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

Notes:

* 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]


17 comments:

Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 黄宏發 said...

I have polished it further by substituting "bubbly" for "foamy" in line 1 and changing the order of words in line 2, thus:

1 At home -- an ebony, bubbly new wine,
2 On a little fire stove of red clay warming.

Andrew Wong.

Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 黄宏發 said...

I have further revised my rendition of this little poem which now reads:-
1 At home: an ebony, bubbly new wine,
2 On a little stove of red clay warming.
3 Care for a cup of the good stuff? I say;
4 Ah, snow in the ev'ning sky is forming.

Frank said...

hi, andrew, as there're many ways to skin a cat, may i humbly present one here:

A Question for Liu Shijiu Bai Juyi
Green-foam'd new wine in bottle is gleaming;
Light and warmth the small, red-clay stove's beaming.
Snow, the night sky is about to cough up.
Come, m'friend, won't you drink with me one last cup?

Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 黄宏發 said...

Dear Frank,

I am afraid I have to say you have added far too many words, e.g. "bottle", "gleaming", "light", "warmth", "beaming", "last".

Best wishes, Andrew Wong.

Frank said...

hi, andrew,

reading it again, you're so right!
and you're training me as a "minimalist translator". thanks!

should see some improvement in the following new version:

【问刘十九】 唐·白居易
绿蚁新醅酒, 红泥小火炉。
晚来天欲雪, 能饮一杯无?
A Question for Liu Shijiu Bai Juyi (Tang)
O Green-foamed new wine;
Small, red-clay stove fine.
Snow, the night sky is about to cough up!
Come, of wine won't you drink with me one cup?

Frank said...

hi, andrew,

i think the latest version below is
closest to bai juyi's original:

A Question for Liu Shijiu Bai Juyi (Tang)
Invit'ng green-foamed newly-fermented wine
Is being warmed over small, red-clay stove fine.
Snow, the night sky is about to cough up!
Come, of wine won't you drink with me one cup?

Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 黄宏發 said...

Dear Frank, Sorry to be a wet blanket. Your "fine" in line 2 is a little artificial, and I don't quite like your "cough up" in line 3. Best wishes, Andrew Wong.

Frank said...

all your points agreed. may i have one last shot at this?

A Question for Liu Shijiu Bai Juyi (Tang)
Inviting green-foamed new-fermented wine,
Warmed o'er small, red-clay stove in pot confined.
Snow is going to fall tonight, you see --
Of this wine, won't you drink one cup with me?

Rick said...

I tend to visit these blogs to get to know about what is going on recently and also to buy some Generic Viagra.

Nick Kaldis said...

I've translated this poem as well, thought i'd share:

Green ant lees, fresh batch of grain,
Red bricks, hot little stove.
Come night there’ll be snow,
Stop by for a snort?

Nick Kaldis

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Nick Kaldis for his rendition of this beautiful little poem by Bai Juyi. While I have done it rhymed and metered, he has done it, like most translators since Arthur Waley, in free verse. I wonder if he would share with us his views on the choice of the form.

Jack V. said...

Might I try my hand at translating this simple quatrain?

Dregs sink in the dark new wine
Brewing over the small red stove.
The evening snow is late to Heaven,
Care to try a cup?

Nick Kaldis said...

Hey Jack V. and Andrew,

I love Jack's translation, except should it read "late from heaven"?

In my [1st] posted translation, I couldn't nail the end-rhyme, so i went with what i feel to be the tone. I actually responded to Andrew's request to comment on my choice, by emailing him a second version of this poem which hasn't been posted [my computer can't seem to post via the website], in which I've tried matching the original as closely as possible, with a near-perfect pentasyllabic version with a very close off-end-rhyme: "stove" & "no":

Green lees, fresh brewed shine,
Red bricks, glowing stove.
Come night there’ll be snow,
Share a swig or no?


Nick

Jack V. said...

You raise an interesting point, Nick. I'll keep that in mind.

I like your translation as well. My attempts at making a metered version were only semi successful, but I prefer free verse to be able to express what I think Bai Juyi really meant.

I'm also not a Chinese scholar, only a lowly college student who presented and explained this poem for his Chinese class oral report.

Scott Gruber said...

Hi, Andrew,

I was a student of Chinese language in my youth and am designing a personal site for myself and would like to include a couple of Chinese poem starting with 涼州詞 the first I memorized by heart and still know. My friend showed me 問劉十九 and I like its warmer friendlier feeling.

Would it be ok if I post your translation on my site and link back here to give you credit?

Sincerely,

Scott

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Scott,

Looks like there is a lot of interest in this poem, if not also my rendition, and I gladly and gratefully give you permission to post it on your site with a link to mine and credit to me acknowledged. Now that I am re-visiting this post, I think it appropriate to finalize my rendition as:-

Bai Juyi: At Home to Mr. Liu Shijiu
1 At home----an ebony, foamy new wine,
2 On a little stove of red clay, warming.
3 Care for a cup of the good stuff? I say,
4 Ah, snow in the evening sky is forming.

I have effected the amendments in my original post.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I had written separately to Scott Gruber saying I had to re-consider my line 1. This I have now done, and I have decided to slightly amend my line 1 by revising "foamy" to read "bubbly" (as I did on 3 December 2009 in comment #2 above), which is preferred for the "b" alliteration and the "y" assonance. I am taking this opportunity to re-arrange my rendition in such a way that after "At home", the rest of the poem reads like the text of Bai's invitation to Liu. Thus:
1 At home: An ebony, bubbly new wine,
2 On a little stove of red clay, warming.
3 Care for a cup of the good stuff? I say,
4 Ah, snow in the evening sky is forming.



I have effected the amendments in the post. I have also made additions to my notes.