07 September 2010

馬致遠 Ma Zhiyuan: 天淨沙 秋思 Tian Jing Sha "Autumn Thoughts"

This poem is a 曲 "qu" or song of the 元 Yuan Dynasty which is akin to 詞 "ci" or song of the 宋 Song Dynasty made up of long and short lines. I had earlier last May posted a Song "ci", Yue Fei's "The River All Red". This is my first attempt at a Yuan "qu". This poem is particularly challenging as it is a sheer juxtaposition of images, e.g. "dried vine(s)", "old tree(s)", "evening crow(s)" in the first line followed by more in subsequent lines. While I can simply present the images in sequence (montage?) like most faithful translators do, I have chosen to give a clear interpretation to the whole poem by adding verbs to 4 of the 5 lines. So we have "crows ... roosting", "homes of people nestling" leading up in contrast to "scrawny horse ... trudging", "sun ... setting" (verb in the original), and "wanderer ... a-roaming". "They have homes, while I don't," so to speak. In so doing, I of course run the risk of being labelled "a square peg in a round hole" or, more precisely, "an over-sized square peg fits not the round hole". But at least some c'onsolation can be found in the "ing" rhyme in an AAAAA rhyme scheme made possible only by the addition of verbs not present but implied in the original. Please enjoy reading it out --- slowly but loudly.

Ma Zhiyuan (1260-1364):  Tian Jing Sha (Heavenly Pure Sand) -- Autumn Thoughts

1  An old tree, dried vines entwined, by ev’ning crows come roosting;

2  O’er a small bridge, by a running stream, homes of people nestling.
3  On an old road, in the autumn wind, a scrawny horse keeps trudging.
4  The sun, slanting, to the west, setting ---
5  Heart-torn, lovelorn, the wanderer, to the verge of the sky a-roaming.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者黄宏發
18th August 2010 (revised 19.8.10; 20.8.10; 6.9.10)
Translated from the original - 馬致遠:  天淨沙 -- 秋思

1  枯藤老樹昏鴉
2  小橋流水人家
3  古道西風瘦馬
4  夕陽西下
5  斷腸人在天涯

Notes:
* The original is in 5 lines with the first 3 lines in 6 characters, the 4th a 4-character line and the last line back to 6 characters. The rhyme scheme is AAAAA with an “a” or “ah” rhyme. (It should be noted that although the last word in the last line is pronounced “ngai” in Cantonese, it is “ya” in Putonghua.). My English rendition emulates the pattern of the original with 6 beats/stresses in the first 3 lines and the last and 4 beats/stresses in the 4th line. My rhyme scheme is AAAAA like the original, with a uniform “ing” ending. Although, strictly speaking, a simple “ing” does not constitute a rhyme, the pattern is pleasing to the eye and the rendition, hopefully, also pleasing to the ear. As will be seen from the following work draft, most of the verbs ending with “ing” are not in the original (lines 1-3 and 5) but are added primarily to produce this eye rhyme pattern:-
Dried (bald/bare) vines, old tree, evening crows (add: roosting)
Small bridge, running water (stream/rivulet), people (others) homes (add: nestling)
Old road, west (autumn/high) wind, scrawny horse (add: trudging)
Evening sun west sets (slanting/setting)
Guts-torn (heart-torn/love-lorn) man at sky’s (land’s) end (add: roaming/a-roaming)
As can also be seen from the above, although none of the verbs concerned is in the original, each and every is implied and is essential in translation whether into English or into modern day Chinese.
* Line 1: I had considered “dead”, “bald” and “bare” for but have decided for “dried”. I have added “entwined”, which is not in the original, for assonance with “vines” in addition to being descriptive of a scene of the symbiosis of the tree and vines. The word “come” in “come roosting” should be read unstressed.
* Line 2: For I have chosen “stream” over “waters/rivulet”. For 人家 I had considered “others’ homesteads/homes of others” to cover the poet’s (though ambiguous, yet readily apparent) meaning that none of the houses is the wanderer’s home, but have decided that “homes of people” should suffice. “Nestle/nestling” here is ambiguously rich in meaning. It takes in the meaning of both “lie half hidden or embedded in some place” and “lie snugly in some situation”. (Shorter Oxford Dictionary)
* Line 3: For 西風 I have rejected the literal “west wind(s)” as, to the Englishmen and the Europeans, west wind is a spring wind, Zephyr, which is not what the poet refers to. I have then considered “winds now high” but have decided for “in the autumn wind”. The word “keeps” in “keeps trudging” should be read unstressed.
* Line 5: I have spelt out “man” as the “wanderer”. I had considered “to/in the/a land at the sky’s end a-roaming”, but have decided for “to the verge of the sky a-roaming”. I have added “a- (meaning in the process of)” to “roaming” so as to amplify my interpretation that 在天涯 means 浪迹天涯 not just “at the verge of the sky”, but “to the verge of the sky a-roaming”.

21 comments:

Frank said...

bravo! andrew, v well done indeed.

you've done the near impossible: bridging two cultural divides with your v enjoyable and lovely literary translation of this unique chinese poem (the nine twin-characters in the first three lines of which are matching couplets).

and, am just nit-picking here:

1. as you said, 'ing' is strictly not a rhyme (and a la the original
AAAAA rhyme, your verses will have to end in 'ting', or 'ling', or 'ging', or 'ming'); 'ing' is just 'visual rhyme', rather than audio rhyme. however, as translating the perfect AAAAA rhyme version in chinese is clearly out of the question, second best should be acceptable.

2. 枯滕 is strictly 'rotten, wilted, withered' vine(s) while your 'dried vines' are strictly 干 (乾)滕. thus, i'd suggest the following for your consideration:

'1. On wilted-vine-entwined old trees, by ev'ning the crows come
roosting;' (and also this would make the three subjects appear in the same order as in the original.)

now, could i please have your comments on the following rendition? thanks.

Tune: Sunny Sky Over Clear Sand
“Autumn Thoughts” Ma Zhiyuan (Yuan)

To withered-vine entwined old trees, return the ev'ning crows.
Through a small bridge, the clear stream around a homely house flows.
Lonely ancient road, west wind swept, the lean horse trots along.
The sun sets in the west and is gone.
Heart-broken, on life’s journey far from home I soldier on!

frank

Frank said...

hi, andrew,

i'm not sure why you didn't reveal your translation of the last one of li bai's three poems written for lady yang.

would you mind reviewing the version below? (if i'm jumping the gun, then
just ignore this request.)

【清平調三首之三】
名花傾國兩相歡,常得君王帶笑看。
解釋春風無限恨,沈香亭北倚闌干。

Song of Serene Melody No. 3 (of 3)

They admire each other -- the Beauty fair and the fine flow'r;
All the while the Emperor watches them with loving smiles.
O the endless desires of the spring wind, how she beguiles
While leaning on railing north of the Sunken Fragrance Bow'r!

frank

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Frank, I'd rather you just present the images if you don't intend to rhyme the poem. A fine example unrhymed free verse translation of this poem can be found in the famed translator-scholar Yip Wai-lim's "Chinese Poetry: An Anthology of Major Modes and Genres" p. 340 (1997, Duke Univ. Press) which, for copyright reasons, I will not here reproduce. I have borrowed "dried vines" from Yip after due consideration. I said I had considered "dead", equivalent to your "wilted" or "withered" 枯萎. However, as I tended to take 枯 as 乾枯 which means the vines, though dried and leafless, are still alive. I had, therefore, also considered "bald" and "bare". I could have considered "leafless" too, but decided "dried" was good enough. As for Li Bai's 3rd of 3 verses for the Lady Yang, I will post my rendition some time later as I do not wish to impose on those who may not be interested to read all 3 in a row. I will certainly let you have sight of it when we meet in October. Meanwhile, let me enjoy your rendition.

Frank said...

thanks, andrew,

and i do intend to try using the original AAAAA rhyme to re-do my translation which is now amended as follows for your critique please:

Tune: Sunny Sky Over Clear Sand
“Autumn Thoughts” Ma Zhiyuan (Yuan)
To wilted-vine-entwined old trees, the ev'ning crows are returning,
Through a small bridge, running waters round a homely house are singing,
To an ancient road, autumn-wind swept, a lean horse is clinging,
The slanting sun, setting in the west, the last of its rays is slinging.
Heart-broken, the wanderer at the sky's edge is a-roaming!

frank

Frank said...

i believe the above verses do rhyme -- though they're not 'perfect rhymes':
quite an impossibility in this case.

frank

Frank said...

hi, andrew,

of course i should have said:

'Under a small bridge, running waters round a homely house are singing.'

for reference, XYZ (whose translated poems i admire) produced the following version for the first two lines of ma zhiyuan's yuan qu:

Tune: Sunny Sand Autumn Thoughts
by Ma Zhiyuan; translated by XYZ.

'Over old trees wreathed with rotten vines fly crows;
Under a small bridge beside a cot a stream flows;'

(somehow, he omitted to translate
"evening" on line 1.)

frank

Frank said...

hi, andrew,

while still on the subject of translating ci's (or qu's), i really would love to see your rendition, at some point in time if you please, of 李清照's (1084-1151)
"尋尋覓覓,冷冷清清,淒淒慘慘戚戚。etc." in her "【聲聲慢】ci". (i believe you'll do this beautifully.)

frank

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Frank, I have started a new blog on the 信報網站 beginning from 23 July 2010 posting one poem a week. Discussion there is most lively and the last post on 10 September 2010 was this poem. It can be accessed at www.hkej.com. For ready access to my renditions, click the "信博" link, then look for and click "English" in the middle, then scroll to look for my entries.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Frank, I have started a new blog on the 信報網站 beginning from 23 July 2010 posting one poem a week. Discussion there is most lively and the last post on 10 September 2010 was this poem. It can be accessed at www.hkej.com. For ready access to my renditions, click the "信博" link, then look for and click "English" in the middle, then scroll to look for my entries.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Akey said...

Dear Andrew,

I grow penjing (a.k.a. bonsai). I once wrapped a dead vine around one of my penjing and used枯藤老樹昏鴉to go with it. But I could not find a good translation of this line for my Caucasian friends. Now, there is one.

Thanks!

Akey

Frank said...

thanks v much, andrew.

a most active, wonderful and lively forum for people sharing their honest views on the finer points in translating classical chinese poetry.

a very good thing, too, to thrash out and try to refine (still further if at all possible) your various renditions before the final products are in print in book form in due course.

have left various comments or my own renditions (for learning purposes) thereat. thanks again.

frank

Guo Du 过渡 said...

Dear Andrew,

I’ve been a quiet admirer of your outstanding translations. To me, some of them verge on being impossible to translate; but you somehow manage to find just the right words to give them new lives across the linguistic divide. Hats off to you.

Since retirement, I have (in addition to fattening pigeons and picking nose) written a novel in Chinese and English for fun and to get some ideas off my chest. Between the two languages, I sometimes have to adjust the setting, even the characters, in order to maintain the intended flavour in the dialogues and personalities. To be able to translate classical poems so well is therefore, one word: amazing.

I’ll be posting my novel in weekly sections (every tuesday if my poor sense of discipline would stop disappointing me) on my blog “guo-du.blogspot.com”. The English version is done (ha, that's what I thought a year ago!) but the Chinese edition is still work in progress. It’s not really at your standard of purity and elegance in terms of language, but you might find some of the crazy ideas amusing.

Guo Du

Guo Du 过渡 said...

Now that I've revealed myself, I can't help echoing my support of Frank's suggestion of 李清照的慢慢声。 It's such a beautiful Ci although, in my unpoetic opinion, she used the imagery of 梧桐 too often in her works. She must have had a beautiful yard with homogeneous arboriculture!

Guo Du

Frank said...

hi, mr president andrew,

may i thank 〈guo du〉 for seconding my motion for your giving us, in due course, a rendition of 李清照的 "慢慢声" ci.

at the risk of being an unwelcome usurper here, may i throw out my attempted rendition or 'brick' (below) to entice the 'jade':

【聲聲慢】 李清照(1084-1151)
尋尋覓覓,冷冷清清,淒淒慘慘戚戚。乍暖還寒時候,最難將息。三杯兩盞淡酒,怎敵他、晚來風急。雁過也,正(最)傷心,卻是舊時相識。

滿地黃花堆積。憔悴損,如今有誰堪摘。守著窗兒,獨自怎生得黑。梧桐更兼細雨,到黃昏、點點滴滴。這次第,怎一個、愁字了得。

Tune: Adagio Li Qingzhao (Southern Song)
I seek, I seek! I search, I search (for the home life that passed me by)!
Cold! Cold (is the wind)! Lonely! Lonely (am I)!
(With dear husband and half of m'country gone -- It's so) Sad! Sad!
Hurtful! Hurtful! (And so) Bad! Bad!
While it should be warm, the cold still lingers in protest,
Making it hard for me to take a peaceful rest.
Cups of weak wine are no match for the piercing winds at night.
(Not so high in the sky --) The wild geese arrow in flight.
O My sorrows are unsurpassed!
For I know some of the geese from years past.

The ground is overgrown with many a yellow flower --
Desolate and hurt, who'd have the heart to pick them at this hour?
Alone, I keep watch by the window: O when will the Night e'er fall?
Light rains keep falling, pitter-patter, on the plane trees and all.
Drop by drop, drip by drip -- Evening, light rains then softly acquire.
For all this, how could mere "SORROWS" describe my situation dire?

thanks.

frank

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Guo Du, Sorry, it has taken me longer than I expected to reply. I have been away for 3 weeks, have moved my study to Sai Kung, and am still in the process of unpacking. I have now visited your blog and found it most interesting. You do write very well indeed and your novel intrigues me. I think I am hooked. So far, you have in 3 weeks posted a sort of synopsis (About "Man's Last Song") and 2 rather short sections of Chapter 1 of the novel. I find this pace of posting too slow to attract interest. Without the synopsis, I really cannot make out what the story is about. Just a few more observations: Why is 孤獨 Guji 孤寂 in English? Why have you named the 42-year old "young" lady Rhea, the mother of the gods? Are you paving the way for her to bear children to populate the world again? Best of luck and best wishes, Andrew Wong.

Guo Du 过渡 said...

Thanks so much Andrew! You're the 3rd person telling me weekly postings are too far apart. I have only finished 1/3 of the Chinese version you see. Given the need to revise perpetually, I'll have to work "full-time" in order to post twice per week. BUT given your comments, I think I'll start doing that, starting next week. Oh dear.

I called 孤独 Guji in English because Gu Du is too close to my nom de guerre Guo Du to non-Chinese speakers. That's the only reason. Rhea is actually 48. Song Sheng is 42, the youngest man alive. You've made an excellent guess but, although the story is not “plot oriented” . . . it’s not quite what you think. I hope you won’t be annoyed by the ending though, if you would follow it that far . . . IF you can help me with one word, I might even speed up: 修为. It’s far more than “religious contemplation”; and “refinement” just won’t do. Is there an English equivalent?

Today was a total write-off because of Frank. He got impatient with your moving you see, and started with a very good translation of our favourite 李清照’s ci. I’m sick with a flu today, so no drinking with my regular Saturday night buddies (we’ve been doing that since teenage, believe it or not). I therefore spent my afternoon playing with the poem as well, following Frank’s example.

I have taken a different (less literal, more haphazard) approach though. Following my normal practice between linguistic versions, my English version merely “reflects” what I think was in her mind and mood. Neglecting the structural rules of poems are easy for me because I don’t know them to start with.

I hope you and Frank can forgive me for the delirious attempt. People who are in fever do do things like that.

Here it is:

I look, I seek; I search and drift
Through forlorn memory
Echoing, lonely heartbeats:
Wretched; desolate; utterly empty

A spring night held back
By the lingering cold
Keeps me stirring, alone and gloomy
Heated wine, watery and pale
Is no match
For the biting twilight gale

Wild geese in flight, a flitting arrow
Pass me by, immersed in sorrow
Forgotten we’d once met . . .

The field, strewn with dandelions, wilted
Me, forsaken, jilted
By the window I yearn
For darkness . . . that might not return

All day, a nagging rain
Befalls the phoenix,
At dusk, the leaves will drain
To tell her story
So much . . . So much more
Than I ever can, with just one word: Melancholy . . .

献丑献丑!I've written a few English poems but have never attempted translating classics before so be kind you guys!

So, my next posting of Man’s Last Song will be Tuesday, after that, perhaps Friday, then every Tuesday and Friday. Still don’t want to kill myself for a story you see :)

Frank said...

hi, guo du,

just from reading andrew's comments on your 'fictional pursuit' in your other blog site i know you're having a good time. keep up the good work. (sorry i won't be a visitor there.)

thank you for sharing your beautiful rendition of li qingzhao's ci. certainly a breath of fresh air with a different treatment and style.

though 'truth is beauty' beauty is not always truth! i wish some original aspects might be rendered more accurately.

two points call for special attention:
1. the 黃花 in 滿地黃花堆積 is generally accepted to mean 'mums', li's favourite flower.

2. the 梧桐 in 梧桐更兼細雨 should be 'plane trees'. yes, you're right, plane trees appear left and right in li's ci's.

if i may, some suggested rhymes and para-rhymes have been added in the version below for your consideration. (if i have stretched your interpretation too far at places, kindly amend.)

frank

【聲聲慢】 李清照(1084-1151)
尋尋覓覓,冷冷清清,淒淒慘慘戚戚。乍暖還寒時候,最難將息。三杯兩盞淡酒,怎敵他、晚來風急。雁過也,正(最)傷心,卻是舊時相識。

滿地黃花堆積。憔悴損,如今有誰堪摘。守著窗兒,獨自怎生得黑。梧桐更兼細雨,到黃昏、點點滴滴。這次第,怎一個、愁字了得。

Tune: Adagio Li Qingzhao
I look, I seek; I search and drift
Through forlorn memories I shift,
Echoing, lonely heartbeats to break free:
Wretched, desolate, utterly empty.

A spring night, held back like so
By the lingering cold,
Keeps me stirring; I'm lonely,
Am so alone and gloomy.
Watery and pale, heated wine light
Is no match for the biting gale at twilight.

Wild geese in flight, a flitting arrow
Pass me by, immersed in sorrow,
Forgotten we’d once met (in past tomorrow) . . .

The field, strewn with chrysanthemums, wilted;
Me, forsaken, jilted,
By the window I yearn
For darkness . . . that might not return.

All day, befalls the plane trees, light nagging Rain.
At dusk, the leaves will drain,
Raindrops dripping in train,
To tell her story
So much . . . So much more
Than anyone can endure,
Than I ever can, with just one word: Melancholy . . .

Guo Du 过渡 said...

Hi Frank, thanks!

Yes I'm having a good time with my fiction blog, and am surprised by who actually read and follow the story. I did heed Andrew's advice and tried to post twice a week but promptly exhausted myself. So I'm back to one section a week.

I love your wonderful refinement of my extemporaneous attempt! My "off-the-head" comments as follows:

You know what, I had no idea what 梧桐 looks like so I just looked it up in the dictionary and got Phoenix. I thought the word was kind of poetic but had no idea what it looks like either. Thanks for the correction.

As an image, however, I find it easier to visualise"满地“ dandelions rather than “mums strewn all over the field.” In addition, the relative frailness also seem to suit the mood (although probably not what Li had in mind, or the garden), hence my rash exercise of the privilege of the living interpreting the dead as usual, haha.

The rhyming structure in your version is DEFINITELY a big improvement from mine. The only part that I might leave out is perhaps (in past tomorrow). It makes that line a bit too long, and we already have “arrow” to keep “sorrow” in rhyming company in that stanza.

I note with interest how your refinement makes the rendition more tidy and precise in comparison with my initial attempt, which is more phlegmatic and resigned, even a little sloppy. They both convey melancholy, with a subtle difference in tone. Isn't poetry great fun?

Andrew: Sorry about littering your blog with extraneous babble :)

Guo Du 13.11.10

Frank said...

hi, guo du,

thanks for your kind comments.

and i agree with you, especially on 'passing' the part on 'past tomorrow' which i don't quite like,
either. it's too contrived. put in more for the 'artificial rhyme' that is not called for.

frank

Frank said...

hi, andrew,

may i post the following re-attempt at translating ma zhiyuan's famous yuan 'qu' in 13 syllable verse and the original AAAAA rhyme? thanks!

馬致遠
1 枯藤老樹昏鴉
2 小橋流水人家
3 古道西風瘦馬
4 夕陽西下
5 斷腸人在天涯

Ma Zhiyuan (1260-1364)
Tune: "Tian Jing Sha" (Clear Sky and Sands)-- Autumn Thoughts

1 On dried-vine-entwined old trees, rest crows when the day's done,
2 Through a small bridge by a house, the stream's ne'er ceased to run,
3 On an antique road, west wind swept, a gaunt horse does run,
4 In the west sets the sun,
5 O At the verge of the sky is the heart-broken one!

frank