01 November 2013

王維 Wang Wei: 送別 (山中相送罷) Farewell (Here in the hills, I bade you farewell)

POSTSCRIPT (26 April 2018):  I have polished my rendition as follows:

Here in the hills, I bade you farewell;
Now by dusk I close my twiggen door.
Oh grass will again be green next spring!
Might you, my lord, be back once more?


Here is a simple yet beautiful quatrain by the famed Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei.  It is taken to be a friendship poem by most, but I suppose one can always use it as a love poem without changing too many words.

Wang Wei (701-761):  Farewell (Here in the hills, I bade you farewell)

1  Here in the hills, I bade you farewell;
2  And by dusk I closed my twiggen door.
3  O grass will again be green next spring!
4  Might you, my lord, be back once more?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
24th September 2013 (revised 25.9.13; 26.9.13; 3.10.13; 4.10.13; 5.10.13; 21.10.13; 22.10.13; 28.10.13; 26.4.2018)
Translated from the original - 王維送別 (山中相送罷)

1  山中相送罷
2  日暮掩柴扉
3  春草明年綠
4  王孫歸不歸

*Meter & Rhyme:  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.
*Lines 1 and 4:  I had given much thought to whether the visitor the poet bade farewell to should be rendered in the second person (“bade you farewell” and “my lord”) with the poet thinking to himself as if he were addressing the visitor, or the third (“bade him farewell” and “his lordship”) with the poet simply thinking to himself.  I had originally penned the lines in the second person but then changed them to the third.  I now consider the third person too impersonal to truly reflect the poet’s feelings and have decided to revert to the second person.
*Line 1:  I have added the word “Here” as I take 山中 “in the hills” to mean the hills where the poet lives, so “In the hills where I live”.   I had also considered adding the word “my”, e.g. “In these my hills” and “Here in my hills”, but have now decided for the simple “Here in the hills”.  For the word (相送) “finished (bidding farewell)”, I have rendered it simply in the past tense.  This inadequacy is made up by my adding the word “by” before “dusk” in line 2 to denote the passage of time.
*Line 2:  I had, for the reason stated in the note above, considered and rejected “at dusk” after which,  I considered “now/come dusk” and have now decided for “by dusk”.  I take 柴扉 “faggots--door” to be equivalent to 蓬門 “reeds/grass--door”, both terms mean a “door made of plaited cheap materials such as faggots, twigs, brushwood, reeds, grass and bamboo” and both used to connote a “humble dwelling” (but not exactly equivalent to 竹門 “bamboo--door” which term is usually used figuratively to refer to a family of a lowly status).  I had therefore considered “humble” and “shabby” but had decided to stay close the word “door” in the original.  I then considered but dropped “wicker” and “wickerwork”; and of the two most appropriate words “brushwood” and “twiggen”, I have chosen the latter primarily because it sounds better (Twiggen:  a/Made of twigs or wickerwork; also, having a wickerwork covering  b/Arising from burning twigs or brushwood  O.E.D.) although “brushwood” is equally acceptable in terms of meaning.
*Line 3:  I had considered rendering the line closer to the original as “Spring grass will (again) be green next year” but have found both “Spring grass” and “next year” rather clumsy, hence, “O grass will again be green next spring!!”   Please note I have added “again” which is implied in the original.

*Line 4:  Instead of “prince”, I have rendered 王孫 “a nobleman’s offspring” as “lord/lordship” for assonance with “more”.  I had originally translated as “return”, then considered “come back” as an alternative, then “be here” to echo both the “Here” in line 1 and the “be green” in line 3, but have now decided for “be back”.  As for 歸不歸 “return or not return”, I had considered (a) “Will you or won’t you be back once more” with 王孫  “my lord” moved to line 1 to read “In the hills my lord …”,  (b) “Won’t you my lord be back once more”, and (c) “Will you my lord be back once more”, but have now decided for “Might you, my lord, be back once more”, the “might you” formulation being a question asked in deference couching the poet’s wish that his noble friend will return.       


Ray Heaton said...

I really enjoyed your translation, and agree with the majority of your views. The only thing I would do differently is to replace "twiggen" with "wicker", just as "twiggen" is such an unusual word it sounds a little out of place with the simple wording of the rest of the poem.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Ray Heaton for his kind words and his insightful suggestion. I agree with him that the unusual word "twiggen" sounds a bit out of place with the simple wording of the rest of the poem and should be replaced and shall be grateful if he could enlighten me as to why it should replaced with "wicker" and not "brushwood" which I regard (in my note) equally acceptable.

Ray Heaton said...

Brushwood would of course work well, but my reasoning behind choosing Wicker was the thought that wicker-work often uses thin branches of the Willow which is associated to scholars and poets and also features in the poetry of Tao Yuanming; Willow was also picked and presented to friends about to leave for distant lands which seemed appropriate to the sentiment of this poem.

Frank Yue said...

hi, andrew,

long time no see!

thank you for sharing yet another one of your fine renditions.

i agree with ray heaton that perhaps 'wicker' door would be more appropriate than 'brushwood' door (because of its wider implications).

accordingly, i've adopted the same for my attempted translation below (which may be criticized as an interpretive translation):

We both said good-bye: down the hill your horse tore;
Only by dusk, did I close my wicker door.
O The Spring grass will be green again next year;
But then, will you --my Prince of Friends-- return here?

Frank Yue said...

o andrew,

may i post a revised version that's minus the interpretive element (in my former line 1):

We bade each other good-bye in these hills;
I didn't close the wicker door, dusk until.
The Spring grass will be green again next year;
But, will you -- my Prince of Friends -- return here?

Unknown said...

Here is my try:

In the hills, I bid my friend farewell,
I came back sunset closing my wooden door,
Grass will still be green next year in Spring!
Will my friend come back once encore?

translated by Alan Ma, Jan.4,2014
Email: omega@hkftp.com

Unknown said...

Dear Andrew,
Happy Lunar New Year!
I like another "farewell" poem by Wang Wei. But I am not happy with Watson's translation (See below). Please share your excellent version with us.
I am an entomologist. I can't write poems, let alone translating. The best I can do is
Thank you in advance,

Akey C. F. Hung
Sojourn at
the South Mountain Inn
12412 Shadow Lane
Bowie, MD 20715-3118


白雲無盡 Nubes Infinitae

Seeing Someone Off
By Wang Wei (692-761)
We dismount, I give you wine
and ask, where are you off to?
You answer, nothing goes right! -
back home to lie down by Southern Mountain.
Go then- I'll ask no more -
there's no end to white clouds there.
--from Burton Watson's The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry--

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Akey, Thank you for your Lunar New Year greetings. Happy New Year to you too. This other 送別 "Farewell" poem by Wang Wei is the more difficult of the two, for a number of reasons, or simply I am not up to par. First, it is hard to find a rhyme to fit the XAXAXA 2-4-6 rhyme scheme of the original. I have, as will be seen in my draft rendition, adopted the less than satisfactory "-ing" rhyme. Second, it is hard to tell who is supposed to be the speaker of lines 5 and 6 (5 especially, 但去莫復問). Is he the poet (as Watson would have it) or the friend being seen off (which I believe to be more natural and logical). I have provided 2 versions of line 5 and shall be grateful for your views. Third, following my second point, what is the meaning of line 6 白雲無盡時 (white, clouds, no, ending, time) and should it be interpreted differently depending on who the speaker of the line is? I have given a rendition that satisfies either version, but is so vague that it borders on being meaningless. Without further ado, here is my draft:-

Wang Wei: Farewell (A Five-Character Sestet)
translated by Andrew W.F. Wong

Version I (Friend as speaker of lines 5 and 6)
1 Dismounted, cup-o-wine to you we drained;
2 I asked: "Where, my friend, are you going?"
3 You said: "I am faring badly, so be back
4 To my home, downhill of Nanshan, retiring.
5 I'll just go, my friend, ask me no more,
6 Oh a life of unending white clouds, idling."

Version II (Poet as speaker of lines 5 and 6)
1 Dismounted, cup-o-wine to you we drained;
2 I asked to where, my friend, you were going.
3 You said as you were faring badly, so be back
4 To your home, downhill of Nanshan, retiring.
5 Go home then, my friend, I'll ask no more,
6 Oh a life of unending white clouds, idling.

These are still very rough drafts which I penned this afternoon. I will not be posting my rendition of this poem yet, at least not until I have heard from you. Best wishes, Andrew Wong.

Unknown said...

Dear Andrew,
As you can see, I like this poem very much. It reflects my life. But I have had a "wild guess" regarding the nature of this poem. Now that you bring up the question of "Who is the speaker of lines 5 and 6?" I can't help but offer my layman's opinion.
Whenever I read this poem, I have a feeling that I am talking to myself. So I begin to wonder if this was how Wang Wei felt when he wrote this poem. We know that his life had ups and downs. So my “wild guess” is that he was faring badly that he wanted to retire to the downhill of Nanshan. So he wrote this poem for himself.
In order to support this “wild theory”, I must first find out when he wrote this poem and what was he doing at that time. I found 王維年譜 online, but it does not say when this poem was written. Today, I finally found the following reference that might collaborate my “wild theory”:
松原 朗
But my Japanese is getting so rusty that I cannot say for sure that Professor Matsubara and I are on the same page. I could ask my Japanese friend at Waseda University for help with this reference, if needed. He is a Chinese scholar.
Best regards,

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Akey,

I am glad I have now completed finalizing my rendition of this "Farewell" poem by Wang Wei. As I hope to see how you would respond before I post it on my blog and do not wish to "pre-post" it as a comment here, please let me have your email address so that I can forward it to you for comments.

Two points worth mentioning about my finalized rendition: (a) I have decided for the poet to be the speaker of lines 5 and 6, and (b) I have elevated the interpretation of the word "ask" in line 5 from the simple "enquiring" level to the "asking in pursuit of" level---"Don't/won't ask in pursuit of worldly matter any more." This is most Taoist, Buddhist in philosophy and is very Wang Wei. I hope you will find my version refreshing.

In a sense, my finalized rendition corroborates your feelings about Wang Wei. When writing this poem, Wang Wei must also be thinking of himself. He himself owned an estate in Zhongnanshan. Now, does it really matter whether he was actually writing about a friend's departure, or was making up a story to remind himself that one should not be in pursuit of worldly matters; and, don't take it wrongly, I am not suggesting you abandon your study of the life of Wang Wei. I am simply suggesting you consider my rendering of 世事悠悠 (in Wang Fanzhi's poem on this blog) as "Worldly matters, we worry, weary."

Awaiting your email address, Best wishes, Andrew Wong.

Walter Lo said...

I am also not very comfortable with "twiggen," and "wicker" also does not feel right (for 柴 ). My personal preference is "rickety." May I share my alternative translation:

1 At the hills you left, our farewells said,
2 The rickety door I close, the sun’s set;
3 Next year the grass will be green in spring,
4 But my good friend, will you e’er be back?