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

*  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.    


Frank said...

hi, andrew,

happy new year!

thank you for your nice rendition.

may i comment on two points:

1. on line 1, you rendered 幽草 as 'orchid grasses'.
Honestly, i don't think anyone can be certain what kind of 幽草 it should be. But to me, stating that these are 'orchid grasses' may be a leap of poetic faith which i'll accept but won't buy a 100%. this may be just your own conjecture as 'orchid grasses' are not specified in the original. (what are 'orchid grasses' anyway? They are new to me. Could this be a typo for 'orchard grass' which i know?) Perhaps, the use of a 'more general term' in translation might be more appropriate.

2. on line 4, for 舟自橫, you rendered this thus: 'the boat, by itself, lies low'.
It appears 'lies low', a completely passive term, is not as faithful to 舟自橫 as it should.
To me, 舟自橫 implies 'rather active continuous self-motions' because of the rolling waves (since the boat is moored by a short leash at one end to the pier or shore).
i just wonder how you would react to possibly changing slightly the last part of your line to:
'the boat, by itself, swings to and fro'
(while keeping the 'grow-flow-fro' rhyme intact)?

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank [Frank] for his 2 comments, in particular, his comment 1. I wish to say this poem was first posted in May 2011 on my other blog "Chinese Poems in English" on the H.K. Economic Journal web. Please see http://www.hkej.com/template/blog/php/blog_details.php?blog_posts_id=67402. From line 1 of that rendition and the note on line 1, you will notice I had been uneasy about both "grassy orchids" and "orchid grasses" and had rendered 幽草 as "grasses so graceful" which I have now found unsatisfactory. I have, therefore, in this rendition, reverted to "orchid grasses". I can assure [Frank] it cannot be "orchard grasses" and is certainly not a typo. But, thanks to his gentle reminder that "the use of a 'more general term' in translation might be more appropriate", I have given it further consideration and have come to the conclusion that 幽草 should be rendered as "slender (or tender, as rendered by Witter Bynner) grasses" without having to add "orchid" which is not in the original. This translation of 幽草 also suits the meaning of the same in Wei's contemporary 李商隱 Li Shangyin's 晚晴 "A Fine (or Fair, Clear) Evening": "天憶憐幽草, 人間重晚晴". Again, I thank [Frank] and effect this amendment on my post.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Sorry. The 李商隱 line should read 天意(not憶)憐幽草.