10 February 2011

李煜 Li Yu: 浪淘沙 懷舊 Lang Tao Sha (Waves Scouring the Sands) Reminiscence

This lament of a captive king Li Houzhu 李後主, the last ruler 後主 of the Li 李 family line's Southern Tang 南唐 dynasty in 10th century China, is my latest rendition. I am posting it simultaneously on this and my other blog at www.hkej.com. One cannot help but think of and speculate on Mubarak in Egypt. But, no politics, please!
The poem is most touching as will be seen in this and other translations. It is, in addition, beautifully structured with a single rhyme running through 8 of the 10 lines of varying length in a pattern of 5-4-7-7-4 characters per stanza. In my rendition, I have emulated this pattern. My rhyme scheme is AAAXA, AAAXA as in the original. My long-short line pattern, in terms of beats/stresses/feet, is 5-3-6-6-3 per stanza. I have not seen this done before, and shall be grateful to be able to get in touch with others who are attempting the same.
This poem and my rendition are not long, but my notes are. So, just sit back and enjoy the poem.

Li Yu (936-978): Lang Tao Sha (Waves Scouring the Sands): Reminiscence

1   Outside the window, a mizzling, drizzling rain,
2   Spring is on the wane,
3   The chills b’fore dawn, my silk quilt cannot long sustain.
4   In dream, unaware I’m none but a guest of my captor’s,
5   For a while I while in vain.

6   Alone: from looking afar, I must refrain,
7   Fair was my kingdom’s terrain,
8   A paradise lost so readily, so very hard to regain.
9   Like petals falling on rippling waters, spring is no more:
10 ‘Twas heav’n, now a world profane.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)       譯者: 黃宏發
8th February 2011 (revised 9.2.11; 10.2.11; 2nd 10.2.11)
Translated from the original - 李煜浪淘沙 懷舊

1   簾外雨潺潺
2   春意闌珊
3   羅衾不耐五更寒
4  夢裡不知身是客
5   一晌貪歡

6   獨自莫憑欄
7   無限江山
8   别時容易見時難
9   流水落花春去也
10 天上人間

* This English rendition is in long and short lines, pentameter (5 feet) for the two 5-character lines (1 and 6), trimeter (3 feet) for the four 4-character lines (2, 5, 7 and 10), and hexameter (6 feet) for the four 7-character lines (3, 4, 8 and 9). The rhyme scheme follows the original AAAXA, AAAXA. I have been able to use a single rhyme for the entire poem of 2 stanzas without having to use a different rhyme for the second stanza as I did for Yue Fei’s “Man Jiang Hong”. I wish to record my indebtedness to 施頴for the rhyme words of “rain”, “wane”and “vain” in his rendition of the same poem he entitled “In Captivity (Tune: Waves Washing Sand)” on pp.184-185 of his ”Tang and Song Poetry: Chinese-English” (中英對照讀唐詩宋詞), Taipei: Chiuko (台北: 九歌), 2006.
* Line 1: I had considered “curtain” but have decided for “window” as (curtain or screen) can and should be taken as a synecdoche to stand for (window). This choice is due in part to my conscious decision not to feature in rendition any internal rhyme of the “-ain” sound for reasons explained in my notes on lines 7 and 8, and extended, in this case, to the eye rhyme of “curtain” and “rain”. For the onomatopoeiac 潺潺 I have used the “-izzling” sound in two different words instead of repeating either “mizzling” or “drizzling”
* Line 2: I had originally penned “Springtide, on the wane” but have now decided for “Spring is on the wane” to pave the way to the final categorical “spring is no more (gone)” in line 9.
* Line 3: 五更 (5th watch/period) is the last period (3 to 5 a.m.) in the ancient Chinese system of night watches (1st 7 to 9 p.m., 2nd 9 to 11 p.m., 3rd 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., and 4th 1 to 3 a.m.) and is the period just before dawn. I had originally used the word “foredawn” (unfortunately found only in American dictionaries, as far as I gather) which best fits 五更 and sounds so much better than the coined word “pre-dawn”. Although I have decided for “The chills b’fore dawn”, “The chills of foredawn” is equally acceptable to me.
* Line 4: I have added “of my captor’s” to qualify “guest” so as to make clear the true meaning of the line. I had considered “I’m king no more, a guest of my captor’s””, but have decided for “I’m none but a guest of my captor’s” as being more faithful.
* Line 5: I have added “in vain” for the rhyme but which carries through the “dream” state of line 4,
* Line 6: 憑欄 literally “leaning by the railings” is interpreted and translated as 遠眺 literally “looking afar”. I had originally penned “Looking afar, alone, from that I refrain”, but have now decided for “Alone: from looking afar, I must refrain”.
* Line 7: 無限 literally “infinite” is interpreted not as (無限) literally “big/vast” but as (無限) literally “fair” and translated as such. I had considered “Fair was my terrain, domain” but have decided for “Fair was my kingdom’s terrain” as the internal rhyme may be tediously distracting.
* Line 8: literally “part with” and () literally “see again” are adapted to mean “losing” and “regaining” the kingdom and translated as “paradise”, “lost” and “regain” borrowing just from the titles of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained”. I had considered “so hard to again regain”, but have decided for “so very hard to regain” avoiding the tedious internal rhyme of “again regain”.
* Line 9: For 流水落花 literally “running waters, fallen flowers”, I had considered “Fallen flowers on rippling waters”, “Fallen petals on rippling waters” and “Blossoms falling, waters rippling” which all begin the line with a stressed syllable. I have now decided to begin the line with an unstressed “Like” which turns the emphasis rightly to 春去也 literally spring is gone, thus, “Like petals falling on waters rippling, spring is no more”.
* Line 10: I think the key words to interpreting line 10 are 春去也 “spring is gone/no more” in line 9 meaning no matter how beautiful spring was/is, it is gone and forever gone, which meaning is fully in tune with the sentiments of all previous lines. This leads us to interpret天上人間 not as a past “heaven on earth” (this world, a heavenly paradise) the poet is reminiscing, but as a past 天上 “heaven/paradise” diametrically opposed to the present 人間 “men’s world”, thus, “’Twas heav’n, now men’s world”, to which I have added “profane” (meaning, inter alia, unholy, sacrilegious, common, vulgar) to complete the rhyme and to make plain my interpretation of the sentiments of this last king/emperor-poet of the Li family line 李後主 of the South Tang 南唐dynasty. After due consideration, I have decided to shorten “now men’s world profane” to “now a world profane”.


Azurino said...

In Captivity一題不俗,然此譯亦甚雅,不過數字後漏左隔一格 :P

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Azurino, Thank you, but "In Captivity" is not my title. Mine is "Reminiscence". Andrew Wong.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I have made some revisions to my rendition. These have been effected on my post of the same title on my other blog on www.hkej.com. To visit that blog, just click the "fountain pen" logo at the right hand top corner of this page. I will, of course, effect these revision on this post in due course. Andrew Wong.

chinapete said...

I have followed with great interest the numerous and often technical comments on this translation, especially the translator’s own – that is why I am posting these comments here, I want to focus only on the translator’s views, as expressed in the notes:

What is the function of allusion in the English translation? For example, the bold reference to Milton is intriguing, not least of all because it takes the reader momentarily outside of the Chinese context (assuming there is such a thing, in the translator’s mind, as a “Chinese” context distinct from a “Western”) … What does the translator believe should happen when the reader encounters an allusion in the translation that refers not to the Chinese tradition, but to the Western? … Should the original recede completely, is it to be retained in a sort of dual focus, as a simultaneous illumination of the Chinese and a deepening of the English, or is there to be no connection between the Chinese and the English? …

我举一个例子, 这些诗句吧:

Here, an elaboration into Miltonic imagery is tempting, but it is hard to understand how we get there (I’m sure a few of the commentators in the other blog noticed this); but whatever the rationale, shouldn’t the reader also be made aware of more direct allusions:



此词作于唐文宗开成三年(c. 838)(陈冲敏, 《唐宋词选》) … however distant the echo, the thread should be accounted for …

Second question: Would it be right to assume that the focus of this translation is on iconicity, that is, the conformity in English to the form of the original … Thus there is much talk in the notes about pentameters and hexameters, internal and eye rhymes … And would it also be right to say that the iconicity plays out mostly at the level of sound, and not in the visual imagery? … We get a host of rather odd contractions, occasional archaisms, syntactic inversions – in short, English by Keats (I hope the translator takes this as a high compliment) … I mention this because it seems to me that the typical Western reader brings to (Chinese) poetry a bias towards visual imagery, and not sound – Frost was banished (or self-exiled) for claiming, in the teeth of Pound’s imagism, that the “sound is the gold in the ore” …

Would the translator agree that, as the interpolated title “lament” implies, meaningful sound is the quality that carries the original, and therefore also ought to be carried as faithfully as possible into the translation? …

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank {TJPete] for his/her very fair and insightful comment on my allusion to John Milton's Paradise Lost/Regained. It is in the least distracting and at worst detracting and should find no place in a translation of this poem. In attempting to lay bare the true meaning of line 8 as "losing and regaining a kingdom", I forgot, as a translator, I needed to retain the original subtle ambiguity. And worse, I substituted "paradise" for "land" and made this entirely inappropriate allusion. I have now decided to revise the line to read:
"A land so easy to part with, so hard to return to again".

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

To continue my response to [TJPete], I do not quite follow his/her "… however distant the echo, the thread should be accounted for …". What I post here is neither an introduction to nor a commentary on the poem itself, but my translation. But I do thank him/her for telling us that Li Yu was not the first to have used the phrase 春去也. Although anyone could have thought of the expression 春去也, Li Yu must have borrowed it from his predecessor Liu Yuxi whose 憶江南 became so famous that the "tune" (詞牌) itself became known also as 春去也. If I may add, Li Yu also wrote a 憶江南 which runs "多少恨/昨夜夢魂中/還似舊時游上苑/車如流水馬如龍/花月正春風" with an XAXAA rhyme scheme required by the "tune".

chinapete said...

您好,我是一个普通的男人, 也是普通读者...

There is great satisfaction in a superb translation ... We feel that something important is being said in the original language and in the parallel world of the translation ... Before Andrew Wong's magesterial efforts, there were inert words, or (for some readers) unintelligible markings on a page ... Now there is illumination ... This reader is grateful for a mirror text in which an original brilliance is reflected equally brightly ...

I am sure I am not alone in admiring the translator's open-mindedness, and his patience in replying to all comments, even these, however off the mark they may be ... His very public acts of revision bring fresh hope to the art of Chinese to English translation ...

To the translator's observation that what is posted here is "not a commentary on the poem," I hope that it will not be too much to assert that all translations are commentaries ... I leave aside the deeper issue of understanding the source texts themselves as commentaries ...

Thus, mention of 刘禹锡's《忆江南》has a two-fold purpose, first, it concentrates attention on the Chinese contexts, and second, it points to the text as an organic whole integrated at some level into its cultural context, and permits us to see how this text is distinguished by deviation from that context (for example, in the subtle transformation of the first mention of seasons, l. 2 春意闌珊, to the second at l.9 流水落花春去也) ... The idea that "the thread should be accounted for" simply means that this verbal transformation might show up in the translator's choice of wording, perhaps as thematics ... I offer the following as an example:

Nature and politics collide where cyclical change meets a linear model of history ...

If I were a British reader (I'm not -- I now live in the midst of the political turmoil of an emerging democracy known as America), I should think that this poem is more Ozymandias than Paradise Lost ...

No one would equate the passing of a season to the loss of an empire, except ironically; one involves cyclical and fleeting perceptions, the other, permanent loss and irreversible grief ... It is worth noting that in this sense, whatever else the poem is doing, it is signaling the suppression of a genre, as it is tracing a trajectory from 闺怨 to 哀辞 ... The translator must decide boundaries ...

One develops a feeling, I suppose, of what it must have been like for Li Yu to write these words, or, in a broader sense, for Chinese culture to produce them ... At the very least, this "lament" is a rather complex example of the Chinese aesthetic, 此刻, 此景, 此情, but place has been displaced, the speaker of the text is not where he should be, and is in exile ...

And to the degree that the larger theme of exile emerges, I wonder whether the revision of "paradise" to "land" goes far enough ...

李清照 《菩萨蛮》

Something has been lost ... What has been lost? ...

穆旦 《自己》

Frank Yue said...

hi, andrew,

may i post below an alternative rendition with a slightly different interpretation:

【浪淘沙·懷舊】 南唐·李煜

Tune: “Lang Tao Sha” (Waves Panning Sands) -- Reminiscence
Li Yu (936-978: South Tang)
Outside my window-blinds the rain's dripping,
Alas, sweet Spring is fast away slipping.
Before-dawn chills my quilt cannot restrain;
In dreams, I know not a guest I remain,
For a while, a king again!

Alone, from lean'ng on railings I must refrain,
O Before me lies my lost, boundless domain!
'Twas easier to part than be united --
Fallen flowers riding on
Flowing waters, and Spring's gone --
From hea'en to earth, I fell unexpected!