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.

4 comments:

Frank said...

hi, andrew,

nice rendition.

may i post mine for your review? thanks!

【回鄉偶書】 唐·賀知章
少小離家老大回, 鄉音無改鬢毛衰。
兒童相見不相識, 笑問客從何處來。

Coming Home and Writing Casually
He Zhezhang (659-744)
I come home an old man; in youth I went away.
My accent has not changed but my hair is now gray.
I meet some village children, none of them knows me.
Smiling, they ask me, "Did you come from faraway?"

Frank said...

...oops!

sould be 'He Zhizhang'.

阿葉 said...
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sameena Khan said...
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