29 August 2008

杜甫 Du Fu: 絕句 2首 其2 (4- 何日是歸年) Quatrain, 2 of 2 (4- What year be the day I return...)

Sorry for the late posting. Here is one by Du Fu, the second of his Two Quatrains usually known by the first line "In streams so aqua, the whiter the birds appear", but I find the last line "What year be the day I return to whence I came" so much more appealing.

Du Fu (712-770): Quatrain, 2 of 2 (4- What year be the day I return ...)

1 In streams so aqua, the whiter the birds appear,
2 On hills so green, red flowers bloom as in flame.
3 This spring, it seems, is again soon to pass,
4 What year be the day I return to whence I came?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
13 June 2008 (revised 16.6.09; 18.6.08)
Translated from the original - 杜甫: 絕句 2首 其2 (4- 何日是歸年)

1 江碧鳥逾白
2 山青花欲然
3 今春看又過
4 何日是歸年


* This English rendition is in pentameter (5 metrical feet) to emulate the original 5-character lines and the rhyme scheme is XAXA as is in the original.

* Line 2: The Chinese character 然 here means 燃 with a 火=fire to the left meaning “burn” or "flame". I have chosen "flame" as it conveys more vividly the colour contrast of “the-bluer-the-whiter, the-greener-the-redder” through association with the red flame-flower, the red flowers of the flame azalea and trees called the flame of the forest. In a way, the word “red” in the line is superfluous. It is included for clarity and it does not affect the pentameter as, by convention, “red” here should be read unaccented.

* Line 3: I had originally used “set” instead of “soon”. I have, however, interpreted the line to mean “今年的春天,看來,又[快要]過去了” as in the school children's rhyme “春天不是讀書天/夏日炎炎正好眠/等到秋來冬又(=快要)至(=到來))/還是收拾書包好過年”, hence, “is again soon to pass” to include both “again” and “soon” with the word “is” subtly suggesting the inevitability of spring passing.

* Line 4: The expression “whence I came” (which is grammatically correct) can be changed, without affecting the meter, to “from whence I came”. According to Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary, “the idiom ‘from whence’ is old in the language, well established and standard’ and used by many including ‘the King James Bible, Shakespeare, Dryden, and Dickens.” I dropped the word “from” for the simple reason that, with it, the line looks too long.


Anonymous said...

Shouldn't it be 欲燃 instead of 欲然?

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank "Anonymous" for pointing out my mistake, but is it really a mistake? I have now checked 全唐詩 (228卷 21首) on the web and the great Chinese translator 許淵冲 Xu Yuan-Zhong's personal selection of "300 Tang Poems Bilingual Edition" 漢英對照唐詩三百首 (北京: 高教 2000) p.280. They both use the word 燃 "burn" with 火 "fire" added to the left of 然. My 然 version of the poem (without the added "fire") was taken from the Filipino-Chinese translator 施穎洲's "Tang and Song Poetry: Chinese--English" 中英對照讀唐詩宋詞 (台北: 九歌 2006) p.80. I freely admit I did not check on its authenticity in 2008 when I translated the poem as I felt (and still feel) comfortable with 然 which, according to the Chinese encyclopaedic dictionary 辭源, is the "original word" 本字. I am happy to leave textual research work to experts. And may I add, "fire" is already present in 然 as the 4 dots at the bottom of the character represent 火 "fire" (just like the 3 dots on the left of a character represent 水 "water"). Is it all that unthinkable that Du Fu might have left out the redundant 火 "fire" on purpose?