01 December 2009

白居易 Bai Juyi: 問劉十九 At Home to Mr. Liu Shijiu

It must be beginning to snow in many parts of the northern hemisphere. I am posting this little poem of the joys of winter. Just think of mulled wine! Any plonk will do!  No blanc though!  Even plonk noveau!

Bai Juyi (772-846): At Home to Mr. Liu Shijiu

1 (At home----an ebony, foamy new wine,)
   At home:  an ebony, bubbly new wine,
   (revised 8.12.15)
2 (On a little red-clay fire stove warming.)
   On a little stove of red clay, warming.
   (revised 4.12.15)
3 Care for a cup of the good stuff? I say,
4 (Ah snow, in the evening sky, is forming.)
   Ah, snow in the evening sky is forming.
   (revised 4.12.15)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
20th July 2009 (revised 21.7.09; 2.8.09; 1.12.09)
Translated from the original - 白居易: 問劉十九

1 綠螘新醅酒
2 紅泥小火爐
3 晚來天欲雪
4 能飲一杯無


* 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.

* Title and line 1: I take the “wine” to be at the poet’s home. The word問 in the title means “asking/inviting”, hence, “At Home” which is an invitation for drinks (and tit bits) at home. “At home” is also added to line 1 to indicate in the poem itself where the “wine” is.

* Line 1: The “new wine” 新醅酒 is a newly fermented, [deleted 8.12.15: unstrained] unfiltered rice wine, often dark in colour, with foams floating on top. The character 螘 is the ancient character, which is still used, for 蟻 meaning ants, and the foams on the “new wine” had been referred to in classical Chinese as 浮螘(蟻) floating ants or 浮蛆 floating maggots, neither very palatable if not disgusting. I have therefore decided to simply describe it as “foamy” [added 8.12.15: which is now amended to read "bubbly"].  The very first character of the poem 綠 which means green cannot be green as green ants, as far as I know, do not exist.  [Added 8.12.15: Although I now know green ants do exist in Australia (like black swans?), they most certainly did not exist in China then.]  It must mean black or dark as in 綠髮 (green hair) and 青絲 (green silk) both refer to “black hair” in Chinese poetry, hence, I have decided for “ ebony”. If one insists on translating 綠 literally as "green" in contrast to "red" 紅 in line 2, I had considered but rejected “greenish” which, together with “new wine”, produces a beautiful yet wrong image of a Portugese “vino verde” which in the West, is drunk chilled.  [Added 8.12.15: Or, perhaps, the Korean unfiltered rice wine "makkoli" which is more cream coloured than greenish and which, again, is usually drunk cold or chilled in Korea (although I had tried to drink warmed and found it pleasant in a different way.]

* Line 2: I have added “warming” which is implicit in the original.

* Lines 3 and 4: I have reversed the order of the 2 lines for the rhyme. I had considered changing line 3 (line 4 of the original) from a question to an exhortation, viz. “Do come for a cup of the good stuff, I pray,” but have decided to be more faithful to the original, hence, "Care for a cup of the good stuff? I say".  [Language polished 8.12.15]