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)
*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 獨 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 柴 I had considered “faggots” but have decided for “firewood”. The word 擔 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 漢 who carries on a shoulder pole擔 a load of firewood 柴 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: 較 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.