Today, I am posting yet another beautiful tune lyric poem by Li Qingzhao written on the feast of Double Nine (9th day of the 9th lunar month), a day marked by the drinking of medicinal wines, the burning of cleansing incenses, and a trip to the hills (to also sweep the graves of one's ancestors). But the poet's husband 趙明誠 Zhao Mingcheng, a government official, was away on a tour of duty in some distant land. Being newlyweds, she missed her husband so much that these long and short lines, particularly the last 2 lines, were penned. I have rendered these 2 most famous lines "簾捲西風 (4 characters)/ 人比黃花瘦 (5 characters)" as "Let the west wind whirl up my curtain (4 feet)/ To betray I'm frailer than the yellow floriage (5 feet)". I hope I have succeeded in capturing the beauty of the original.
Li Qingzhao (1084-1151): Zui Hua Yin/ Enchanted in the Shade of Blossoms - Ninth of the Ninth
1 Thin mist, dense clouds, o’ercast all day, downcast ‘cos you’re away.
2 A bronze-lion incense burner, borneol exhales.
3 ‘Tis again the festive day of Ninth of the Ninth;
4 My jade-like pillow, gauze-veiled bed,
5 By midnight, a chill will’ve begun to permeate.
6 Aft dusk, at the eastside ‘santhemum hedge: to our health, a cup I take;
7 And up my sleeves, a faint sweet scent pervades.
8 O say not my heart is not with gloom consumed!
9 Let the west wind whirl up my curtain
10 To betray I’m frailer than the yellow floriage.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
4 May 2019 (revised 6.5.19; 13.5.19; 21.5.19; 24.5.19; 27.5.19)
Translated from the original - 李清照: 醉花陰 - 重九
*Form, Metre and Rhyme: The original is a tune lyric poem or “ci” 詞 to the tune of Zui Hua Yin 醉花陰 (Enchanted in the Shade of Blossoms) entitled “Ninth of the Ninth” 重九 which is in 2 stanzas of 26 characters (=words) each with a line length pattern of 7-5/5-4-5// 7-5/5-4-5//. This English rendition follows the same pattern, but, counting beats or feet (rather than words or syllables) to determine the line length. For example, while the original is 7 characters or words (hence 7 syllables) long, my line 1 in English “Thin mist, dense clouds, o’ercast all day, downcast ‘cos you’re away” is in 11 words, 14 syllables, but in only 7 beats or feet. This English rendition also strictly follows the rhyme scheme of the original: AA/xxA// AA/xxA//. Unable to find perfect or full rhyme words (as there are fewer such words in English than Chinese), I have used the assonantal “ei” rhyme in “away -1”, “exhales -2”, “permeate -5”, “take -6”, “pervades -7” and “floriage -10”.
*Line 1: 薄霧濃雲 is translated literally as “Thin mist, dense clouds”. 永 (always) 晝 (daytime) is rendered as “all day” to qualify the “o’ercast” added to summarize the weather and to lead to “downcast” which follows to translate 愁 (sadness). I have taken the liberty to add “’cos you’re away” which clarifies the cause of the poet’s sadness.
*Line 2: 瑞腦 (borneol, borneol camphor) 銷 (dispense) 金獸 (metal animal) means 金獸銷瑞腦 and is rendered as “A bronze-lion incense burner, borneol exhales” with the metal (bronze), the animal (lion), the use of the metal animal-shaped container (incense burner), and the substance it dispenses (borneol) all clearly defined.
*Line 3: 佳節 is rendered as “festive day”, 又 as “ ’Tis again”, and 重陽 is spelt out as “Ninth (day) of the Ninth (month)”.
*Line 4: 玉 (jade) 枕 (pillow) refers to a porcelain pillow and is rendered as “My jade-like pillow”. 廚 in紗廚 does not mean “kitchen”, but a tent or canopy shaped like a closet or large cabinet (漢語大詞典: “同櫥，形狀像櫥的帳子”) to shade the beddings. 紗廚 is therefore rendered as “gauze-veiled bed”.
*Line 5: 透 (seep through) is rendered as “permeate” for the rhyme. I suggest reading “to permeate” as dadum dadum with “per-” and “-ate” read stressed.
*Line 6: 東籬 is an allusion to the line “採 (pluck) 菊 (chrysanthemum) 東 (east) 籬 (hedge) 下 (under)” in Poem 5 of the 20 Wine Poems by the great Eastern Jin dynasty pastoral poet Tao Chien or Tao Yuanming (365-427). Because of this and because of the references to “a faint sweet scent” in line 7 and “the yellow flower flakes” in line 10, 東籬 is rendered as “at the eastside ‘santhemum (chrysanthemum) hedge”. 把酒 is rendered as “to our health, a cup I take” to convey the meaning of “to raise a cup (of wine) and drink to your (and my) health”. 黃昏後 (after dusk) is taken to simply indicate the time of the drinks, and the line is taken to be “黃昏後在東籬把酒”. It would be utterly wrong to take the line to mean “At the eastside hedge, I drink (booze) until long after dusk”.
*Line 7: 盈 (fill) 袖 (sleeves) is rendered as “And up my sleeves … pervades”. Although暗 (faint) 香 (scent) usually alludes to the scent of plum (or, mume) blossoms, it is used here to refer to the scent of the chrysanthemums. I have added the word “sweet” between “faint” and “scent” to make sure the scent is not misunderstood as an unpleasant odour.
*Line 8: 莫道不消魂 is rendered as “O say not my heart is not with gloom consumed!” I am indebted to the famed Chinese poetry translator Prof. Xu Yuanchong 許淵冲 (who calls himself X.Y.Z.) who has rendered this line as “Say not my soul/ Is not consumed…” (in his Bilingual Edition 300 Song Lyrics, Beijing: Higher Education Press, 2004, p. 413). I have adopted his “Say not … is not consumed” but have adapted his “my soul” to “my heart”, and have added "O" to begin the line. I have also added “with gloom” between “is not” and “consumed” to clarify that the poet is overwhelmed with sorrow and not with joy or pleasure which 消魂 can also mean in other contexts.
*Lines 9 and 10: 簾捲西風 in line 9 is taken to mean 西風捲簾 and is translated literally as “Let the west wind whirl up my curtain”. Line 9 which begins with “Let …” is enjambed to link up to “To betray” (after considering “To show”, “To say” and “To see”) which begins line 10 and which is added to echo and conclude the “O say not … is not … consumed” sentiments of line 8. 人比黃花瘦 in line 10 is rendered as “(To betray) I’m frailer than the yellow floriage” with: (a) “I’m” to personally translate 人, (b) “frailer than” (after considering “thinner than”) to translate 比 … 瘦, and (c) “the yellow floriage” to literally translate 黃花, after dropping “yellow flowers, frail” and “yellow flowers, waned” for adding to the original, and after considering “the yellow flower flakes” and “the yellow flowerage”. (Shorter Oxford English Dictionary: Floriage, 1782, from Latin flor- (flower), after foliage, Bloom, blossom …)