31 December 2011

韋應物 Wei Yingwu: 滁州西澗 By the River to the West of Chuzhou


Today is New Year's Eve.  Tomorrow will be New Year's Day 2012, still deep in winter, may not be the right time to post a spring poem.  But when winter is here, can spring be too far away?  Here is a poem by the Tang poet Wei Yingwu which is the subject of many a Chinese painting of a boat  moored idly by the riverbank when it is raining and the waters are running swift.  It is the picture of a desolate spring.  Indeed, 2012 looks bleak.  Yet, orchids still grow, leaves still sprout, orioles still sing, and life still goes on.  The advice is: "Don't despair, just lie low." 

Wei Yingwu (739-792): By the River to the West of Chuzhou

1  (How I love the riverside, where orchid grasses grow,)
    How I love the riverside where slender grasses grow, (revised 4.1.12)
2  And from up on trees so leafy, songs of the orioles flow.
3  Spring flood and a day's rain, by dusk the river runs swift,
4  The country ferry deserted, the boat, by itself, lies low.
  
ranslated by ATndrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黃宏發 
17th June 2009 (18.6.09; 19.6.09; 6.5.11; 31.12.11)
Translated from the original - 韋應物滁州西

1   獨憐幽草澗邊生
2  上有黃鸝深樹鳴
3  春潮帶雨晚來急
4  野渡無人舟自橫

Notes:
*  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*  Title and line 1:  西澗, literally West Brook, is a river to the west of 滁州 Chuzhou in present day 徽 Anhui province.  I have therefore chosen to translate in the title as “River” and 澗邊 in line 1 as “riverbank” or “riverside”.
*  Line 1:  in this context should mean “love” as in 憐愛 and not “pity” as in and I have chosen to interpret 獨憐 to mean “love the most” and not “alone” or “only”, hence, “How I love”.  I visualize 幽草 to be “tufts of graceful grass (can be species of flowering Chinese orchids called Cymbidium)” and not “turf” or “bunches of tall grass” or “a sea of reeds”, hence, “grassy orchids” or “orchid grasses”. 
*  Lines 1 and 2:  I am grateful to Xu Yuan-zhong for his translation of line 1 as “Alone I like the riverside where green grass grows” (rather than the more literal “Alone I like the green grass that along the riverside grows”) which links up with line 2 “And (where) golden orioles sing amid the leafy trees” so much better in terms of the meaning of the 2 lines taken together.  (Xu Yuan-zhong, et alias (eds.), “300 Tang Poems – A New Translation”, Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1987, p. 248.)
*  Line 3:  春潮 cannot be translated as “spring tide” which means a high tide in contrast to “neap tide”.  It cannot be translated as “tide in spring” either, since there is no tide in rivers that do not pour directly into the sea.  It can only mean springtime’s flood water from thawing snow and from rain, hence, “Spring flood”.
*  Line 4:  I had used “of itself” but have now decided for “by itself”.  I have taken to mean “alongside” and not “crossing”, hence “lies low” to paint a picture of a single boat idly moored alongside the deserted countryside ferry pier.    

26 November 2011

李白 Li Bai: 题峰頂寺(夜宿山寺) Written at the Summit Temple (Lodged for the Night at a Mountain Temple)

Yet another great poem by the poet immortal Li Bai.  Hope you will like it.

Li Bai (701-762):  Written at the Summit Temple (Lodged for the Night at a Mountain Temple)

1  Lodged for the night at the Summit Temple,
2     Can touch at arm’s reach the stars so nigh;
3     Yet dare not raise my voice in speech,
4     For fear might disturb the beings up high.
                    
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黄宏發
8th December 2009 (revised 10.12.09: 11.12.09; 12.12.09; 16.12.09; 13.4.10; 26.11.11)
Translated from the original - 李白題峰顶寺(夜宿山寺)

1  夜宿峰顶寺(危樓高百尺)
2  舉手捫(手可摘)星辰
3  不敢高聲語
4  恐驚天上人

Notes:-

*  This English rendition is a tetrameter (4 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*  The 2 versions:  There are two versions to this poem.  I have chosen to translate the “ Written” version over the “夜宿 Lodged for the Night” version (shown here in parenthesis). The version chosen was, purportedly, written by Li Bai in his mid years while the other by him as a young man.

*  Line 2:  I have interpreted the line not literally as “raise my hand to touch the stars” which would contradict lines 3 and 4, but as “can touch, at arm’s reach, the stars” (but shall refrain from doing so).  I have taken the 2 commas away and it now reads "can touch at arm's reach the stars".  I have also added “so nigh”, which is implied and is the essence of this interpretation, so as to make the “nigh(2), high(4)” rhyme.

*  Line 3:  I had considered “raise my voice when speaking’ but have decided for “raise my voice in speech”.

*  Line 4:  I have translated as “disturb” in the (not “wake” ) sense.  I had used “of disturbing” but have now decided for “might disturb”.  I had considered “gods”, “deities”, “immortals”, “fairies”, “souls”, “populace”, etc. but have decided for “beings”, being closest to humans”.  I had considered “beings in/of the sky”, but have decided for “beings up high” with “up” covering and “high” covering .


31 October 2011

柳中庸 Liu Zhongyong: 征人怨 A Soldier’s Lament


This is the last day of October 2011 and I have only just realized that I have yet to do my October post. Please accept my apologies.  Here, I share with you an anti-war poem by 柳宗元 (of 江雪 "River Snow" fame) Liu Zongyuan's cousin(nephew):- 

Liu Zhongyong :  A Soldier’s Lament

1        Year on year at the frontier, by the Gold-Brook or Jade-Pass I stand;
2        Day in, day out on horseback, riding-crop, broad-sword at hand.
3        ‘Tis late in spring, the green graves, still shrouded in white, in snow;
4        The endless Yellow River, rounding this Black-Hill borderland.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)       譯者: 黃宏發
20th May 2010 (revised 22.5.10; 24.5.10; 26.5.10; 27.5.10; 28.5.10; 31.5.10: 2.8.10; 28.6.11)
Translated from the original - 柳中庸:  征人怨

1        歲歲金河復玉關
2        朝朝馬策與刀環
3        三春白雪歸青塚
4        萬里黃河繞黑山

Notes:
*      This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*      Line 1:  I have added “at the frontier” (I had originally used “a soldier”) and “I stand” which are not in the original to make plain the meaning of the line.
*      Line 2:  I have added “on horseback” and “at hand” (not in the original) for the same reason as line 1.  I had considered “in hand” and “on hand”, but have decided for “at hand”.  I have translated 馬策 (the handle/stock of a horse-whip, a synecdoche for the horse-whip) as “riding-crop” (meaning the horse-whip but can also mean the handle/stock of the whip).  刀環  (the ring at the top of the handle/hilt of a sword) is a synecdoche for the “sword”, and I have rendered it as “broad-sword”(which I prefer over “sabre” for reason of sound, both being weapons more appropriate for battle on horseback than just sword). 
*      Line 3:  (three) (spring)  is translated as “late in spring” as I have taken not to mean “three” but the third and the last of the three spring months.  I have rendered 青塚 as “green graves” generally to refer to all who had died in battle here (and hint at the fate of those who are still alive) and have consciously avoided the legend of the grave of 王昭君 (a courtesan sent during the Han Dynasty to be married to 呼韓邪, a king 單于 of the Huns匈奴), the only grave that remained green in snow.  For 白雪 I had considered “white snow” and “the white of snow”, but have decided for “in white, in snow”.  For I had considered “rest”, frozen”, “blanched”, “wrapped”, “clad”, “palled”, “dead”, “buried”, “lie” and “lie dead/buried”, but have decided for “shrouded”
*      Line 4:  (ten thousand) (miles/li), a hyperbole, is translated by another hyperbole as “endless”.  For   I had considered “meandering in”, “meandering down/through”, “ringing round”, “turning at”, “entangling”, “encompassing”, “enwrapping” and “encircling”, but have decided for “rounding”.  I have added “the borderland” as I have interpreted “Black-Hill” 黑山 not to mean a particular hill/mountain but to refer to 河套 “Hetao” (literally the bend or meander of a river including the plains and plateaus on both sides of the river, in this case, the two perpendicular bends in the upper reaches of the Yellow River in Northwestern China), a region which was then the frontier.  

07 September 2011

王維 Wang Wei: 鹿柴 The Deer Range


Earlier this morning while I was tidying up the titles of my posts, I accidentally re-posted my September 2010 post of a song by Ma Zhiyuan.  I do apologise for that.  Here is what I had wanted to post.  It is a little poem by the famed Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei, the "Poet Buddha", made all the more famous to Western readers by a little book "19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated" (on 19 translations of this very poem) by Eliot Weinberger (Kingston, Rhode Island: Asphodel, 1987).  I hope you will enjoy my rendition too.  

Wang Wei (701-761):  The Deer Range

1  So hollow is the mountain, not a soul in sight;
2  Yet the sound of men talking is somehow heard despite.
3  (Into the deep, deep forest, rays of the setting sun peep,)
    Into the deep, deep forest, th' returning sun rays peep,
    (revised 14.9.11)
4  To shed again on the green moss the day's remaining light.

1  So hollow is the mountain, not a soul in sight,
2  Yet the sound of men talking is somehow heard despite.
3  (Into the deep, deep forest, rays of the setting sun peep,)
    Into the deep, deep forest, th' returning sun rays peep,
    (revised 14.9.11)
4  To shed again on the green moss the day's remaining light.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者黃宏發

28 February 2008 (revised 13.3.08; 17.9.08; 16.12.08; 5 9 11) (text and notes further revised 14.9.11)

Translated from the original - 王維:  鹿柴

1  空山不見人
2  但聞人語響
3  返景入深林
4  復照青苔上

Notes:-

*    This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) although the original feature 5-character lines.  The  rhyme scheme is AAXA which is also a Tang quatrain rhyme scheme more demanding than the XAXA of the original.

*    Line 1:  Instead of “desolate” and the literal “empty” for , I have now chosen the word “hollow”, as suggested by my friend Gabriel C.M. Yu 余志明,  which here means empty, deserted, vacant, etc.  I like it because it subtly suggests that the sound of men talking in line 2 is “hollow” too.  For 不見人 I had considered “no man to be seen”, “no man in sight” and “not a man in sight”, but have decided for “not a soul in sight”.

*    Line 2:  As “somehow” and “despite” may be redundant, I had considered but rejected using “faintly” to replace “somehow” as this might add meaning to the poem.
   
*    Line 3:  I had originally penned “Deep into the thickets” for 森林 but have now decided for “Into the deep, deep forest” to try to somehow.  I have interpreted 返景 in line 3 as 返影 (not taken to mean “shadow”, but 返回的日光 “rays of the returning sun” returning since sunrise), hence, “th' returning sun rays”.  I am grateful to Xu Yuanzhong (X.Y.Z.) for the beautifully poetic word of “peep” used in his rendition of the same poem which he entitles “The Deer Enclosure”, p.87 in X.Y.Z., et al. (eds.), “300 Tang Poems --- A New Translation”, Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1987.  This “Into... peep" formulation beautifully translates the word “enter”.

*    Line 4:  復照 is taken to simply mean “shine again”, hence, “To shed again on the green moss", and with “the day’s remaining light” added so as to complete the meaning and the rhyme.

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 consolation 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, loudly.

Ma Zhiyuan (1260-1364): Tian Jing Sha (Sky Pure/Cleansed 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”.

02 August 2011

李白 Li Bai: 秋浦歌 17首 其14 (1- 爐火照天地) Song of Qiupu 14 of 17 (1--Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky)

Here, we have a rare and unique poem by the poet immortal Li Bai---in praise of labour, in praise of smelters in particular and of working men in general without using in the original poem, a single word of praise on labour, on smelting and on the workers. This English rendition of mine falls short of his very high standard, not far short, I hope, as I have only spelt out the "smelters". I do hope you will enjoy it.

My rendition was first posted 3 days ago last Friday on my HKEJ blog (link at top right corner of this page) . I wish to take this opportunity to thank all fellow bloggers who have contributed to that blog and this. It was they on the other blog that goaded me to take on the translation of this particular poem in the first place. Here is my rendition slightly revised:-

Li Bai (701-762): Song of Qiupu 14 of 17 (1- Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky)

1  Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky,
2  Red sparks spiking its purple smoke awry.
3     A night in clear moonlight, the red-faced smelters,
4    Their songs bestir the wintry stream nearby.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
20th July 2011 (revised 30.7.11)
Translated from the original - 李白秋浦歌 17首 其14 (1- 爐火照天地)

1      爐火照天地
2      紅星亂紫煙
3      赧郎明月夜
4      歌曲動寒川

Notes:-

* This English rendition is in pentameter (5 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines. The rhyme scheme is AAXA while the original’s is XAXA.

* Line 1: I had considered “The furnace fire lights up the earth and sky” but have decided for “Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky”. The order of 天地 “sky” and “earth” is reversed as “earth and sky” sounds so much better and also as to start the rhyme with “sky”.

* Line 2: I had originally begun the line with "Its red sparks" but have now decided for simply "Red sparks". I had considered “poking” but have now decided to use “spiking”.

* Line 3: I have reversed the order of the 2 halves of the line. For 明月夜, I had considered “On this a moonlit night” which is clearly inferior to “A night in clear moonlight”. For 赧郎 (red-faced men), I have decided to abandon literal translations such as “the men, red-faced”, “the men, all flushed” and “their faces, all red/flushed” to make plain those men are not just men, not even just workers, but smelters, hence, “the red-faced smelters”.

* Line 4: I had considered using “work songs”, but with “smelters” spelt out in line 3, I can simply use “songs”. I have added “nearby” to end the rhyme. The addition is reasonable as smelting requires water close by.


12 July 2011

温庭筠 Wen Tingyun: 更漏子 (1- 玉爐香) Geng Lou Zi (Clepsydra, or Water Clock) (1- A jadite incense burner)

This is my latest translated work. This "long-short lined lyric" poem (or "ci" 詞) by the great late Tang dynasty poet Wen Tingyun is of the autumn sentiments of a woman left at home. Although the cause is not apparent in the poem, one can reasonably imagine the husband at war. Whether or not a war weary poem, it beautifully portrays the love they share or, at least, the deep love of hers. Here is my rendition:-

Wen Tingyun (812-870): Geng Lou Zi (Clepsydra, or Water Clock) - Autumn Sentiments

1    A jadite incense burner,
2    Red wax, in tears, aglow,
3       Lights up, in the hall, a face immersed in autumn sorrow.
4    Her painted eyebrows waned,
5       Her hair no more well groomed,
6      To a long night of a cold bed she’s doomed.

7      The phoenix tree now stripping,
8    From midnight drizzles dripping,
9      They know not her heart, the pains of separation a-ripping.
10  A leaf follows a leaf,
11   A plop echoes a drop,
12  Till morn unslept, onto empty steps they plop.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
7th July 2011 (revised 8.7.11; 12.7.11)
Translated from the original - 温庭筠更漏子 - 秋意

1    玉爐香
2       紅蠟淚
3    偏照畫堂秋思
4       眉翠薄
5       鬢雲殘
6       夜長衾枕寒

7     梧桐樹
8     三更雨
9     不道離情正苦
10   一葉葉
11   一聲聲
12   空階滴到明

Notes:
* In this English rendition, I have used trimeter (3 metrical feet) for the original 3-character lines, hexameter (6 feet) for 6-character lines, and pentameter (5 feet) for 5-character lines. The rhyme scheme is XAAXBB, CCCXDD as in the original. Though not apparent in current Chinese pronunciation, lines 2 and 3 do rhyme as being in the “” rhyme, and lines 7 , 8 and 9 also rhyme as being in the”” rhyme.
* Line 1: I had variously considered “Jadite, the incense burner”, “A jadite burner of incense”, “Incense in a jadite censer” and “Incense from a jadite burner”, but have decided for the plain “A jadite incense burner”.
* Line 2: I had considered “Red candles, in tears, aglow”, but have decided to literally translate the synecdoche in the original Chinese as “wax”. I have added “aglow” which is not in the original line 2 but implied in line 3 so as to rhyme with “sorrow” in line 3.
* Line 3: 偏照 is translated as “lights up” to follow on from “aglow” in line 2. I have interpreted 秋思 not per se as “autumn sentiments” but as those of a lady left at home (probably by her army husband at the frontier) and, hence, rendered as “a face immersed in autumn sorrow”.
* Lines 4 and 5: I had considered but rejected “Her painted brows have waned,/ Her hair by now ungroomed” and “Her painted eyebrows, now waned./ Her hair, no longer (well) groomed”.
* Line 6: 衾枕 is translated as “bed”, instead of the literal “quilt and pillow”, in the interest of a shorter 5-foot line. I have interpreted 衾枕寒 “quilt, pillow cold” to mean “sleeping alone”, hence “a cold bed” suffices. (One can either take “quilt and pillow” in the original as a synecdoche to mean “bed”, or take my “bed” as a synecdoche for the original “quilt and pillow”.) The line should be read as “pyrrhic/ spondee/ pyrrhic/ spondee/ iamb”.
* Lines 7 and 8: I have added “stripping” (line 7)” and “dripping” (line 8), which are not in the original, so as to make a rhyme for lines 7, 8 and 9 and to herald in “a leaf follows a leaf” (line 10) and “a plop echoes a drop” (line 11).
* Line 8: 三更, the third watch of the night (from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.) is, here, translated as “midnight”. I have added “From” so as to be consistent with “Till morn” in line 12
* Line 9: The word “separation” should be read with both “se-” and “-ra-” accented.
* Line 11: As the word “sound” in the original refers to raindrops, the meaning of the line is translated as “drop” with the onomatopoeic “plop” and the verb “echoes” to translate the repetition of .
* Line 12: I have added “unslept” which, though not in the original, is both reasonably implied and, more important, necessary as (a) the phrase “Till morn unslept” subtly shifts the focus back to the lady protagonist and retains the ambiguity of 空階滴到明 that, at daybreak, drizzles may not stop and may carry on which translations like “till the break of day” or “till the dawn of morn” cannot succeed, and (b) the assonance of the “ep” sound in “unslept” and “steps”

02 June 2011

李白 Li Bai: 山中問答 Why in the Mountains

Andrew Wong's English Rendition of Li Bai "Why in the Mountains"

Here is a beautiful little poem by Tang dynasty China's "Immortal Poet" Li Bai 詩仙 李白. I hope my rendition in translation has done Li Bai justice. You may wish to note that I have (a) kept the original rhyme scheme AABA or AAXA (with the "een" rhyme to translate the original "aan" rhyme), (b) provided every line with a "caesura" or "pause" somewhere in the middle (in this case, after 3 beats) to translate the invariable and often very prominent caesura after 4 characters in the 7-character (or after 2 in the 5-character) Chinese quatrain line, and (c) used "beats" or "feet", and not "syllables", to account for the line length of the the English rendition in translating the original lines of equal length (in this case, 7-character). I am in total agreement with the late Arthur Cooper's insistence on the "caesura", but differ from him in that he counts "syllables" while I count "beats". His rendition of this poem can be found on p.115 of his "Li Po and Tu Fu", London: Penguin, 1973, his methodology on pp.82-83. Here is my rendition; please read aloud and enjoy Li Bai (Li Po):-

Li Bai (701-762) : Why in the Mountains (In Reply to the Uninitiated)

1 You ask O why I’ve chosen to live in the mountains green;
2 I smile without replying, my heart sedate, serene.
3 Peach flowers on rivulets gambol, then ramble out of sight; ’tis
4 Heaven and earth with a difference, not of the world we’d been.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)       譯者: 黄宏發
7th November 2008 (revised10.11.08; 14.11.08; 17.11.08: 12.4.10)
Translated from the original - 李白:  山中問答(答俗人)

問余何事(意)棲碧山
2 笑而不答心自閒
桃花流水杳然去
4 別有天地非人間

Notes:
* The original poem is in 7-character lines; this English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet). The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
* Title and lines 1 and 2: My interpretation of the poem is that of the poet “thinking to himself”, not a real dialogue or conversation, hence, my title “Why in the Mountains” and, hence, lines I and 2 can, alternatively, begin as “If you ask” and “I would smile” respectively.
* Line 1: The words “I’ve chosen” or “I choose” are not in the original but can be reasonably inferred. The addition provides a much needed break/pause/caesura to the line, and “I’ve chosen” does the job better than “I choose”.
* Line 2: I had considered “I smile in reply speechless” and have decided “speechless” too strong, hence, out of place for the “heart, sedate, serene”.
* Line 3: I had used “peach petals” but have now decided for “peach flowers”. I have chosen to use “peach flowers” rather than “rivulets” or both as the subject, hence, “(peach flowers on rivulets) … gambol … ramble” to translate and .
* Line 4: I have used “not of the world we’d been” to mean “not of the world we men had been” to translate 非人間. Alternatively, “been” can be changed to “seen”.

06 May 2011

李煜 Li Yu: 相見歡/烏夜啼 (1- 林花謝了春紅): Xiang Jian Huan/Wu Ye Ti (Happy Together/Crows Caw at Night), II With Love (1- Flower groves have shed their spring red halo)

Today I am posting my rendition of a second poem by the last emperor of the Southern Tang dynasty Li Yu known as Li Houzhu (the last one being posted in February and March). Like the last one, the line lengths and the two rhymes are strictly followed and reproduced in English. Hope you enjoy it:-

Li Yu (937-978): Xiang Jian Huan/Wu Ye Ti (Happy Together/Crows Caw at Night), II With Love (1- Flower groves have shed their spring red halo)

1      Flower groves have shed their spring red halo,
2     (Oh, far too soon to go,)
       O far too soon to go,
       (revised 25.9.12)  
3a   Weathering not the morning sleets and
3b      the winds by evening blow.

4     Tears of rouge you’re dripping,
5     Together, our wine we’re sipping;
6     Ever again in the morrow?
7a   (Ah, life is beset as always with sorrow)
       Ah life is beset as always with sorrow 
       (revised 25.9.12)
7b       as eastwards waters must flow.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)       譯者: 黃宏發
14th February 2011 (revised 17.2.11; 21.2.11; 24.2.11; 25.2.11; 10.3.11; 30.4.11)
Translated from the original - 李煜相見歡/烏夜啼 其二懷情 (1--林花謝了春红)

1      林花謝了春红
2      太怱
3a   無奈朝來寒雨
3b   晚來風

4     胭脂淚
5     相留醉
6     幾時重
7a   自是人生長恨
7b   水長東

Notes:-
* This English rendition is in long and short lines, tetrameter (4 feet) for the 6-character lines (1, 3a and 7a) and trimeter (3 feet) for the 3-character lines (2, 3b, 4, 5, 6 and 7b). The rhyme scheme is AAA, BBAA (or, if lines 3 and 7 were made into 2 lines each, AAXA, BBAXA). I am indebted to my friend D.C. Lau (Din Cheuk) 劉殿爵 (passed away 2010, God bless his soul!) for his rendition of this poem the editor has entitled “To ‘Crows Cry in the Night’ No. 1” in Alice W. Cheang (ed.) “A Silver Treasury of Chinese Lyrics” Hong Kong: The Chinese University 2003, p. 28. From him, I have borrowed “too soon” (line 2), “tears of rouge” (line 4), “ever…again” (line 6), and “always beset” (line 7a).
* Lines 1 and 2: I had originally written “Flowers in the groves have lost their springtime glow”, then decided to move the idea and the word “spring” from line 1 to line 2 (“Oh spring, too soon to go”) in order to restrict line 1 to 4 feet (“Flowers in the groves have lost their glow”), but have now decided for “Flower groves have shed their spring red halo”. I am grateful to D.C. Lau for the repeated “oo” sound in “too soon” to translate 怱怱.
* Lines 3a and 3b: The lines are in fact a single 9-character line with a caesura breaking it into 6 and 3 characters rendered as a 7 feet line of 4 feet followed by 3.
* Line 4: I am grateful to D.C. Lau for rendering 胭脂淚aptly and beautifully as “tears of rouge”, rouge being a red colour facial makeup. Though not in the original, I have added the very reasonable “dripping” to make it possible to rhyme lines 4 and 5.
* Line 5: For 相留,I had originally penned “Onto”, then considered “Mingling with”, “Commingling with” and “Tingeing”, but have now decided simply for “Together”. is interpreted not as “drunk” but as “to drink wine” and is rendered as “our wine we’re sipping”.”
* Line 6: I am grateful to D.C. Lau for his interpretation of 幾時 not as “when” but as “ever” and his choice of “again” for . The line, in his words, reads “Will this ever be again?” My “Ever again” is an abbreviation of “Will this ever be again in the morrow?” or “Will we ever meet again in the morrow?” I have used “in the morrow” to mean not just “tomorrow” but a “morrow” extended to the future.
*Lines 7a and 7b: Structurally, these correspond to lines 3a and 3b and are similarly rendered. I take 自是 to mean “what follows is true” and simply translate it as “Oh” or“Ah” to be followed by the truism. I had originally considered formulating the line as “Oh, mine is a life, etc.”, but have now decided to borrow D.C. Lau’s “always beset with” followed by “sorrow”. The “sorrow” rhyme is accidental as I regard “grief” too weak and “woe” too strong (which also rhymes). For line 7b “as eastwards waters must flow”, I had considered revising “waters” to read “rivers”, but have now decided against it.

02 April 2011

賀知章 He Zhizhang: 回鄉偶書 Coming Home - Fortuitous Lines

I have recently been asked by a reader who read my November 2008 post of my rendition of He Zhizhang's "Ode to the Willow" if I had also rendered other poems by the same poet. I happen to have done just one more and this happens to be the poem the reader is after. So, here is my rendition of He Zhizhang's "Coming Home" and the history of my struggle to get it right, knowing full well that translation is never a finished business.  I hope you do enjoy it:-

He Zhizhang (659-744): Coming Home: Fortuitous Lines I (1st line - I left home young…)

1  I left home young, now old, return care free,
2  My tongue unchanged, my hair now thinner be.
3  Unknown am I to the boys and girls I meet,
4    Smiling they ask, “Sir, from whence come thee?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
2 March 2008 (revised 18.3.08; 23.3.08; 7.7.08; 21.11.08; 29.3.11)
Translated from the original - 賀知章回鄉偶書 其一

少小離家老大回
鄉音無改鬢毛摧()
兒童相見不相識
笑問客從何處來

Notes:-
* This English rendition is in pentameter (5 metrical feet) whilst the original poem features 7-charcter lines throughout. The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original
* History of this rendition: I am indebted to施頴洲 for his rendition of the same poem he entitled “Notes on Homecoming” on pp. 26-27 of his ”Tang and Song Poetry: Chinese-English” (中英對照讀唐詩宋詞), Taipei: Chiuko (台北: 九歌), 2006, in particular, for his slant (“fuzzy”?) rhyme words of “home(1), grown(2), and from(4)” which are, perhaps, appropriate as the original Chinese rhyme words of “(1) /(2) (4)” as pronounced today are less than perfect. On the basis of his rhyme words, my first draft of 25.2.2008 was as follows:
1    In youth, I left, now aged, I’ve come home,
2    My tongue unchanged, my hair thinner grown.
3        Unknown am I, to the children I meet,
4    Smiling they ask, “Where are you from?

I liked it much, but continued to work on the “perfect” rhyme and came to a revised version on 23.3.08 which featured two pentameter (5 metrical feet) lines followed by two tetrameter (4 metrical feet) lines as follows:
1 In youth I left, now old, I return carefree,
2 My tongue unchanged, my hair thinner be.
3 Unknown am I to the children I meet,
4 Smiling they ask, “From whence come thee?”

I continued to revise it and came to a new revised version on 21.11.08 which was in pentameter (5 metrical feet) as follows:
1 In youth I left, now old, I return carefree,
2 My tongue unchanged, my hair thinner be.
3 Unknown am I to the boys and girls I meet,
4 Smiling they ask, “Sir, from whence come thee?”

Now, after a lapse of two and a half years, I have further touched up this revised version of my rendition which is as presented in the text.

* Line 1: He Zhizhang in fact did return to his native place on his retirement at well over 80 years of age and the poem was written on his return, hence, “now old, I return care free”, “care free” or alternatively “a retiree” being added for the rhyme.

* Line 2: To translate 鄉音, I had considered borrowing the word “brogue” from my mentor John Turner’s rendition of the same poem he entitled “Homecoming” on p.27 of his “A Golden Treasury of Chinese Poetry”, Hong Kong: Renditions Books, The Chinese University of H.K., 1989, but decided “tongue” goes better with “hair”.

* Line 3: I can obviously use “see”, which is literally equivalent to, to end the line. I have chosen “meet” because it is closer to相見 than “see” and, more important, because I wish to maintain the AABA rhyme scheme.