06 October 2012

杜牧 Du Mu: 寄楊州韓綽判官 Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou


Here is yet another beautiful little poem by the late Tang dynasty poet Du Mu.  As I have said in my notes, Han Chuo and Du Mu were great friends and fellow officials when Du was in post in Yangzhou, and 玉人 here refers to Han Chuo and means "handsome fellow", not "beautiful lady".  What I have not mentioned in my notes was the story that Du and Han used to frequent pleasure houses together.  This known, does line 4 refer to the noble pleasure of teaching flotists (flutists) or other pleasures?  I do hope my translation has done Du Mu justice.  Please enjoy this ambiguity.

Du Mu (803-852):  Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou

 (In haze the green hills half hidden, to afar the waters flow;)
Green hills in haze half hidden, waters to afar do flow; 
(revised  24.10.12)
2  (Though late in autumn in Southland, its grass is yet to yellow,)
This Southland though late in autumn, its grass is yet to yellow.  
(revised 25.10.12)
3  A night of bright moonlight o’er Bridges Twenty-Four, just
4  (Where are you flaunting your flute, my handsome good fellow?)
Where are you paying your pipers, my handsome good fellow?  
(revised 24.10.12)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
20th August 2012 (revised 6.10.12)
Translated from the original - 杜牧:  寄楊州韓綽判官

1          青山隱隱水迢迢
2          秋盡江南草未()
3      二十四橋明月夜
4          玉人何處教吹簫

Notes:
*    Title:  判官 in Tang dynasty China was a high ranking staff officer under the Provincial Governor (辭源: 地方長官的僚属,佐理政事) and is, here, translated as “Magistrate” not in the sense of a judge but of a high ranking official.  (Shorter Oxford: Magistrate - a civil officer charged with the administration of the laws, a member of the executive government.  Middle English)
*    Line 1:  I had considered but abandoned “lie hidden” as I take 隐隐 to mean 若隱若現, hence, “half hidden” which makes more sense than “lie/all hidden”.  I have added “In haze” (not in the original) to make a 6-foot line and to make this sense possible.  To translate the repeated sounds of 隱隱 and 迢迢 I have used the alliteration of “h” (hills, haze, half, hidden) and “f” (afar, flow) respectively.
*    Line 2:  I have adopted the version (草未凋 grass not withered yet) which makes more sense than the version (草木凋 grass and trees all withered) and have added “Though” to accompany “yet” to complete the sense although “Though” can be replaced by “’Tis”.  I have taken 秋盡 to mean “approaching” and not quite “the end of autumn”, hence “late in autumn”.  江南 can be transliterated as “Jiangnan” but is, here, translated as “Southland” in the interest of those who do not know means “south”.
*    Line 3:  二十四 “Twenty-Four” is not taken to be the name of one single “Bridge” but as numerals referring to the “Twenty-Four Bridges” of Yangzhou city which name, by tradition, stands for Yangzhou.  I have capitalized “Bridges Twenty-Four” to make clear the line refers to the city of Yangzhou.
*    Line 4:  玉人 is not taken to mean “beautiful girls” but a “handsome man”.  Du Mu wrote this poem in jest to Han Chuo who was his fellow official when Du was in post in Yangzhou and was his good friend, hence, “good fellow” (Shorter Oxford: “boon companion”).  教吹簫 “teaching how to play the flute” is rendered as “flaunting your flute” to mean “showing off your flute skills”.  The idea of “teach” is deliberately omitted as can also mean 使  “to make, let” as in 金昌绪 春怨 莫教枝上啼” Jin Changxu  A Spring Plaint “Not to (let it) trill on my garden boughs all day” .  This omission, in effect, preserves the ambiguity of the original which many believe is of a sexual nature.   

6 comments:

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Although I am still awaiting a comment on my "flaunting your flute" (line 4) from my pub friend Bill Late, I must now ask him to also kindly comment on my decision to revise it to read "paying your pipers" (meaning: calling your tunes)which accords more with my interpretation of 教 (please see my note on line 4).

I also take this opportunity to revise line 1 to read "Green hills in haze half hidden, waters to afar do flow," which formulation better accords with the original Chinese.

I have effected these revisions on the post.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I have decided to revise the first half of my line 2 to read "This Southland though late in autumn" which sounds better. In so foing, I have inverted the order of 秋盡(autumn end) and 江南(river south). I have effected the revision in my post.

Frank said...

hi, andrew,

thank you for your rendition and i like the first 3 lines of your rendition best.

allow me to be v frank: i must say i find your translating (玉人何處) '教吹簫' as (Where are you) 'paying your pipers' most odd, if not totally inappropriate.

from my high school dictionary, 'pay the piper (and call the tune)' means 'bear the cost of an undertaking (and have control of what is done)'. to me, this appears to be 風馬牛 to '教吹簫'。

i sincerely hope you'll perhaps kindly re-consider using your former version for line 4.

Frank said...

and, having given you a broadside, i'm now sticking out my neck with my attempted translation below (for you to have a chance at getting even with me!) ... hehe!


青山隱隱水迢迢,
秋盡江南草未(木)凋。
二十四橋明月夜,
玉人何處教吹簫。

Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou -- by Du Mu

With green hills blurred by mists, the stream flows afar forever;
Autumn grows old but the grass is still green south of the River.
At the Bridges-Twenty-Four City beneath the bright Moon,
My handsome friend --somewhere-- is teaching someone the flute's tune.

Frank said...

o in order not to repeat the word "green" on both lines 1 and 2 of my rendition, i'd like to revise line 1 thereof to read:


'With blue hills blurred by mists, the stream flows afar forever;'

Frank said...

hi, andrew,

may i revise my rendition as follows:


【寄楊州韓綽判官】 杜牧

青山隱隱水迢迢,
秋盡江南草未(木)凋。
二十四橋明月夜,
玉人何處教吹簫。

Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou -- Du Mu (803-852)

With blue hills veiled in mists, the stream flows afar forever;
Autumn grows old but the grass is still green south of the River.
At the Bridges-Twenty-Four City beneath the bright Moon,
M'friend, for which pretty lady are you playing the flute's tune?