22 July 2018

張祜 Zhang Hu: 宮詞/何滿子 Palace Plaint/The Song Hemanzi

I apologize for the delay in doing my July posts as I had been cruising Alaska and touring Seattle with my whole family.  Today, I am posting "The Song Hemanzi" by the late Tang poet Zhang Hu.  Here is my rendition of it:-

Zhang Hu (? -859?): Palace Plaint/The Song Hemanzi

1   Far from my home three thousand miles away;
2   Deep in the palace, twenty years in-waiting.
3   The sad song Hemanzi, O once its singing begins,         
4   Before my lord, my two eyes in tears unabating.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
20th March 2017 (revised 21.3.17; 23.3.17; 24.3.17; 28.3.17; 30.3.17)
Translated from the original – 張祜: 宮詞/何滿子

1   故國三千里
2   深宮二十年
3   一聲何滿子
4   雙淚落君前


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain.  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original. Although the original poem can be read as either (a) the poet speaking (narrating the plaint of a lady) or (b) the lady speaking (making her own plaint), this English rendition is in the first person with the lady as the speaker, hence, “my (instead of her) home” in line 1 and “my (instead of her) lord” in line 4.
*Title:  This poem is the plaint of a lady about her unhappiness in the palace, the title 宮詞 (palace verse) is, therefore, rendered as “Palace Plaint”.  A more popular title of the poem is 何滿子, which appears in line 3 and refers to the title of a song and tune composed by a death convict (a Mr. He named Manzi 滿子) who wrote it to seek royal pardon, alas, without success; his song, though, became popular and had come to be known as “Hemanzi”.  何滿子 is, therefore, rendered as “ The Song Hemanzi” in the title, and as “The sad song Hemanzi” in line 3.

*Line 1:  (old) (country, not nation) is rendered as simply “home”.  (li = Chinese mile) is about half a kilometer or a third of a mile long.  Although 三千里 (3,000 li’s) is only 1,000 miles, I have decided to take it as a hyperbole, and to (a) stick to the figure “three thousand” (as it is a better parallel to “twenty” in line 2) and (b) use “miles” as the unit (avoiding the unfamiliar and incomprehensible unit of “li’s”).

*Line 2:  I have rendered 深宮 as “Deep in the palace” after deciding against adding “Kept” or “Shut” in favour of the literal “Deep”.  I have added “in-waiting” after “twenty years” to make clear the sense of the poem that the lady concerned is a palace maid, not a concubine or consort.  One may, perhaps, also take it to hint at her waiting/hoping for an elevation to a higher status, without success, hence, the plaint.

*Line 3:  何滿子 is rendered as “The sad song Hemanzi” (see my note above on the Title) with “sad” added to make clear the song is associated with sadness, not sweetness.  The word (one) in 一聲 does not mean the numeral or quantity “one”, but means 一旦 or 一經 which should properly be translated as “once” (in the sense of “as soon as”, and not once = one time).  (sound) in 一聲 should not be taken to be the noun “sound”, “voice”, “note”, etc. to be qualified by the numeral one, but should be taken to be a verb meaning 發聲 “utter the sound” or, in this context, simply “sing”.  一聲 should, therefore, be understood as 一唱 which means一經( or 有人)唱出 “as soon as/once (I or someone) sings it”.  As the original is silent on who sings the song (a chorus, or the dancers, or the lady concerned, or some other singer), I have rendered it ambiguously and, hence, inclusively as “once its singing begins”.

*Line 4:  For 雙淚 (two, tears), I had considered “two streams of tears” but have decided for “my two eyes in tears”.  To translate , I had considered using either “unabating” or “cascading”, both rather hyperbolic, to convey the sense that the lady cannot hold back her tears.  Although “cascading” is closer to, I have decided for “unabating” which gives “in-waiting” in line 2 a perfect rhyme. 
As for 君前, the last two words of the poem, the last word means “before” or “in the presence of”, but the key word can mean both “the monarch” and “you”, 君前 can be interpreted to mean “before the monarch” or “before you” or “before you the monarch”.  Most renditions with the poet as the speaker have adopted the “before the monarch” interpretation, e.g. Betty Tseng’s “A few words of Swan Song for His Majesty”, Innes Herdan’s “even in her Lord’s presence”, Peter Harris’ “in the presence of her lord” (while Witter Bynner and 許淵沖   Xu Yuanzhong simply omit covering 君前 altogether), so has one rendition (incomplete search) with the lady as the speaker, i.e. Geoffrey Waters’ “As I (i.e. the lady) sang the first sad notes … before the emperor”.  However, most renditions with the lady as the speaker have adopted the “before you” interpretation, e.g. 王玉書   Wang Yushu’s “I cannot hold back, before you”, and most translations into modern Chinese “在你()面前 = before you” by 邱燮友, 王進祥, 孫瑋, etc.  I suppose if one takes the poem to be the lady’s plaint addressed to the monarch, renditions of “before you” can be regarded as equivalent to renditions of “before you the monarch” which, in my view, is the complete and, hence, correct interpretation.  But protocol dictates that the monarch should not be addressed simply as “you”; and I have seen only one such attempt (again, incomplete search) at rendering 君前 in accordance with the “before you the monarch” interpretation, i.e. 何中堅 C.K. Ho’s “Before you, sir” (p. 85 of his “Chinese Poetry of Tang and Song Dynasties: A New Translation”, Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 2012.  As it may not be proper to use “sir” to either address or refer to “the monarch”, I have decided for “my lord”, and after considering “In my lord’s presence” and “Before you my lord”, I have decided to render it simply as “Before my lord” (with “my lord” taken to mean both “(my) lord  =  (my) monarch” and “my lord = you").


30 June 2018

Li Bai:14 and 15 of his 17 Songs of Qiupu 李白:秋浦歌17首 其14及15

Today, I am posting my rendition of 2 of Li Bai's 17 "Songs of Qiupu" which I had posted earlier complete with notes.  I hope you will find my translations interesting.  Here we go:-

A:  Li Bai (701-762): Song of Qiupu, 15 of 17 (My hoary hair, a full three-furlong)

My hoary hair, a full three-furlong,
Its cause, my sorrow, equally long.
O autumn frosts in my mirror clear, from  
Where have you come, my hair to throng?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者黃宏發
11th June 2012 (revised 12.6.12; 13.6.12; 11.12.12)

Translated from the original - 
李白秋浦歌 17首 其15  (白髮三千丈)


B:  Li Bai (701-762): Song of Qiupu, 14 of 17 (Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky)

Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky,
Red sparks spiking its purple smoke awry.
A night in clear moonlight, the red-faced smelters,
Their songs bestir the wintry stream nearby.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者黃宏發
20th July 2011 (revised 30.7.11) 

Translated from the original - 
李白秋浦歌 17首 其14 (爐火照天地)


14 June 2018

李頻 Li Pin: 渡漢江 Crossing the River Han

Today I am posting my rendition of the poem "Crossing the River Han" the authorship of which is in dispute.  I have attributed it, like most commentators, to the late Tang dynasty poet Li Pin 李頻 (818-876) rather than the early Tang dynasty poet Song Zhiwen 宋之問 (656?-712). 

I hope I have been able to capture the delicate feelings of the poet approaching home yet not knowing what has happened at home: to ask or not to ask, that is the question!  Here is the poem:-

Li Pin (818-876): Crossing the River Han

1   Away beyond the ranges, no word from home e’er heard:
2   Cut off from winter to winter, cut off for a further spring.     
3   O now as home I’m nearing, the more anxious I grow, and
4   Dare not ask of the comers, for fear they ill news may bring.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
11th June 2017 (revised 15.6.17; 19.6.17; 24.6.17; 29.6.17; 20.2.2018)
Translated from the original – 李頻: 渡漢江

1   嶺外音書絕
2   經冬復歷()
3   近鄉情更怯
4   不敢問來人


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Title and Author:  The River Han 漢江 is a tributary flowing from the north into the Yangzi River.  It is a pity there is no mention of River Han in the poem.  The poem has been attributed by most to 李頻 Li Pin and by some to 宋之問 Song Zhiwen (656?-712).  Following the most popular anthology of Tang dynasty poems, the “Three Hundred Tang Poems” 唐詩三百首, I have chosen Li Pin as the author.

*Line 1:  嶺外 (mountain range, beyond) is rendered as “Away beyond the ranges” with “Away” added to relate that the poet is away from home.  Although most commentators have interpreted to refer to the South Ranges 南嶺 separating the present day Guangdong and Guangxi 廣東 廣西 provinces in the south from the rest of China, I have decided for the literal “ranges” rather than “South Ranges” as the poem is about being far away and cut off for long and not the precise location of the place.  音書絕 (spoken words, written words, cut off) is rendered as “no word from home e’er heard”, with “word from home …  heard” (I hear from home messages spoken or written) to translate 音書, and with “no … e’er” to translate .

*Line 2:  As the rendition of in line 1 as “no … e’er” may be flawed for being less than adequate to fully convey the sense of disconnection, I have in line 2 added the literal translation of as “cut off”.  經冬 (gone through, winter) is rendered as “Cut off from winter to winter” with “cut off” used to also cover (gone through).  I have interpreted the ambiguous (there being no plural form for in Chinese unless the text specifies) not to be a single winter, but to mean at least one year, i.e. 從冬至冬 (from one winter to the next), or even more years (winter being also a synecdoche for year).  I have, therefore, translated with my equally ambiguous “from winter to winter”.  This is reasonable as one single winter is far too short a duration to create the kind of anxiety portrayed in lines 3 and 4. 
For the segment on , there exists two versions: 歷春 (gone through, spring) and 立春 (beginning of spring), the latter being the first of the 24 節氣solar terms (or seasonal division points of the Chinese calendar) which falls  on 4 or 5 of February each year.  (Other solar terms include 春分 (spring equinox), 秋分 (autumn equinox), 夏至 (summer solstice) and 冬至 (winter solstice) which are featured in the now common solar calendar.)  I have chosen the former version for two reasons.  First, 歷春 (gone through spring) lengthens the period away by 3 months, totaling 18 months, with (assuming “winter to winter” to mean one year) the beginning of winter to the beginning of the next making 12 months, plus a 3-month winter, and plus a 3-month spring.  Second, (in 經冬) and (in 歷春) are two different words but share the same meaning as demonstrated in the term 經歷 (gone through or experience).  Hence, although and are pronounced identically in standard Putonghua Chinese (not so in Cantonese), the 歷春 version is still more agreeable to the eye.  I have, therefore, rendered line 2 as “Cut off from winter to winter, cut off for a further spring”.  (Albeit, if authorities find for 立春, my line can be revised to read “Cut off from winter to winter, ‘tis again the prime (= beginning) of spring” totaling 15 months.)  I have rendered the word in the middle (again or also) as “for a further” in my preferred 歷春 version.

*Line 3:  近鄉 (near, home village) is rendered as “O now as home I’m nearing” with “now”, which is implied, added.  情更怯 (feeling, more, afraid) is rendered as “the more anxious I grow” for which I am grateful to Wang Yushu 王玉書, p. 312 of his 王譯唐詩三百首 “Wang’s Translation of 300 Tang Poems”.

*Line 4:  不敢問 (not, dare, ask) is translated literally as “Dare not ask of”.   For 來人 (coming, man), I had considered taking it to be a term for wayfarers who bear messages (according to most, if not all, Chinese-English dictionaries) and rendering it as “couriers”.  I have now decided to interpret it simply as 來者 (come, anyone or anything), i.e. oncoming wayfarers from the other direction (probably from home).  For this, I had seriously considered coining the word “on-comers” (from “oncoming”, like “onlookers” from “onlooking”), but have decided to simply adopt Wang Yushu’s choice of “comer(s)” (ibid).  不敢問來人 is now rendered as “Dare not ask of the comers”; and to this, I have added “for fear they ill news may bring” (which is what the original means but has left unsaid) to complete the sense of the poem, and the rhyme.  (However, if this is considered to have added too much to the original, the poem can end with the reasonable but uninteresting addition of “for news of home they bring”.) 

31 May 2018

Wang Fanzhi: 2 Untitled Colloquial Quatrains 王梵志: 無題白話絕句 2首

Today, I am posting 2 quatrains by Wang Fanzhi 王梵志 of the late Sui 隋 dynasty and early Tang 唐 dynasty, a precursor of the Tang dynasty Buddhist monk poet Hanshan 寒山.  These 4-lined poems strictly are not quatrains as they do not follow the tonal measures of "regulated verse" 近體詩, nor are they "old style verse" 古詩 as their language is rather colloquial.  They do have an XAXA rhyme scheme.  So, call them "rhymes" 打油詩, if you please.  But they do convey a serious message.  Here we go:-

A:  Wang Fanzhi (592? - 670?): Untitled/Earthy steamed buns, out in the country

Earthy steamed buns, out in the country,
Their fillings alive, and dwell in town;
We each in turn will have to take one,
Its taste may let you down. Don’t frown!

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者黃宏發
25th April 2015 (revised 29.4.15; 30.4.15; 1.5.15)
Translated from the original - 
王梵志無題 /城外土饅頭


B:  Wang Fanzhi (592? – 670?): Untitled/No man lives to a hundred years

No man lives to a hundred years;
Write songs to sing for a thousand, what for?
The dead, on seeing an iron wrought threshold, 
Clap hands and laugh: “We did it before!”

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者黃宏發
27th April 2015 (revised 29.4.15; 30.4.15; 1.5.15; 26.5.15)
Translated from the original - 王梵志無題/世無百年人


10 May 2018

李白 Li Bai: 自遣 To Myself

Today, I am posting yet another little poem by the great Chinese poet immortal Li Bai of the 8th century.  I do hope you will find it interesting.

Li Bai (701-762): To Myself

1   Wining, not finding evening approaching;
2   Fallen petals, on my gown abound.
3   Sobering, I stroll the creek in moonlight;
4   Birds retiring, ah, few men around.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黃宏發
26th January 2017 (revised 28.1.17)
Translated from the original – 李白: 自遣

1   對酒不覺暝
2   落花盈我衣
3   醉起步溪月
4   鳥還人亦稀


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain.  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats or feet) while the original is in 4-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  對酒 (facing, wine) is rendered as “Wining”, 不覺 (not aware) as “not finding”, and literally as “dusk” but with “approaching” added.

*Line 2:  落花 (fall, flower) is rendered as “Fallen petals” which I consider more appropriate than “Fallen flowers” (despite its “f” alliteration) as what have fallen are not the flowers but their petals.  I had originally penned “on my robe abound” to translate 盈我衣 (fill to the full, my, clothes), but have now decided for “on my gown abound” for the gown-abound assonance.

*Line 3:  醉起步 (drunk, rise, walk) should not be understood as (drunk) followed by 起步 (rise and walk or start to walk), but should be read as 醉起 (rise or recover from being drunk = sobering) followed by (walk) and is, therefore, rendered as “Sobering, I stroll”.  溪月 (creek, moon) is rendered as “the creek in moonlight”.

*Line 4:  鳥還 (bird, return) is rendered as “Birds retiring” after considering “Birds returning”, “Birds roosting”, “Birds roosted” and “Birds nested”.  人亦稀 (men, also, few) is taken to mean “(birds returning to retire) and men also retiring and becoming fewer and fewer” and is rendered as “ah, few men around”, with “ah” used to roughly translate (also) and “around” added to make clear “men” refers to the very few men still staying at the scene (and not to men generally), and to make the “abound(2) and around(4)” rhyme possible.

26 April 2018

Wang Wei: 2 Poems Entitled "Farewell" 王維: 以"送別"為題 詩2首

Today, I am re-posting 2 poems on the theme of "Farewell" by the great poet of the High Tang (dynasty) Period.  I have taken the opportunity to slightly polish the first (Poem A) which is a 5-character quatrain; as for the second (Poem B), a 5-character 6-line old style poem, I have decided to revert to my original March 2017 version.  I do hope you will find them the more enjoyable.  Here they are:-

A:  Wang Wei (701-761):  Farewell (Here in the hills, I bade you farewell)

Here in the hills, I bade you farewell;
Now by dusk I close my twiggen door.
Oh grass will again be green next spring!
Might you, my lord, be back once more?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  
24 September 2013 (revised 25.9.13; 26.9.13; 3.10.13; 4.10.13; 5.10.13; 21.10.13; 22.10.13; 28.10.13; 26.4.2018)
Translated from the original - 
王維:  送別 (山中相送罷)


B:  Wang Wei: Farewell (Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell)

Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell;
I asked, “My friend, where are you heading?”
“Oh, nothing is working my way,” you said,        
“So be back to the crags of Nanshan, retiring.”
“Go then!  Of the world, you’ll ask no more!
Ah, days of endless white clouds, unending!” 

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  
5 February 2017 (revised 9.2.17; 11.2.17; 1.3.17: 24.4.17; 26.4.2018)
Translated from the original –
王維送別 (下馬飲君酒)


08 April 2018

曹鄴 Cao Ye: 官倉鼠 Rats in Government Granaries

What I am posting today is a 7-character quatrain by Cao Ye of late Tang when theTang dynasty was on the decline.  It is a light verse on a serious subject---corruption---using "rats" as the analogy.  

Line 1 says: like rats in granaries, government officials are unduly rich, unduly fat.  Line 2 says: their corruption, including (more than just embezzlement) extortion, perversion of justice, etc. is open, blatant.  Line 3 says: as a result, army provisions cut and the people go hungry.  Line 4, finally, asks the rhetorical question: who has made or allowed you rats/officials to feast like that, crying out against corruption and hinting at pervasive corruption whether systemic or condoned.  I hope my "by/ Whose grace..." has done full justice to the ambiguity in the poet's 遣.

Please enjoy this as a sequel to   Li Shen's   2 "Pity the Peasants" poems posted in  my last post.

Cao Ye (816?-875?): Rats in Government Granaries

1   Rats in government gran'ries are fat like cats, I say;
2   Ev’n if one opens the door, they just won’t go away.
3   Soldiers’ supplies depleted, folks famished, why! O by            
4   Whose grace you feed and fete each ev’ry single day?     

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
16th January 2017 (revised 22.1.17)
Translated from the original - 曹鄴: 官倉鼠

1   官倉老鼠大如斗
2   見人開門亦不走     
3   健兒無糧百姓饑
4   遣朝朝入君口


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 7-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Title and Line 1:  is rendered as “government” after considering “official” and “imperial”, and as “granaries” after considering “depots” and “storage”.  in line 1 is a unit of dry measure for grains and, thus, the vessel used in measuring the volume.  It is either a bucket with a handle in the middle or a dipper (scoop) with a handle by the side or at the end.  Although I have been unable to determine the actual size, it cannot be too big as the vessel is used for speedy measurement probably with one arm.  It is not huge but, certainly, bigger than a rat.  In any case, I have in my rendition, changed the 大如斗 “as big as a bucket/dipper” simile to a “fat like cats” simile which is more vivid and which rings with the “rats, fat, cats” rhyme.  I have now checked the 漢語大詞典 (pp. 8-13) and learned that in the Tang dynasty, one “dou” is equivalent to about 2 litres, the size of a fat cat.  The current equivalent (which began from the Ming dynasty) is 10 litres.

*Line 2:  見人 (see, man) is taken to mean 有人 (there is, man) and is rendered as “…if one”.  開門(open, door) is rendered literally as “opens the door”.  亦不 (even so , won’t) is rendered as “Ev’n … just won’t”.  For the entire half line 亦不走, I had originally toyed with the idea of reinforcing “won’t go” by adding “but stay” in the place of “away” as 不走 (won’t go) means the same as 要留 (want to stay), but considering the poet has chosen 不走 over 要留, I have decided to render it literally as “they just won’t go away”.

*Line 3:  健兒 (athletes, the athletic) refers to “Soldiers’” and is rendered as such after considering “The braves’”.  健兒糧盡 is rendered as “Soldiers’ supplies depleted” after considering “provisions,” and 百姓饑 as “folks famished”.  The word “why”, read stressed, which is not in the original, is added to complete the 6-beat line and to strengthen the sense of indignation, irrespective of whether it is used as an exclamation or a question.  The last 2 words “O by”, read unstressed, are added to create an enjambment that links up line 3 and 4 to heighten the contrast between hunger and feast.

*Line 4:  is literally “who”.  While the meaning of the word is various, to make sense in this context, it can only mean “make. let or allow”.  誰遣 therefore means “who has made, or let, or allowed”, and is rendered as “by/ Whose grace”.   (morning) stands for, and refers to, “day”, and 朝朝 is therefore rendered as “each, every single day”.  入君口 (enter/feed, your, mouth) can be translated quite literally as “you feed your mouth”.  I had originally penned “you feed and feast” but have now polished it to “you feed and fete” for the additional “ei” sound (in the word “fete”) which now pervades the line, viz. “grace, fete, day”.