11 December 2012

李白 Li Bai: 秋浦歌 17首 其15 (1- 白髮三千丈) Song of Qiupu 15 of 17 (1-:My hoary hair, a full three-furlong)

China's poet immortal Li Bai of the Tang dynasty had written in his early fifties (around 753) a total of 17 Songs of Qiupu while visiting Qiupu (in current day Anhui province).  In August 2011, I posted my rendition of his rather unusual Song XIV (14th) on the subject of smelters (Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky). Li Bai: Song of Qiupu 14 (Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky)  I do hope you had enjoyed it.  Today, I am posting my rendition of his most popular Song 15.  This beautiful little poem is on his melancholia.  As you will see, if my rendition has done him justice, the way his sentiments are expressed is subdued, subtle, yet lasting.  

Li Bai (701-762):  Song of Qiupu 15 of 17 (1- My hoary hair, a full three-furlong)

1    My hoary hair, a full three-furlong,
2    Its cause, my sorrow, equally long.
3    O autumn frosts in my mirror clear, from  
4    Where have you come, my hair to throng?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
11th June 2012 (revised 12.6.12; 13.6.12; 11.12.12)
Translated from the original - 李白秋浦歌 17首 其15 (1- 白髮三千丈)

1   白髮三千丈
2    缘(離)愁似
3    不知明鏡裏
4    何處得秋霜


*    This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*    Line 1:  三千丈 “three thousand zhang” equals 9.9 kilometres (1,000 zhang measures 3,300 metres) is obviously a hyperbole out of all proportions.  I have reduced this length to 3 furlongs which is slightly less than half a mile or slightly more than half a kilometre (1 furlong being 220 yards or roughly 200 metres) though primarily for the rhyme, but should be an acceptable hyperbole for the length of any person’s hair.  Instead of penning it as “three furlongs”, I have used “a full three-furlong” without the “s” to complete the “furlong-long-throng” rhyme, stealing from Shakespeare’s “Full fathom five thy father lies” in “The Tempest”.

*    Line 2:  I had considered “likewise” but have now decided for “equally” which gives a better alliterative effect.

*    Lines 3 and 4:  I have scrambled these 2 lines in my rendition: first, by moving 秋霜 “autumn frosts” (echoing the “hoariness” in line 1) from the end of line 4 to the beginning of line 3 to be associated immediately with the person in the 明鏡  “clear mirror” (which being a synecdoche for the person, hence “my clear mirror”), and second, by translating 不知 “know not” (line 3) and 何處 “where” (line 4) as a rhetorical question: “O …, from (line 3)/ Where have you come (line 4) …?”

*    Line 4:  Following from the previous note, I had considered the term 何處 "from/ Where" to mean 何時 "since/ When" but have decided to stick to the literal meaning.  I had considered translating 得 "acquired" as "to me belong" but have decided for the more expressive and straightforward "my hair to throng" with the implied word "hair" added.



Frank said...

hi, andrew,

thank you for your fine rendition.

a v happy, healthful and prosperous New Year to you!

may i post my translated version of this li bai poem.



The Qiu Pu Song (No. 15 of 17)
Li Bai (701-762)

Alas, my white hair is thirty thousand feet long!
As the sorrows of separation -- it's as strong.
Inside the clear mirror, I look to find out why;
From where the colour of Autumn-frost my hair's dyed?

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I notice Frank has used 'sorrows of separation" in his line 2 which is in full accord with my friend 黄偉賢 Zachary Wong's 離愁 version. I append below 2 self-explanatory emails between Zachary and myself on this matter:-

發叔:拜讀 閣下(...)古詩英譯的大作,小弟一直所唸的是「離愁似箇長」,而不是「緣愁似箇長」,故欲請教是誤植還是另有新版本呢? 偉賢 28.2.2013

to 黃偉賢議員 Dear Zachary, Thank you for bringing to my attention my possible inadvertence. I had always thought it was 缘愁 that Li Bai penned and had done no research on whether it was indeed 離愁 before translating it. I have now done a quick search on the net and on some of my books and have found only one book which puts it as 離愁 (this being 詳解千家詩 published by 風華出版事業有限公司, 2nd edition 1991, author unknown) while 全唐詩 Volume 167 has it as 缘愁. I will now of course watch out for that possibility. But coming to think of it, 缘愁 is so much more poetic than 離愁 with the word 缘 (which I have rendered as "cause") linking up not just lines 1 and 2 but the whole poem and is precisely where the beauty of this little poem lies. I hope you can agree to this my very bold statement. Yours, Andrew. 28.2.2013

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

After some further research, I have now found a few more sources that have it as 離愁 and they all have to do with the 千家詩: (1) p.80 in 新譯千家詩 by 楊家豪 臺南:文國 2002, (2) p.45 in千家詩譯析 by 黃文吉 臺北:國家 2007, and (3) p.18 in 千家詩選讀 author unknown 臺南:世一 2002. It would seem rather safe for me to prefer 缘愁 over 離愁. I have, nonetheless, amended this post by adding in this post the word "(離)" (in brackets) after "缘" to show there exists another version.