) (pluck) (string) is rendered as “Coyly, she plucks and plays a wrong note (from time to time)” with (1) translated as “wrong”,  (2) covered by “she plucks and plays”, and (3) rendered as “a (wrong) note” rather than “… string”, and with the addition of “Coyly”, a word so rich in meaning (from shyly, bashfully to coquettishly, flirtatiously), which gives life to the line and the poem.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            

10 February 2020

李清照 Li Qingzhao: 點绛脣 Dian Jiang Chun -- 天真 Naivete

Ray Heaton, a friend on the web though we have never met, has kindly alerted me to an article in "The World of Chinese" on "The Talent of Li Qingzhao" in which is cited Li Qingzhao's tune lyric poem Dian Jiang Chun or Red Lips translated by E.C. Chang.  Here is the link for those who wish to see Chang's rendition: https://www.theworldofchinese.com/2015/07/the-talent-of-li-qingzhao/

I happen to have recently translated the same and am posting it here today for all to share.  Unlike most of Li Qingzhao's other poems, there is nothing melancholic.  It must have been written when she was a talented teenager, or written much older recalling, reminiscing her younger days.  I have rendered it in the past tense, and in the third person to make it possible for the poem to be interpreted to generally cover all young girls of a certain upbringing.

I give you this delightful, beautiful little poem.

Li Qingzhao (1084-1157): Dian Jiang Chun (Touching Up the Red Lips) --- Naivete

1   Having had fun, she stepped off the swing,
2   And rose to slowly stretch and flex her slender, tender hands.
3   Like dense dewdrops on thin flowers cram,
4   Her sweat, though slight, still through her play clothes ran.

5   On seeing someone coming in,
6   Unshod, in socks, her gold hairpin slip-ped,
7   Wearing a shy face, she fled.
8   Yet she leaned by the gateway, turned her head,
9   Feigning, as if, she was sniffing green plums instead.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
29 January 2020 (revised 30.1.2020)
Translated from the original - 李清照: 點绛脣 --- 天真

1   鞦韆  
2   起來   
4   衣透   

5   見有人來   
9   却把青梅齅      


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a tune lyric poem or ‘ci’ to the tune of Dian Jiang Chun 點絳脣 (Touching Up the Red Lips) entitled 天真 (Naivete), which is in two stanzas totalling 36 characters (single syllable words), the first stanza of 4 and the second of 5 lines of varying line lengths with a line-length pattern of 4-7/ 4-5// 4-5-3/ 4-5//.  This English rendition follows the same line-length pattern, counting feet or beats (not words, nor syllables) to determine the length of lines.  To emulate the original, the 7-character (hepta-syllabic) line is rendered in heptameter (7 beats), the 5-character (penta-syllabic) lines, rendered in pentameter (5 beats), the 4-character (tetra-syllabic) lines, in tetrameter (4 beats), and the 3-character (tri-syllabic) line, in trimeter (3 beats).  To further emulate the original, a mid-line caesura (pause) is provided after the fourth beat for the one 7-beat line, and after the second beat for all the shorter (i.e. 5-, 4-, 3-beat) lines.  Although, in this English rendition, I have been unable to strictly follow the rhyme scheme of the original, which is a single rhyme for all lines except the opening line of each stanza (i.e. lines 1 and 5), I have been able to rhyme the 2 stanzas separately with 2 different rhymes,  thus xA/ AA// xBB/ BB (instead of the original xA/ AA// xAA/ AA//).  The A rhyme for the first stanza is the assonance of the “a” sound as in h[a]nds, cr[a]m, and d[a]mp.  The B rhyme for the second stanza is the “ed” rhyme as in -p[ed], fl[ed], h[ead], and inst[ead].

*Line 1:  (step) (completed) 鞦韆 (the swing; popularly simplified as 秋千) is rendered as “Having had fun, she stepped off the swing” with “Having had fun” added to begin the poem by pointing out this is her play time and to make it a 4-beat line to emulate the original’s 4-character line.

*Line 2:  起來 (rise) is translated literally as “And rose” after considering “To rise”.  (lazily or tiredly) (put in order, or fix) is rendered as “to slowly stretch and flex” after considering “… loosen, straighten”.   (slender) (hands or arms) is rendered as “her slender, tender hands” with the replication of  rendered as the internally rhymed “slender, tender”.

*Line 3:   (dew) (dense) (flowers) (thin) is rendered as “Like dense dewdrops on thin flowers cram” after considering “… jam”, with “Like” added to turn the line into a simile to create a closer link between lines 3 and 4, and “cram” used to further translate in the sense of “dense”.

*Line 4: (thin) (sweat or perspiration) is rendered as “Her sweat, though slight” after considering “Her light perspiration”.  (light or thin) (clothes) refers to casual wear ( is taken to mean 輕便 casual) and is rendered as “her play clothes”.  (penetrate, or through, or go out of, or come out from) is rendered as “still through … ran” after considering “still made … damp” and “still seen on … stamped”.

*Line 5: I had originally taken  (see) 客 (have) 人 (man) (come) to be the proper version and rendered as “Seeing a guest entering the grounds”.  I have now decided for the 見有人來 version and have revised the line to read “On seeing someone coming in” which can ambiguously point to some young gentleman which is precisely what the poem is all about..

*Line 6:  (socks; long been simplified to ) (reduced to) is taken to mean “reduced to socks” or “only in socks” and is rendered as “In socks, unshod”.  (gold) (hairpin) (slip) is rendered as “her gold hairpin slip-ped” (after considering “… drop-ped”), with “slipped” presented as the 2-syllable “slip-ped” to begin the “ed” rhyme of the second stanza.

*Line 7:  (and or with) (shyness) (go) is rendered as “Wearing a shy face, she fled” after considering “Shyly, away she fled”.

*Line 8:  (lean) (door or gate), in this context, should not be taken to literally mean “leaned against the gate”, but to mean “stopped at the gateway (to lean against something unspecified)” as no one can lean without stopping.  I had, in fact, originally penned “Yet she stopped at the gateway …”, but have now decided for “Yet she leaned by the gateway …” with “leaned” to literally translate and “by the gateway” to translate .   (turn back) (head) is translated literally as “turned her head”.

*Line 9: 却把青梅齅 is rendered as “Feigning, as if, she was sniffing green plums instead”.  The first word (but, or yet) is translated literally as “Yet” and moved to begin line 8 of my English rendition, but with the addition of “Feigning, as if” and “instead” in line 9 itself to complete the true meaning of the word in the context of these 2 lines. (green) (plum) (smell or sniff; long been simplified as ) is translated literally as “she was sniffing green plums”.  As for the second word (hold; let), in my view, it is inserted not for any substantive meaning such as “holding a green plum”.  Not being a grammarian of the Chinese language, I can still confidently say that one usage is its insertion reverses the order of the verb  and the noun 青梅 turning it from “ (to sniff) 青梅 (green plums)” to “ (let) 青梅 (green plums) (be sniffed)” , not unlike “穿上 (putting on) 衣服 (clothes)” and “ (let) 衣服 (clothes) 穿上 (be put on)”.  To satisfy those who insist on having covered, I can alternatively pen it as “Feigning, as if, she was green plums a-sniffing instead” using the prefix “a-“ before the verb “sniffing” to translate the original’s 把  before the noun 青梅 to result in the original’s “noun first, then verb” order.  This is also very much to my liking.

08 January 2020

李清照 Li Qingzhao: 蝶戀花 Die Lian Hua -- 離情 Separation Sentiments

Happy New Year 2020!

Posted here today is a new poem, different from the one posted here last month (December 2019). This and the last poem are both by Li Qingzhao and both written to the tune of "Die Lian Hua/ Butterflies Love Flowers".  The last one's title is "Gathering of Relatives ...".  The current poem is entitled "Separation Sentiments", a poem of sadness while her husband was posted away from home, a melancholia so beautifully versified.  I wish you joy in enjoying Li Qingzhao's sentiments and poetics which I hope I have been able to emulate in my English rendition of the poem..

Li Qingzhao (1084-1151): Die Lian Hua (Butterflies Love Flowers) --- Separation Sentiments

1   Cordial showers, sun-bathed breezes, the snow, frozen, now thawing;
2   Willow leaf eyes, plum blossom cheeks,
3   Already, I sense: the heart of Spring is stirring.
4   Wine and rhyme, my prime past-time, but with whom could I be sharing?
5   O tears melt my remaining make-up, my head-dress, heavy, weighing.

6   I try on my Spring dress threaded in gold, a gown with a fine silk lining;
7   Slanting, leaning on a mound of pillows,
8   My hairpin’s head of phoenix, thereby deforming.
9   O all alone, steeped deep in sorrow, sweet dreams not in the making;
10 Late in the night, still sit aside, fiddling with the lamp wick, a-trimming.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
12 December 2019 (revised 14.12.19; 16.12.19; 17.12.19; 18.12.19; 20.12.19; 23.12 19)   
Translated from the original - 李清照: 蝶戀花 --- 離情

1   暖雨晴風初破凍
2   柳眼梅腮
3   已覺春心動
4   酒意詩情誰與共
5   淚融殘粉花鈿重

6   乍試夾衫金縷縫
7   山枕斜欹
8   枕損釵頭鳳
9   獨抱濃愁無好夢
10 猶剪燈花弄


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a tune lyric poem or ‘ci’ to the tune of Die Lian Hua 蝶戀花 (Butterflies Love Flowers) entitled 離情 (Separation Sentiments), which is in two 5-line stanzas of 30 characters (= single syllable words) each with a line length pattern of 7-4-5/ 7-7.  This English rendition follows the same line length pattern, counting feet or beats (not words, nor syllables) to determine the length of lines.  To emulate the original, the 7-character (hepta-syllabic) lines are rendered in heptameter (7 beats), the 4-character (tetra-syllabic) lines, rendered a tetrameter (4 beats), and the 5-character (penta-syllabic) lines, in pentameter (5 beats).  To further emulate the original, a mid-line caesura (pause) is provided after the fourth beat for the six 7-beat lines, and after the second beat for the two 4-beat lines.  As for the two 5-beat lines, I have not been able to strictly follow the original.  For line 3, it is located after the second beat as in the original, but for line 8, it is moved to after the third beat.  This English rendition also strictly follows the rhyme scheme of the original, which is a single rhyme for all lines except lines 2 and 7, thus AxA/ AA// AxA/ AA.  Unable to find perfect (not even assonance) rhyme words, I have used the “-ing” ending of words for rhyme, a slant rhyme.

*Line 1:  (warm) (rain) is rendered as “Cordial showers” after considering “Genial …” and “Sweet …”.  (sunny) (wind) is rendered as “sun-bathed breezes” with “sun-bathed” used to spell out the warmth in the wind to match the warmth of “Cordial showers”.  (first) (break) (cold) is rendered as “the snow, frozen, now thawing” with “now” to render and “the snow, frozen … thawing” to render 破凍 after considering “the frozen snow/ the ice and snow/ the icy snow”.

*Line 2:  (willow) (eyes) is understood as “eyes like new willow leaves” and is rendered as “Willow leaf eyes” after considering “Willowy eyes”, and (plum) (cheeks), understood as “cheeks as rosy as plum flowers” and rendered as “plum blossom cheeks” after considering “… flower/ petal ...”  These two are descriptive of the season of Spring and are also metaphors of a beautiful lady and her yearnings for love and company, leading on to “the heart of Spring” in line 3.

*Line 3:  (already) (aware or feel) is translated literally as “Already, I sense” after considering “... “feel/ know/ ‘m aware”.  (Spring) (heart) (move) is translated rather literally as “the heart of Spring is stirring”.

*Line 4:  (wine) (idea or desire) (poetry) (passion or sentiment) is rendered as “Wine and rhyme, my prime past-time” with “Wine and rhyme” (in assonance) to render and , and “my prime past-time” (with a “p” alliteration and a prime/ time internal rhyme) to collectively render and (who) 與共 (together/ share with) is rendered as “but with whom could I be sharing” with “but” added and “could” used to make clear this is a rhetorical question.

*Line 5:  (tears) (melt) is translated literally as “O tears melt”, and (remains) (powder or make-up), also literally, as “my remaining make-up” after considering “… remnant …”  (flowery) (pronounced ‘dian’ not ‘tian’, meaning head ornaments) (heavy) is rendered as “my head-dress, heavy, weighing” to convey the meaning of “sorrow weighing down my head”.

*Line 6:  (first or suddenly) (try) is taken to mean trying on a dress to see if it suits the climate and is rendered simply as “I try on”.  夾衫 (lined, dress) is rendered as “a gown with a fine silk lining” with “fine silk” added (after considering “… satin/ lighter/ thinner”) to dispel the possible impression of a heavy lining which would run contrary to the context of the approach of Spring.  This is moved down to end the line.  (gold) (thread) (sew), which ends the line in the original, is rendered as “my Spring dress threaded in gold”, with “Spring dress” added to spell out the kind of dress being tried on, and moved up to the beginning of the line to follow “I try on”.

*Line 7:  (mountain) (pillow) is taken to mean “a pile of pillows” and not “a mountain shaped pillow” and is rendered as “on a mound of pillows”.  斜欹 (slant, lean) is translated literally as “Slanting, leaning”.

*Line 8:  (pillow) (damage) is rendered as “thereby deforming”, with (1) “deforming” to literally translate (after considering “warping/ breaking/ damaging”) and (2) “thereby” to render which I had originally considered rendering as “against the pillows”.  I have decided that “thereby” is more than adequate without having to repeat “pillows” as it refers to the previous line 7 in its entirety which includes the pillows leaned on and, more importantly, the leaning action.  To further my interpretation, the word is, in addition, a verb which refers to the pillowing/ leaning action.  枕損 therefore does not mean “the pillows doing damage” but “damage done by leaning against the pillows”.  This is moved down to end the line.  (hairpin) (head) (phoenix) is literally translated as “My hairpin’s head of phoenix” (after considering “My hairpin’s head, the phoenix”, “My hairpin’s head, a phoenix”, “The phoenix head of my hairpin” and “My hairpin’s phoenix head”, and is moved up to begin the line.

*Line 9:  (alone) (carry) (thick) (sorrow) is rendered as “O all alone, steeped deep in sorrow” with and translated literally and “steeped deep in (sorrow)” to render 抱濃().  (no) (good) (dream) is rendered as “sweet dreams not in the making”.

*Line 10:  (night) (late or end) is translated literally as “Late in the night”.  (still) is rendered as “still sit aside” with “sit aside” added to spell out the poet is not yet in bed, to pave the way to the trimming of the lamp wick.  (cut or scissor or trim) (lamp) (wick, not flower) is rendered as “the lamp wick, a-trimming”.  (pronounced ‘nong’ not ‘long’, means play or fiddle or fumble) is rendered as “fiddling with” which means “doing something not really for the purpose of doing it” or “trimming not for trimming’s sake”.  For the second half of the line, I had originally penned a more faithful version of “trimming the lamp wick, a-fiddling”, but have now decided for “fiddling with the lamp wick, a-trimming” with the order of “trim” and “fiddle” reversed.