02 July 2010

李白 Li Bai: 黃鶴樓送孟浩然 At the Yellow Crane Tower to Bid Meng Haoran Bon Voyage

This, in fact, is the first classical Chinese poem I attempted translating when I first began in earnest in March 2007 to pursue this ongoing hobby of translating classical Chinese poems into English. I was hesitant about what I wrote (please see my ultimate note) as I was still in search of an appropriate classical or quasi-classical form in English for the Chinese quatrain 绝句. This I soon found (grateful to 施颖洲's 中英對照讀唐詩宋詞 Tang and Song Poetry: Chinese-English 臺北:九歌 Taipei: Chiuko 2006 and, of course, to Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam 1859) in (1) adherence to the original rhyme scheme of AAXA (or XAXA, if original), and (2) 4 lines of equal length counting beats or stresses or accents. I made a new attempt in December 2008 which is essentially the current version. I had forgotten I have yet to post it. But thanks to correspondence on this blog between Huy, Frank and myself in June 2010 (please see my January 2008 post, my first post) in which Huy asked for my version of the Yellow Crane Tower and, thinking he meant 李白 Li Bai's poem, I promised to post it in July 2010. It turned out he meant 崔灏 Cui Hao's and Frank understood him right. Anyhow, as promised, here is my rendition of Li Bai's Yellow Crane Tower (Cui Hao's which is an octet of 8 lines will have to wait):-

Li Bai (701—762): At the Yellow Crane Tower to Bid Meng Haoran Bon Voyage to Guangling

1 At the Yellow Crane Tower, my friend, to the west you said goodbye;
2 In this misty, flowery glorious spring, downstream for Yangzhou you ply.
3 A speck, a silhouette, your solitary sail, toward the verdant hills receding, till
4 My eyes but descry the grand Long River, rolling to the verge of the sky.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黄宏發
19th December 2008 (revised 22.12.08; 23.12.08; 29.12.08; 19.2.09; 9.6.10; 10.6.10)
Translated from the original - 李白: 黄鶴樓送孟浩然之廣陵

1 故人西辭黃鶴樓
2 煙花三月下揚州
3 孤帆遠影碧山(空)盡
4 惟見長江天際流


* This English rendition is in heptameter (7 metrical feet) to emulate the original 7-character lines. The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original. This in fact is the first poem I attempted since picking up the hobby in March 2007. This first attempt, revised up to August 2007, was never published or posted and was abandoned as it is far too unorthodox. It is, however, reproduced below in the note on the abandoned translation to record my failure.

* Title: Yellow Crane Tower or Tower of the Yellow Crane is in present-day Wuhan in Hubei Province to the west of Guangling or Yangzhou . Meng Haoran, also a poet, was a friend of Li Bai’s. Guangling is present-day Yangzhou in Jiangsu Province, which was then also known as Yangzhou, hence, its appearance in the text in line 2.

* Line 1: I had used “bade goodbye”, but have now decided for “said goodbye”.

* Line 2: 三月 is the third month on the lunar Chinese calendar which is mid-spring. I had considered “the mists and blossoms of March and April”, but have decided to use “this misty, flowery glorious spring” to translate 煙花三月. The word “ply” is used not in the sense of “to sail/go periodically, to and fro, between certain places” but “to direct/steer one’s course for a certain destination” and should be used with “for”. In plain English, the line reads “…, you ply for Yangzhou downstream”.

* Line 3: I have adopted the 碧山 (verdant hills) version instead of the 碧空 (heavens azure or blue void) version. I had considered “fading/waning into the verdant hills” and “to/toward/towards the verdant hills recedes/you recede”, but have decided for “toward the verdant hills recedeing”.

* Line 4: I had considered “I”, but have decided for “My eyes”. I had considered “see/spy/espy”, but have decided for “descry”. For 長江 I had used “long, Long River”, but have decided for “grand Long River”. For 際 I had considered “fringe/end/margin”, but have decided for “verge”.

* The following is the abandoned translation of March 2007 revised up to August 2007 which is now further polished (in June 2010) so as to afford a comparison on a fairer basis :-

1 故人 Alas! My friend, for years my best,
   西辭 You bade farewell to your native west,
   黃鶴樓 At the Yellow Crane Tower we parted.
2 煙花 Willows misting, flowers in splendour,
   三月 ‘Tis the third month, the lunar calendar,
   下揚州 Downstream for Yangzhou, oh, you departed.
3 孤帆 That solitary sail for you they set,
   遠影 By now is but a distant silhouette,
   碧山(空)盡 Fading into the hills and heavens azure.
4 惟見 Now the only sight remaining clear,
   長江 A vista of a River long and drear,
   天際流 Rolling skywards to the horizon obscure.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
29th March 2007 (revised 4.4.2007; 10.4.2007; 26.4.2007; 10.5.2007; 14.5.2007; 27.5.2007; 17.7.2007; 18.7.2007; 23.7.2007; 30.7.2007; 14.8.07; polished 9.6.10; 11.6.10)


Akey said...

Dear Andrew:

I am a retired USDA Research Entomologist. I have been studying insects in the Book of Poetry for over 6 years. Although I am not a poet, I like to read classical Chinese poems and have been learning to sing 吟唱poems in Min Nan dialect 閩南語 ( I am originally from Taiwan). Recently, I was so happy to find your website. Your excellent translations enhance my enjoyment of Classical Chinese poems.
Thank you so much!

Akey Hung洪章夫

Andrew Wang Fat Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Akey, Thank you for your kinds words of encouragement. Although I was a pupil (more than forty years ago) of the Irish translator (my English Literature master) John A. Turner ("A Golden Treasury of Chinese Poetry") and the English poet (my English Literature professor) Edmund Blunden, I lay no claim to being a poet in my own right as I am not really writing original poems. I admit I am happy you like my translations but will be overjoyed to receive your comments kind and otherwise. Best wishes, Andrew Wong.

Akey said...

Dear Andrew,
As you know, there many websites provide translations of classical Chinese poems. I bookmarked some. But their translations are not as good as yours. So I dropped them. I also have “The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry” by Burton Watson and “The Jade Mountain” by Witter Bynner. They are not good either. That is why I am so happy that I can now find excellent translations in your Blog.
BTW, I listen to Writer's Almanac by the radio show celebrity Garrison Keillor on a public radio every weekday morning. He always reads a “poem” at the end of his show. But What I hear him read on his show, to me is NOT poetry. I think the “modern poets” only write essays or prose, not poems. Am I simply too ignorant in English poetry?

Best wishes,


Frank said...

hi, andrew,

i just read in the chinese newspaper that at a recent wah yan colleges anniversary celebration in hong kong you gave a recital of your translation of yue fei's 'the river all red' with chinese instrumental accompaniment. if you have a video clip of the same, would you kindly consider putting this on you tube and show us the link on this blog?


Andrew Wang Fat Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Akey and Frank, I have the Bynner book, but not Watson's anthology though I know of his translations. I am not dead against un-rhymed, un-metered free verse, but do hold the view that translations in free verse do not do full justice to the beauty of the rhymed, metered classical Chinese quatrain. As for my new venture in translating classical Chinese long-short lined verse "ci" 詞, the recital of my rendition of Yue Fei's "The River All Red" (May 2010 post on this blog) did take place on the 10th instant in a programme called "Wah Yan Encore" in celebration of the 90th and 85th Anniversary of Wah Yan College Hong Kong (where I studied under the Irish translator Fr. John A. Turner) and Wah Yan College Kowloon respectively. I am still awaiting the video clip which is yet to be produced. Best wishes, Andrew Wong.