07 September 2011

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”.

7 comments:

Frank said...

hi, andrew,

thank you for a fine rendition.

i agree with your interpretation that the lonely forlorn poet is far away from home at the darkening sundown while the crows are returning to their nests in the old trees, etc.

however, i believe you might have over-interpreted the last line '斷腸人在天涯' a little in using the words 'lovelorn' and 'wanderer' which are not specified in the original. (yes, the poet is 'heart-torn', but not necessarily 'lovelorn', nor a 'wanderer', though far far away from home).

following your eye-rhyme example, may i post my similarly rhymed attempt below?

Tune: “Tian Jian Sha” (Sunny Sky Over Clear Sand)
Title: "Autumn Thoughts" Ma Zhiyuan (1260-1364)

[Version 'A']
To WILTED-VINE-entwined OLD TREES, EVENING CROWS are returning,
Through a SMALL BRIDGE, a RUNNING STREAM 'round SOME HOMESTEADS is singing,
To an ANCIENT ROAD, AUTUMN-WIND swept, a LEAN HORSE is clinging,
THE WEST-SETTING SUN, the last of its rays a-slinging --
So FORLORN, O AT THE LAND'S END, for home I am languishing!

Frank said...

in addition, i have made a number of renditions in accordance with the original AAAAA rhyme scheme. may i post them also?

Tune: “Tian Jian Sha” (Sunny Sky Over Clear Sand)
Title: "Autumn Thoughts" Ma Zhiyuan (1260-1364)

[Version 'B']
Towards DRIED VINES on OLD TREES, EVENING CROWS fly,
SMALL BRIDGE, SOME HOMESTEADS, RUNNING STREAM flows by,
OLD PATH, in AUTUMN WIND, GAUNT HORSES ply,
The SUN SETS IN THE WEST SKY --
AT THE EARTH'S EDGE, O so FORLORN am I!

Frank said...

and trying to translate this yuan 'qu' in a more positive light, the following rendition shows the 'unyielding spirit' of the forlorn poet. (and one of my friends told me that '昏鴉' in line 1 could be interpreted as 'sleepy crows' at dusk.)

Tune: “Tian Jian Sha” (Sunny Sky Over Clear Sand)
Title: "Autumn Thoughts" Ma Zhiyuan (1260-1364)

[Version 'C']
The DRIED VINES, OLD TREE, DROWSY CROWS are one,
At SHORT BRIDGE, SOME COTS, RUNNING STREAM pokes fun,
On OLD PATH, in COLD WIND, SLIM HORSE does run,
IN THE WEST SETS the DYING SUN --
SKY'S VERGE: the FORLORN ONE's will ne'er undone!

Frank said...

'The DRIED VINES, OLD TREE, DROWSY CROWS are one' in silhouette against the orange glow of the setting sun.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Frank, You have written on my HKEJ blog that I have "revised" this Ma Zhiyuan poem in response to comments by you and others on that blog. By now, you would have realized that I have only re-posted my September 2010 (last year's) post. However, I do welcome a continuation of that discussion. Yours, Andrew.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

P.S. I mean a continuation of that discussion here on this blog. Andrew Wong.

Frank said...

my mistake, andrew,

in my eagerness to jump in with my 3 ready-made renditions of the same, i didn't re-check your re-posted rendition with your original one (written over a yr ago). no wonder i thought i still found a little 'sands and grits' thereat...

i just wish to close my 'open' file on this one (in my note book) and of course see what is your final rendition. your critique of mine (versions b and c with the AAAAA rhyme scheme a la ma zhiyuan's original) will be most welcome. thank you in anticipation!