01 June 2010

李白 Li Bai: 清平調 3首 其1 To the Qing and Ping Tune (for Lady Yang), I of 3

This is done earlier this year. I do hope you like it. The other two will soon follow.

Li Bai (701-762): To the Qing and Ping Tune (for Lady Yang), 1 of 3

1 In clouds, I think of her raiment, in flowers, see her face,
2 Blooming, beaming by the railing, in Zephyr’s dewy embrace.
3 ‘Tis only on Hills of Emerald, might such a beauty be seen, else
4 By moonlight at Jasper Terrace, be blest to encounter her grace.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者:黃宏發
15th January 2010 (revised 18.1.10; 20.1.10; 21.1.10; 9.2.10; 26.2.10)
Translated from the original - 李白: 清平調 3首 其1

1 雲想衣裳花想容
2 春風拂檻露華濃
3 若非羣玉山頭見
4 會向瑶臺月下逢


* This English is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) while the original is in 7-character lines. The rhyme scheme is AABA as in the original.

* Title: The three verses were written by Li Bai impromptu upon being summoned to the palace garden where Emperor Xuanzong and his favourite concubine Lady Yang were admiring peony flowers in full bloom, hence, I have added (for Lady Yang).
* Line 1: I had considered and rejected “we/you think” (everyone, the Emperor included) for being too general and “one thinks” for being too impersonal, and have decided for “I think” (which can stand for either the poet or the Emperor). I had used “your raiment … your face” here, and “your grace” in line 4, but have decided for “her raiment … her face” and “her grace”.

* Line 2: To translate 春風 (spring wind), I have used “Zephyr” (the god of the west wind, being spring wind in Europe) to pave the way for the mythical references in lines 3 and 4. I have used “railing” to translate 檻 and rejected other interpretations such as “casement” or “window sill”. To translate 拂 (“stroke” or “caress”), I have used “embrace” for the rhyme, and have taken the liberty to change the object of the “embrace/stroke/caress” from the more literal railings to the more poetic flowers and beautiful lady.

* Lines 3 and 4: As explained in the note above, the proper names of 羣玉山 “Hills of Emerald” (line 3) and 瑶臺 “Jasper Terrace” (line 4) exist only in myths; here, the mythology of 西王母 Fairy Queen Mother of the Western Sky. I have added “beauty” (line 3) and “grace” (line 4) to make plain that lines 3 and 4 refer to the beautiful lady (who can only be from heaven/fairyland).
* Line 4: I have added “be blest” to convey a sense of good fortune and to complete the meter. I had used “meet/behold”, but have now decided for “encounter”.


Frank Yue said...

hi, andrew,

great translation!

may i append below my own interpretation with a simple aabb rhyming scheme for your comments, please.

雲想衣裳花想容, 春風拂檻露華濃。
若非群玉山頭見, 會向瑤臺月下逢。

Song of Serene Melody No. 1 (of 3)
(Ode to Lady Yang) Li Bai
The colour'd clouds are her flowing robe, the flowers, her face --
By the dew-impearl'd railings, the Spring Breeze loves to embrace.
If atop the fairy Jade Mountains she is not present,
You'll find her at Heav'nly Queen's place 'neath the golden crescent!

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Frank, Just a passing thought:-
1 The colour'd clouds are her flowing robe, the flower, her face --
2 By the dew-impearl'd railings, in Zephyr's sweet embrace.
3 If atop the fairy Jade Mountain, she is not to be seen,
4 You'll find her at the Heav'nly Queen-Mother's, 'neath the moon's bright sheen.
Best wishes, Andrew Wong

Frank Yue said...

wow, andrew!

thanks very much for the refinements.
i love them.


Melody said...

Hey! great translation... thank you very much. one suggestion, i think 云想衣裳花想容 can be better translated as "the clouds envy her robes, the flowers envy her beauty"... because to xiang, to think about something, can also mean to want something, and normally poets in ancient china like using personification of nature