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”.

20 March 2018

Li Shen: 2 Ancient Airs (Pity the Peasants) 李紳: 古風 (憫農) 2首

Today, I am re-posting the text and my 2012 English rendition of Li Shen's 2 poems "Pity the Peasants" referred to as "Ancient Airs", but without my notes which may be distracting.  The notes can nonetheless be found in my original posts posted in May and April 2012 (links below).

The 2 poems are 5-character quatrains.  I had rendered the 1st poem in tetrameter (4 feet or beats) but had been unable to do so for the 2nd poem which ended up in hexameter (6 feet or beats).  I hope you will not find the lines in my rendition of the 2nd poem too long since I have invariably provided a pause (caesura) mid-line (e.g. line 1: "... in the rice-field / under the ...").  You will not be made breathless reading my 6-beat lines.   

A:  Li Shen (772-846) "Ancient Air/Pity the Peasants 1 of 2"

Each grain of millet sown in spring 

Will by autumn harvest, a myriad bring.
Across the land no fields lie vacant, yet  
Peasants still found----starving, dying.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  
8th April 2010 (revised 9.4.10; 25.4.12)
李紳: 古風/憫農 2 其1


B:  Li Shen (772-846) "Ancient Air/Pity the Peasants 2 of 2"  

He heaves his hoe in the rice-field, under the noonday sun,
Onto the soil of the rice-field, his streaming sweat beads run.
Ah, do you or don’t you know it?  That bowl of rice we eat:
Each grain, each ev’ry granule, the fruit of his labour done.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  
17th March 2010 (revised 18.3.10; 22.3.10; 24.3.10; 25.3.10; 30.3.10; 17.8.10)
李紳: 古風/憫農 2首 其2 

07 March 2018

王昌齢 Wang Changling: 閨怨 Young Wife's Regret

Today, I am posting Wang Changling's "Young Wife's Regret" which I translated 2 years ago.  I do hope you will enjoy it:-

Wang Changling (698-757): Young Wife’s Regret

1   (Young wife in her boudoir, knows not of a cheerless hour;)
     A young wife in her boudoir, knows not of a cheerless hour; (revised 12.3.18)
2   (A spring day, in gay array, she ascends the emerald tower.)
     One spring day, in gay array, she ascends the emerald tower. (revised 12.3.18)
3   Sudden she sees, by the roadside, the hue of willows in tears,
4   Regrets she’d let her husband, for a peerage, leave her bower.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
12th January 2016 (revised 14.1.2017)
Translated from the original – 王昌齢: 閨怨

1   閨中少婦不知愁
2   春日凝粧上翠樓
3   忽見陌頭楊柳色
4   悔教夫壻覓封侯


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

*Line 1:  I have rendered the title as “Young Wife’s Regret” which, in my view, are the key words, rather than a literal translation of (bower/boudoir) (plaint/lament).  閨中 means at home alone in a lady’s boudoir (husband away or unmarried) and is rendered literally as in her boudoir” here in line 1 and added to line 4 in the word “bower”.  For 少婦, I had considered “A   young bride which sounds younger and prettier, but have decided for “A   young wife which is closer to the original (woman/wife).  For  “A Young wife in her boudoir”, I suggest reading the word “in” stressed to make 3 beats for the first half of the line.  For I had considered “sorrow” and “woe”, but having to create a rhyme for “tower” (in line 2) and “bower” (word chosen for line 4), I have picked the word “hour” for the task, hence, “a sorrowful/woeful hour”, but on further consideration, I have found “sorrowful” and “woeful” too grave in tone, and have decided to change “sorrowful” or “woeful” to “cheerless”.  The second half of the line now reads: “… knows not of a cheerless hour” which goes well with the very cheerful “in gay array … she ascends the emerald tower” in line 2.

*Line 2:  The internal rhyme ofday, gay, array” here is an embellishment.  翠樓 green building or tower is rendered as emerald tower so that the young wife will not be misinterpreted as going to a 青樓 literally alsogreen building or tower” which, in Chinese, alludes to a pleasure house.

*Line 3:  忽 (sudden)(see) is rendered asSudden she sees(rather than the expectedSuddenly she sees”) so as to produce a more sudden effect.  Please note the word “sudden” is both adjective and adverb, hence no “-ly” is needed for the adverb.  (I had originally considered O sudden” with the word “O” used partly as an exclamation and partly to stand for “all of a” in “all of a sudden” which is an adverbial phrase meaning “suddenly”, but have come to regard it trivial.)  陌頭 is translated as roadsideas literally it means the end/beginning of paths in the fields, hence, refers to roads at either/both ends.   is rendered literally as hue, and I have avoided specifying green to be the colour, as both in Chinese and hue in English can, in addition to colour, mean countenance, appearance, scenery, etc.  I have expanded the simply literal translation of 楊柳 as “willows” to bring out the originally intended allusion to parting.  The Chinese, in the old days, used to pluck willow twigs to see friends and relative leave home, symbolic of their wishing their loved ones would “stay” , which word shares with “willow” the same pronunciation “liu”.  I had originally simply added “weeping” to “willows” specifying the 楊柳 as 垂柳 (drooping, hence, weeping willows) to make explicit the allusion to parting but have decided for “the hue of willows in tears” over “the hue of weeping willows” and “the hue of willows weeping”.

*Line 4:   (teach) is translated as “let” which is what I take it to mean in this context, in other words, just agreeing to let her husband leave home to seek to be made a noble by the emperor (probably for meritorious service in the army), and should not be taken to mean teaching or urging, or even suggesting her husband to do so.  For 覓封侯 (seek to be made a marquis), I have considered “for a title” (Witter Bynner in his “The Jade Mountain” p. 180), “for marquisate”, “for a  rank”, “for honours”, and “for knighthood”, and have decided for “for peerage”. Nobles in Britain are of 5 ranks: (1) duke, (2) marquess (marquis), (3) earl, (4) viscount, and (5) baron (usually translated into Chinese as 公 侯 伯 子 男 respectively), and are known as peers, hence, “for or to seek the title of a marquis (who, like the others, is a peer)” is “for peerage”. I have added “leave her bower” at the end (not in the original but implied in the word “leave home to seek”) to complete the rhyme and to avoid making explicit the implied meaning of “going to war” in consistence with the original.