04 July 2014

陳天機 Chen Tien Chi: 如夢令 Ru Meng Ling (As If Dreaming)

This month, I am posting a classical long-short-line verse (ci or 詞) written by a contemporary and my rendition of it in English.

This beautiful little poem of 6 lines is by Tien Chi Chen or Chen Tien Chi (陳天機  in Chinese Putonghua pinyin Chen Tienji), Emeritus Professor in Computer Science and Engineering at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.  He first joined the University in 1979 (from IBM where he had served for over 2 decades), was concurrently Head of United College of the University 1980-88 and retired from the University in 1992, but has returned as Visiting Professor of General Education since 1998.  Now that he is nearing his 2nd retirement (or 3rd, if one takes his leaving IBM also as retirement) at the age of 86, it is time opportune that I pay tribute to this extraordinary man and show the world his hidden literary prowess by posting this beautiful poem of his.

I have secured Tien Chi's permission to post this poem which he dated 16th February 2007 and which he sent me shortly by email.  I volunteered to translate it into English which I completed on 20th May of the same year.  Tien Chi has not said as much, but I have always taken it to be a love poem dedicated to his beloved wife Pearl (江獻珠).

I now offer to you Chen Tien Chi's love poem and my English rendition.  Kindly share it with all friends of Tien Chi and Pearl and with all lovers of love poetry. 

Chen Tien Chi (1928-present) 
Tune of Ru Meng Ling (As If Dreaming):
The End of the Lunar Year, Drizzling Softly at the Scenic Egrets Pond
16th February 2007 
1  O how I love the waters aqua, the mountains green,
2  On twigs and sprigs, softly, drizzle-drops first sheen;
3  Hand in hand, on the railing we lean,
4  Envy not the plumes and wings of the phoenix serene.
5  Drip drop, drip drop:
6  Tit-bits of spring-time's tidings of a brand new scene.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)         譯者: 黃宏發
20th May 2007 (revised 4.6.2007; 7.6.2007; 16.7.2007; touched up 16.9.2013; 23.6.2014; 4.7.2014)
Translated from the original Chinese - 陳天機 調寄 如夢令: 年晚小白鷺勝地微雨 



*  This English rendition follows the long-short line pattern of the original with
   hexameter (6 feet) for the 6-character lines (lines 1, 2, 4 and 6), tetrameter (4
   feet) for the 5-character line (line 3), and dimeter (2 feet) for the4-character line
   (line 5).  The rhyme scheme is AAAAXA compared to the original AAXAAA.
*  Line 1:  I had considered “waters blue” but have decided for “waters aqua”.
*  Line 2: “On sprigs and twigs” now revised as “On twigs and sprigs”.  The
   word “sheen” here is a verb.
*  Line 3:  For闌干the word “balustrade” now revised as “railing”.  For, I                      
   had considered “recline” to make it possible to achieve the unrhymed X for line 3
   (please see note above), but have decided for the more natural word “lean” which
   makes this rendition deviate from the original rhyme scheme. 
*  Line 4: “Envious not of” now revised as “Envy not”, and “phoenixes”,
   revised as “phoenix”.  The word “serene” is added for the rhyme.
*  Line 5:  I had considered “A drib and a drab” , then penned it as “Drib-drab,  drib-drab”, and have now decided simply for “Drip drop, drip drop”.
*  Line 6:  I had considered “Tit-bits of spring-time’s good/glad tidings of a brand new scene” to      somehow make up the 6-beat count for the line , but have now decided to drop the word “good/glad” and suggest that the word “of” should be read stressed.

06 June 2014

白居易 Bai Juyi: 讀老子 On Reading the "Lao Zi"

During the last year and a half, I have posted here my translation of 4 chapters of Lao Zi's "Dao De Jing". This has taken me a great deal of time and effort and I now wish to put it aside for the time being and return to my main interest: poetry translation.  For those who are interested in the Dao De Jing, there is an abundance of ready translations.  For books, I commend Arthur Waley's "The Way" and D.C. Lau's Penguin "Tao Te Ching".  On the net, I have seen a complete translation by A.S. Kline - "Tao Te Ching: The Book of The Way and Its Virtues" and another by a friend of mine Lok Sang HO of Lingnan University, Hong Kong - "The Living Dao: The Art and Way of Living a Rich and Truthful Life".  The 2 links are:  -http://www.taoteching.cn/index.php/tao-te-ching-translated-by-a-s-kline/   http://www.ln.edu.hk/econ/staff/daodejing(22%20August%202002).pdf 

Today's poem is about Lao Zi and the philosophy (not religion) called "Daoism" or "Taoism".  The poet Bai Juyi was himself a follower of that philosophy, yet in the poem he appears to be mocking Lao Zi,, or did he not also mock himself, he being a most prolific poet?  Life is full of paradoxes, and self-mockery seems to work wonders.  Let us just appreciate Bai Juyi's sense of humour in what follows:- 

Bai Juyi (772-846):  On Reading the “Lao Zi”

1       He who preaches knows not, he who knows is mute.
2      ( These I’m told are the words, of Lao Zi the master of old.)
     These are the words, I'm told, of Laozi the master of old. (revised 10.6.2014)
3       But if, it be said, the master, was one who truly knew,
4       O why did he pen a treatise, a thousand words five-fold?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者黃宏發
21st February 2013 (revised 22.2.13; 6.6.14)
Translated from the original - 白居易讀老子

1       言者不知知者默
2       此語吾聞於老君
3       若道老君是知者
4       缘何自著五千文

*    This English rendition is in hexameter (6 feet) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.
*    Title:  老子 (Lao Zi, Laozi or Lao Tzu) in the title of the poem refers to the book of 5,000 words known as the 道德經 (Dao De Jing, Daodejing or Dao Te Ching) or simply the 老子) authorship of which is attributed to 老子 whose real name was 李耳 (Li Er) who lived circa 500 BCE.  I have, therefore, added the article the and put Lao Zi in quotes in the English title.
*    Line 1:  For “speech”, I had considered “speaks", "professes", "teaches", "declaims”, etc. but have now decided for “preaches”.  There is an alternative version of the original line which has the word in the place of the first which I do not favour as the line is from Chapter 56 of the 道德經 Dao De Jing and is a poetic paraphrase of the opening 2 fragments of the chapter.  The first fragment 知者不言 is rendered by Bai Juyi as 知者默(不言) used to end the line.  The second fragment 言者不知 should, therefore, be a direct quote (and not言者不如) used to begin the poem, particularly in view of what the poet says in line 2.  For “silent”, I had considered “stays mute” but have now decided for “is mute”.
*    Line 2:  I have not rendered 吾聞於 “I hear from” as “… I have heard from …” because it makes no logical sense to take to mean “directly (personally) from”.  I have, instead, taken 吾聞 to be “I’m told” in the sense of  我聽說 “I heard it said” and to mean 出於 “of/spoken by/from the book of”, and have, therefore, rendered 吾聞於 as “These I’m told are the words, of …”  The word is an honorific and 老君 is a grander honorific with the word Lao also referring specifically to Lao Zi.  I have, therefore, rendered 老君 as “Lao Zi” plus “the master of old”.
*    Lines 3 and 4:  The words “But” (line 3) and “O” (line 4), which are not in the original, are added so as to make sure the words that follow, “if” (line 3) and “why” (line 4) are read stressed.  The word “truly” (not in the original) is added to line 3 to complete the 6-foot meter.  These additions help make the paradox, if not also irony, of the poem even more apparent. 

*    Line 4:  I had considered translating 自著 “himself authoring” as “pen his treatise” but have decided for “pen a treatise”.  The word “pen” may not be the correct writing instrument, but is considered a better word than “write” to convey the meaning of self authorship.  五千文 is rendered as “a thousand words fivefold” in order to make the rhyme of “old” (line 2) “five-fold” (line 4).           

05 May 2014

老子 Lao Zi: 道德經 六十章 Dao De Jing Chapter 60

Here is yet another chapter of the Dao De Jing by Lao Zi made famous for its first line which should be taken as advice/admonition to the ruler as "Rule a large country as one would cook a small fish!"  It says, "Don't stir and turn the fish ever so often lest it breaks into pieces!"  So is the Way of Dao in line 2 which can be found in lines 1 and 2 of Chapter 63 (posted here last month), viz. "Act not for the sake of being active" and "Pursue not for the sake of pursuits" which simply mean "Don't overdo!  Don't overact!  Don't be vain!  Don't be greedy!"

Here is my rendition of Lao Zi's Chapter 60:-  

Lao Zi (circa 500 BCE): Dao De Jing Chapter 60
(Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching Chapter 60)

1       Rule a large country as one would cook a small fish!
2       Rule the world in accordance with the Way of Dao,
3       The evil spirits would lose their potency;
4       Not that they are not at all potent, but that,
5       In their potency, they harm not the people;
6       Not only, in their potency, they harm not the people,
7       The sage ruler, too, would do no harm to the people.

8   It is because the ruler and the people do not harm each other
9   That the Virtue of De, reciprocating, returns and reigns.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)            譯者: 黃宏發
16 January 2013 
Translated from the Chinese original - 老子道德經 六十章

1       治大國若烹小鮮。
2       以道莅天下,
3       其鬼不神;
4       非其鬼不神,
5       其神不傷人;
6       非其神不傷人,
7       聖人亦不傷人。

8       夫兩不相傷,
9       故德交歸焉。

*    Line 1:  I had considered “Govern” for but have decided for “Rule”.  I have used “as one/you would” to translate instead of formulations such as “like” or  “similar to” or “not different from” so as to bring the message of "Don't stir and turn it ever so often lest it breaks into pieces!" closer to the reader.  I had considered “boil” and “fry” for , but have decided for “cook”.
*    Line 2:  Ma Wang Dui (MWD) 馬王堆 manuscript B has (erect, establish) for and I have accordingly translated (arrive, be present)天下 as “Rule the world in accordance with …”  The word is translated both by its meaning “Way” and its transliteration “Dao” as “the Way of Dao”.
*    Line 3:  On the question of (ghosts) (gods), I have, following Arthur Waley, used “evil spirits” to translate which is echoed in the “evil tendencies” by Archie J. Bahm.  The term “evil spirits” thus covers not just “ghosts” but also the evil tendencies of men, the ruler included.  As for I am indebted to my friend the late 劉殿爵 D.C. Lau for his brilliant interpretation of as “potent/potency” which I have borrowed in my lines 3 to 6.  I hope this has helped to demystify the (ghosts) (gods) in the passage.
*    Lines 3 through 7:  in lines 3 and 4 is translated as in reference to 天下 “the world” mentioned in line 2 while in lines 5 and 6 is translated as in reference to “the evil spirits” mentioned in lines 3 and 4.  is translated as “Not that” in line 4, but as “Not only” in line 6.  Thus, “not only” “the evil spirits” (in lines 3 through 6), even when “potent”, “harm not the people”, “the sage ruler (in line 7) “too, would do no harm to the people” all because the world is ruled “in accordance with the Way of Dao” (line 2).
*    Line 8:  Although (the two)… (one another) in the line appears to refer to “the evil spirits” and the “sage ruler”, I have interpreted it as referring to the ruler” and the people and have decided to spell out “the two” as “the ruler and the people”.  I have also used “each other” instead of “one another” to make the meaning more inclusive (among the people).

*    Line 9:  is translated as “the Virtue of De” like (in line 2) as “the Way of Dao”.  交歸 is translated as “reciprocating, returns” to which I have added “and reigns” to conclude the chapter.  

03 April 2014

老子 Lao Zi: 道德經 六十三章 Dao De Jing Chapter 63 (Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching 63)

Last year, I posted here 2 chapters of Lao Zi: Dao De Jing (or Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching), a most translated work reputedly second only to the Bible.  They are Chapters 17 and 49, posted in January and February respectively.  In my English rendition, I have interpreted them to be on the question of trust, that the sage ruler ought to have trust in his people, that "it is the ruler's lack of trust in the people that creates their mistrust" (chapter 17, line 5).

Today, I am giving you my rendition of Chapter 63 with my interpretation that the 於 in 其易/ 細 (lines 6 and 7) does not mean "when/while" it is easy/small but should mean "where" it is easy/small, and, hence, the  於 in 易/ 細 (lines 8 and 9) cannot mean "when/while" it is easy/small but must mean "through" the easy/small.  Problems big and tough can be split into smaller and easier parts to handle. This reminds me of Karl Popper's "piecemeal social engineering".  A truly great practical philosophy, not just for sage rulers, but for everyman's everyday life!

Lao Zi (circa 500 BCE): Dao De Jing Chapter 63
(Lao Tzu: Tao Te Ching  63)

1       Act not for the sake of being active;
2       Pursue not for the sake of pursuits;
3       Find taste in the otherwise tasteless.
4       Regard the small as great, the few as many,
5       Requite goodness for injury

6     Tackle the difficult where it is easy,
7     Act on the great where it is small;
8     The difficult in the world can be done through the easy,
9     The great in the world can be done through the small.
10   Thus, the sage ruler never acts on anything great
11   That he can succeed in achieving the great.

12      Now, he who makes promises lightly rarely keeps them,
13      He who regards matters to be easy often finds them difficult.
14      Thus, the sage ruler ever regards matters to be difficult
15      That they, in the end, turn out not to be difficult.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
5th February 2013 (revised 27.2.13)
Translated from the Chinese original - 老子: 道德經 六十三章

1        為無為,
2        事無事,
3        味無味。
4        大小多少,
5        報怨以德。

6        圖難於其易,
7        為大於其細;
8        天下難事必作於易,
9        天下大事必作於細。
10     是以聖人終不為大,
11     故能成其大。

12     夫輕諾必寡信,
13     多易必多難。
14     是以聖人猶難之,
15     故终無難矣。

*    Lines 1, 2 and 3:  I have, and I think rightly, taken “act” (line1), “pursue” (line 2) and “taste” (line 3) to be inevitable and have, therefore, come to interpret line 1 為無為 as 為,但不要為了自己要有所作為而為之  “Act not for the sake of being active”, line 2 事無事 as 事,但不要為自己的事業業績而從事 “Pursue not for the sake of pursuits”, and line 3 味無味 as (自然的味)是可以在無味中找到的 “Find taste in the otherwise tasteless”.
*    Lines 4, 13 and 14:  大小多少 in line 4 can be interpreted as 大者小之,多者少之 to mean it is nature’s way to “dwarf the great and dwindle the plentiful” which interpretation, however, does not seem to fit the context which is a piece of advice on how to handle worldly matters.  I have, therefore, interpreted it as 視小者如大,少者如多 “Regard the small as great, the few as many” which is in full accord with the sentiments of lines 13 and 14 多易必多難 是以聖人猶難之 “He who takes most things as easy often finds them difficult.  Thus it is because the sage ruler ever regards things as difficult …..”
*    Lines 6 and 7:  Most translators have rendered the word as “when” or “while”.  I beg to differ and have instead rendered it as “where”.  I believe this “where” is where the true wisdom of Lao Zi lies.  Though reluctant, I am prepared to accept the inclusion of “when” in addition to my “where”, but only as “where or when” in that order.
*    Lines 8 and 9:  For 必作於 I had considered “should/must be done through” but have now decided for “can only be done through”.

*    Lines 13 and 14:  In line 13, 多易 is rendered as “regards most things as easy” and 多難 as “often finds them difficult”, and in line 14, 猶難之 is rendered as “ever regards things as difficult”.  For these adaptations and more, I am grateful to the late D.C. Lau.

13 March 2014

劉禹錫 Liu Yuxi: 秋詞 其一(自古逢秋) Autumn Song I (As of old when autumn)

In this hazy, misty spring time, how we long for the bright, clear autumn.  This is how Liu Yuxi, the great late Tang dynasty poet, sees autumn.  Read it out loud to be one with him:- 

Liu Yuxi (772-842):  Autumn Song I (As of old when autumn)  

1  As of old when autumn falls, themes forlorn we bemoan;
2  But I say the autumn day excels any spring morn known.
3   Flapping skywards, a crane, past clouds white in the sun,
4   O how my muse of poesy to the heavens azure has flown.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
22nd October 2008 (revised 23.10.08; 27.10.08; 28.10.08; 10.9.2013)
Translated from the Chinese original - 劉禹錫:  秋詞 其一 (自古逢秋)

1  自古逢秋悲寂寥
2   我言秋日勝春朝
3   晴空一鶴排雲上
4   便引詩情到碧霄

*  The original is in 7-character lines; I have been able to reduce this English rendition into a hexameter (6 metrical feet).  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*  Line1:  I had originally used “autumn comes” but have now decided for “autumn falls”.  I had used “men bemoan” but have now decided for “we bemoan”.
*  Line 2:  I had considered “surpasses” but have decided for “excels”.
*  Line 3:  I had originally penned the line as “Up and soaring a crane, through the clouds of the sunlit sky” which I find unsatisfactory.  Firstly, “Up and soaring … through clouds”, though an adequate translation of, is less than adequate to translate 排雲.  Secondly, “clouds” (which implies cloudiness/a cloudy day) and “sunlit sky” (which implies a sunny sky/a sunny day) are contradictory.  I have now scrambled the line into “Flapping skywards a crane, past clouds white in the sun”.

*  Line 4:  I had first penned “And to the azurean skies above, my poetic passion has flown”, but have now decided for “O how my muse of poesy, to the heavens azure has flown” dropping the word “azurean” which may be considered archaic.

04 February 2014

孟浩然 Meng Haoran: 宿建德江 Sojourn on the River at Jiande

This is a 20-character quatrain (four 5-character lines) by the Tang dynasty poet Meng Haoran.  I have been unable to compress my English rendition into lines of 5 or less beats (e.g. 4) as I have for nearly all my other renditions of 5-character quatrains.  This is probably due to my insistence on following the original rhyme scheme (mea culpa?) and my crude attempt to reproduce in English the peculiarly Chinese couplet form (unrhymed, but perfect parallel diction) in lines 3 and 4 (bravo?).  In addition, I have also failed to provide in my rather breathless 6-beat (hexameter) lines a mid-line pause (caesura), say after 3 beats, which has made most of my other 6-beat renditions sound pleasurable.

To make my rendition sound poetic, may I suggest that my lines be read with a pause after the first 2 beats, another pause (albeit shorter) after the next 2 beats followed by 2 beats with a long end-rhyme.  Care for a go?.

Meng Haoran (689-740):  Sojourn on the River at Jiande

1  My boat is steered to moor by an isle in a misty chemise;
2  The day now done, my sorrows, in sojourn, well up again.
3  So open the country, there hangs the sky below the trees;
4  So limpid the river, here lies the moon to befriend us men.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發    
3rd June 2008 (revised 12.6008; 13.6.08; 23.6.08; 19.7.08; 24.2.2009; 29.1.2014)
Translated from the original - 孟浩然: 宿建德江

1 移舟泊煙渚
2 日暮客愁新
3 野曠天低樹
4 江清月近人

* Meter and rhyme: I have been unable to render the poem in pentameter (5 metrical feet) to emulate the original 5-character lines. This rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet). The rhyme scheme is ABAB as in the original if 渚 and 樹 are taken to rhyme. . 
* Line 1: The word “chemise” (not in the original poem) is used primarily to rhyme with “trees” in line 3. It does, however, produce the image of the island wearing a white garment, somewhat akin to Herbert Giles’ use of “mist-clad”. I am also grateful to Giles for his choice of the word “steer” for 移 in “I steer my boat 
to anchor” which I have turned into “My boat is steered to moor” to obviate the active first person “I” which might suggest that the poet is steering.
* Line 2: 客 “traveller/sojourner” refers to the poet himself, hence, 客愁 is rendered as “my sorrows, in sojourn”. 新 “new” should be taken to mean “anew/renew/afresh” and is, hence, rendered as “well up again”. My use of the word “sorrows” in the plural makes it possible to read the line to include “old” sorrows in addition to “new” ones.
* Lines 3 and 4: This is a rare couplet in a Tang quatrain. My rendition is an attempt to reproduce in English this peculiarly Chinese form of the couplet (parallel diction and, invariably, unrhymed).  I have added "there hangs" and "here lies" to strengthen the symmetry.  I had originally penned "The country so open" and The river so limpid" to follow the order of the words in the original, but have now decided to inverse the order.
* Line 3: 天低樹 “sky” “low/dwarf/below/beneath” “tree” can be understood as either “the trees are dwarfed by the sky” or “the sky is dwarfed by the trees”. I have adopted the latter which, I am sure you will agree, is the picture one would see at dusk, sitting in a small boat off an isle with mature trees, looking at the vast open country beyond.  I had used "there sits the sky beneath", but have now decided for "there hangs the sky below".   
* Line 4: 近人 literally “near men” has the additional meaning of “approachable/friendly".  I had originally used “to be close to men” to cover both meanings, but have now decided for "to befriend us men".

13 January 2014

太上隱者 Taishang Yinzhe (Supreme Hermit): 答人 In Reply to Someone

Here is a beautiful quatrain by an anonymous Tang dynasty poet whose identity is a complete mystery, true to the name "Supreme Hermit" he coined for himself probably just for the poem.  Or it may well be that even the name was coined not by himself but by anthologists of posterity.  On the poem itself, does it not remind one of Li Bai's (李白) "Why in the Mountains" ( 山中問答) posted on this blog in June 2011?  Please click:-

Taishang Yinzhe (Supreme Hermit) (Tang dynasty, years unknown): In Reply to Someone

1  By chance to have come beneath the pine,
2  With a boulder for pillow, I sleep care free.
3  Blind, in these mountains, to calendared days,
4  Care not, as the cold wanes, what year it be!

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黄宏發
12th April 2010 (revised 13.4.2010; 23.5.2011; 15.11.2013)
Translated from the original - 太上隱者: 答人

1  偶來松樹下
2  高枕石頭眠
3  山中無曆日
4  寒盡不知年

*  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.
*  Line 1:  I had originally penned “Just happen to’ve come”, then considered “By chance I have come” and have now decided for “By chance to have come”.  I have chosen to use “pine” to conform to the less demanding XAXA rhyme scheme of the original although “pine-tree” can turn the rhyme scheme into the more demanding AAXA.
*  Line 2:  I had considered “resting” and “slumbering” but have decided for “sleeping”.  As idiomatically, (high pillow) means 無憂 (no worries), To translate I have used “carefree” but split into two words so as to move the stress from “care” to “free”.
*  Line 3:  (no, nil) is taken to mean 無須 (need not) and is translated as “blind … to”.  I have used “calendar” as a verb to make the verb-adjective “calendared” convey the meaning of “keeping count of days, months and years”
*  Line 4:  Similar to in line 3, (not) is taken to mean 不須 (need not) and is translated as “Care not” (or “Who cares”) instead of “Know not”.  I had originally penned “when spring comes” which I consider more logical and natural because 寒盡 (cold/winter ends) implies 春來 (spring comes) as in the idiom 苦盡甘來 (bitterness ends, sweetness comes; or every cloud has a silver lining).  Notwithstanding, I have now decided for the literal “as the cold wanes”.

02 December 2013

李商隱 Li Shangyin: 夜雨寄北(內) Written on a Rainy Night - A Letter to the North (My Wife)

Here is my rendition of a beautiful poem by Li Shangyin (late Tang dynasty poet) which I translated some 3 years ago.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Li Shangyin (813-858): Written on a Rainy Night - A Letter to the North (My Wife)

1  You asked of my date of return, I alas have none to tell,
2   In Bashan night rains in autumn, the pools and puddles swell.
3   How I long to be with you, your west wing candles to trim, and  
4   To talk of the times and hours when in Bashan night rains fell.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
2nd November 2008 (revised 3.11.08; 5.11.08; 6.11.08; 17.11.08; 19.2.09; 26.6.09; 20.10.10; 22.10.10; 25.10.10; 26.10.10)
Translated from the original - 李商隱: 夜雨寄北()

1  君問歸期未有期
2  巴山夜雨漲秋池
3  何當共剪西窗燭
4  却話巴山夜雨時

* Meter and rhyme:  The original poem is in 7-character lines.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet).  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.  I am indebted to 施穎洲 for the “tell(1) -swell(2) - fell(4)” rhyme of his rendition of the same poem which he has entitled “Lines for Home in Rainy Night” in his ”Tang and Song Poetry: Chinese-English” (中英對照讀唐詩宋詞), Taipei: Chiuko (台北: 九歌), 2006, pp. 156-157.
* Title and interpretation:  There are 2 versions to the title, “to the North” 寄北 and “to My Wife” 寄內, giving rather different interpretations to the poem.  Although “to the North” is the preferred title, “to My Wife” is the preferred interpretation of most Chinese scholars as the contents of the poem, albeit ambiguous, conveys an intimacy which can only be marital.  My rendition is similarly ambiguous although I have taken “to the North” in the title as there are strong grounds for this, as by the time the poet was posted to Bashan (present day Chongqing 重慶 until recently the eastern part of Sichuan 四川), his wife had already passed away.  The addressee must therefore be someone very close to the poet; and it has been suggested that a possible addressee is Wen Tingyun (812-870) 温庭筠, a poet who had exchanged poems with the poet. 
* Line 1:  I had considered “day” but have decided for “date” to translate .
* Line 2:  I had used “puddles and ponds do swell” and “pools and ponds do swell” but have now decided for “pools and puddles swell”.
* Line 3:  For 何堪共 I had considered but rejected “O how I long to be home with you” as this would make the poem unambiguously a letter to the wife (please see my note on title and interpretation above).  I had then considered “how I long/wish we’re together/I’m with you/to join you/to be with you” and have decided for “How I long to be with you” (the word “with” read stressed).  For 剪西窗燭 I had considered “by the west window candles to trim” and the whole line as “How I long to trim with you, candles by the window to the west”.  Now that I have come to interpret 西窗 “west window” as a synecdoche for 西廂 “west wing/room/suite”, I have decided for “your west wing candles to trim”.
* Line 4:  I had first penned the line as “To speak of our lonesome times when in Bashan night rains fell”, but       have now decided against adding “lonesome” (which is not in the original) and have changed it to “To           talk of the times and hours when in Bashan night rains fell”.

01 November 2013

王維 Wang Wei: 送別 Farewell

Here is a simple yet beautiful quatrain by the famed Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei.  It is taken to be a friendship poem by most, but I suppose one can always use it as a love poem without changing too many words.

Wang Wei (701-761):  Farewell

1  Here in the hills, I bade you farewell;
2  And by dusk I closed my twiggen door.
3  O grass will again be green next spring!
4  Might you, my lord, be back once more?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
24th 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)
Translated from the original - 王維送別

1  山中相送罷
2  日暮掩柴扉
3  春草明年綠
4  王孫歸不歸

*Meter & Rhyme:  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.
*Lines 1 and 4:  I had given much thought to whether the visitor the poet bade farewell to should be rendered in the second person (“bade you farewell” and “my lord”) with the poet thinking to himself as if he were addressing the visitor, or the third (“bade him farewell” and “his lordship”) with the poet simply thinking to himself.  I had originally penned the lines in the second person but then changed them to the third.  I now consider the third person too impersonal to truly reflect the poet’s feelings and have decided to revert to the second person.
*Line 1:  I have added the word “Here” as I take 山中 “in the hills” to mean the hills where the poet lives, so “In the hills where I live”.   I had also considered adding the word “my”, e.g. “In these my hills” and “Here in my hills”, but have now decided for the simple “Here in the hills”.  For the word (相送) “finished (bidding farewell)”, I have rendered it simply in the past tense.  This inadequacy is made up by my adding the word “by” before “dusk” in line 2 to denote the passage of time.
*Line 2:  I had, for the reason stated in the note above, considered and rejected “at dusk” after which,  I considered “now/come dusk” and have now decided for “by dusk”.  I take 柴扉 “faggots--door” to be equivalent to 蓬門 “reeds/grass--door”, both terms mean a “door made of plaited cheap materials such as faggots, twigs, brushwood, reeds, grass and bamboo” and both used to connote a “humble dwelling” (but not exactly equivalent to 竹門 “bamboo--door” which term is usually used figuratively to refer to a family of a lowly status).  I had therefore considered “humble” and “shabby” but had decided to stay close the word “door” in the original.  I then considered but dropped “wicker” and “wickerwork”; and of the two most appropriate words “brushwood” and “twiggen”, I have chosen the latter primarily because it sounds better (Twiggen:  a/Made of twigs or wickerwork; also, having a wickerwork covering  b/Arising from burning twigs or brushwood  O.E.D.) although “brushwood” is equally acceptable in terms of meaning.
*Line 3:  I had considered rendering the line closer to the original as “Spring grass will (again) be green next year” but have found both “Spring grass” and “next year” rather clumsy, hence, “O grass will again be green next spring!!”   Please note I have added “again” which is implied in the original.

*Line 4:  Instead of “prince”, I have rendered 王孫 “a nobleman’s offspring” as “lord/lordship” for assonance with “more”.  I had originally translated as “return”, then considered “come back” as an alternative, then “be here” to echo both the “Here” in line 1 and the “be green” in line 3, but have now decided for “be back”.  As for 歸不歸 “return or not return”, I had considered (a) “Will you or won’t you be back once more” with 王孫  “my lord” moved to line 1 to read “In the hills my lord …”,  (b) “Won’t you my lord be back once more”, and (c) “Will you my lord be back once more”, but have now decided for “Might you, my lord, be back once more”, the “might you” formulation being a question asked in deference couching the poet’s wish that his noble friend will return.