04 February 2014

孟浩然 Meng Haoran: 宿建德江 Sojourn on the River at Jiande


This is a 20-character quatrain (four 5-character lines) by the Tang dynasty poet Meng Haoran.  I have been unable to compress my English rendition into lines of 5 or less beats (e.g. 4) as I have for nearly all my other renditions of 5-character quatrains.  This is probably due to my insistence on following the original rhyme scheme (mea culpa?) and my crude attempt to reproduce in English the peculiarly Chinese couplet form (unrhymed, but perfect parallel diction) in lines 3 and 4 (bravo?).  In addition, I have also failed to provide in my rather breathless 6-beat (hexameter) lines a mid-line pause (caesura), say after 3 beats, which has made most of my other 6-beat renditions sound pleasurable.

To make my rendition sound poetic, may I suggest that my lines be read with a pause after the first 2 beats, another pause (albeit shorter) after the next 2 beats followed by 2 beats with a long end-rhyme.  Care for a go?.

Meng Haoran (689-740):  Sojourn on the River at Jiande

1  My boat is steered to moor by an isle in a misty chemise;
2  The day now done, my sorrows, in sojourn, well up again.
3  So open the country, there hangs the sky below the trees;
4  So limpid the river, here lies the moon to befriend us men.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發    
3rd June 2008 (revised 12.6008; 13.6.08; 23.6.08; 19.7.08; 24.2.2009; 29.1.2014)
Translated from the original - 孟浩然: 宿建德江

1 移舟泊煙渚
2 日暮客愁新
3 野曠天低樹
4 江清月近人

Notes:-
* Meter and rhyme: I have been unable to render the poem in pentameter (5 metrical feet) to emulate the original 5-character lines. This rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet). The rhyme scheme is ABAB as in the original if 渚 and 樹 are taken to rhyme. . 
* Line 1: The word “chemise” (not in the original poem) is used primarily to rhyme with “trees” in line 3. It does, however, produce the image of the island wearing a white garment, somewhat akin to Herbert Giles’ use of “mist-clad”. I am also grateful to Giles for his choice of the word “steer” for 移 in “I steer my boat 
to anchor” which I have turned into “My boat is steered to moor” to obviate the active first person “I” which might suggest that the poet is steering.
* Line 2: 客 “traveller/sojourner” refers to the poet himself, hence, 客愁 is rendered as “my sorrows, in sojourn”. 新 “new” should be taken to mean “anew/renew/afresh” and is, hence, rendered as “well up again”. My use of the word “sorrows” in the plural makes it possible to read the line to include “old” sorrows in addition to “new” ones.
* Lines 3 and 4: This is a rare couplet in a Tang quatrain. My rendition is an attempt to reproduce in English this peculiarly Chinese form of the couplet (parallel diction and, invariably, unrhymed).  I have added "there hangs" and "here lies" to strengthen the symmetry.  I had originally penned "The country so open" and The river so limpid" to follow the order of the words in the original, but have now decided to inverse the order.
* Line 3: 天低樹 “sky” “low/dwarf/below/beneath” “tree” can be understood as either “the trees are dwarfed by the sky” or “the sky is dwarfed by the trees”. I have adopted the latter which, I am sure you will agree, is the picture one would see at dusk, sitting in a small boat off an isle with mature trees, looking at the vast open country beyond.  I had used "there sits the sky beneath", but have now decided for "there hangs the sky below".   
* Line 4: 近人 literally “near men” has the additional meaning of “approachable/friendly".  I had originally used “to be close to men” to cover both meanings, but have now decided for "to befriend us men".


21 comments:

Ray Heaton said...

Here is my version of this poem, rather lacking when compared to Andrew's!

My boat rocks gently on its mooring by the isle unknown
As night falls and my worries arise again
In this wilderness, the trees above hang down
A peaceful river, yet the moon my one true friend

Ray Heaton said...

In my version, above, I tried to capture a feeling of loneliness and being away from friends and family. Meng Haoran says in another poem, 建德非吾土, loosely translated as "Jiande is not my home", so the only familiar thing to him is the Moon.

TheCyberman2046 said...


I move the boat parking at a misty sandbank there,
Darkness falls bringing sorrow to travelers in here,
Sky in the wilderness seems touching the trees,
The moon reflected on the clear river looks so near.

TheCyberman2046 said...



I move the boat to moor it at a sandbank in mist,
Sorrow comes to traveler when approaching night,
In the wilderness, the sky seems touching the trees,
The moon reflected on the clear river looks so near in sight.

Ray Heaton said...

TheCybernan2046's translations, mine and Andrew's as well as others I have seen help show why I find. Chinese poetry so fascinating. Though all the translations have similarities, they tend to invoke different emotions, TheCybernan2046 shows a sorrowful traveller, the mist and nightfall pressing down on him but alleviated by the sky's expanse and the moon bringing a glimmer of hope. Andrew's again rather sorrowful, with a very atmospheric imagery being expressed, but has the uplifting moon to which all men can look upon to remind them of friends and better times. Mine was an attempt to express loneliness, with the moon being used to remind the traveller of home. Wonderful!

TheCyberman2046 said...

Hi Ray,
I agreed with you that Chinese poems are very difficult to translate due to its condensed form and use of large amount of proverbs, metaphors, stories and most critical of all using some ancient language and habbits, which is difficult to understand by mordern man. Furthermore, most of the poems have its musical and rhythumic nature, which can never be translated. It is therefore arises two school of thoughts in translation, one by straight translation, word by word, if possible. The other is translation by meaning. The merit of first one is it might preserve some of the original style and meaning of the original writer. However we know that there are some many different things in the Western and Chinese culture that cannot be translated one on one basis. The merit of the second is we can avoid misunderstanding of the meaning of the original writer. However, we have to rely on second intelligence of the translstor, and we may run into the risk of twisting the original writer's meaning, if the translator did not interpret the poem correctly.
Since other method have setbacks, I ten to go in the middle of the road, adopt both method and use them wherever I think appropriate, plus trying to maintain some of the rhythumic factors in the outcome rendition.

TheCyberman2046 said...

Hi guys,
After reading Ray's and Andrew's rendition, I have made mine more compact:

1 移舟泊煙渚

2 日暮客愁新

3 野曠天低樹

4 江清月近人



I moor the boat at a misty sandbank hear,
Sorrow hits traveler as night fall near,
Sky in the wilderness seems touching the trees,
Moon on the river surface looks so close and clear..

TheCyberman2046 said...

The first line should read:

I moor the boat at a misty sandbank here

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Ray Heaton and TheCyberman for their observations (and, of course, their renditions).
While I agree with Ray Heaton that different translations of the same poem can and do evoke different emotions. This is probably due to different interpretations (not counting the wrong ones) or to different emphases in an otherwise correct interpretation. Here, it is important to remind oneself of "ambiguity" which is where the beauty of most poetry lies. Ray says his rendition evokes a sense of "loneliness" which word he has, correctly, refrained from using. His loneliness is reflected in his playing down "sadness/sorrows" into "worries" in line 2 and playing up "to befriend us/be close to men" into "my one true friend" in line 4. Coming to think of it, perhaps I should rewrite my line 4 as "to be close to men". Ray has been kind to inform me of a book "A Handbook of Translation" in my December 2008 post on Li Bai's "Night Thoughts". I hope he can also give me the names of the author and publisher. I suppose he must have also read Eliot Weinberger's "19 Ways of Looking Wang Wei", Asphodel Press, 1987.
As for TheCyberman's "Middle of the Road" approach, may I say that although we may all end up looking like we have adopted the approach, it is not an approach at all as it sets neither standards nor methods. The great Chinese translator Xu Yuanchong 許淵冲 (popularly known as XYZ) had in the Introduction to his book "On Chinese Verse in English Rhyme", (Peking University Press 1992?) advanced his theory of "Three Beauties" 三美, viz. 'Beauty in Ideas" 意美 (to be achieved through metaphrase, literal translation), "Beauty in Sound" 音美 (to be achieved through imitation, adaptation), and "Beauty in Form" 形美 (to be achieved through paraphrase, free or liberal translation).
Re-reading Ray Heaton's and TheCyberman's renditions, we may all have followed XYZ's approach.





Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

The title of the Eliot Weinberger book referred to above should be "19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei: How a Chinese Poem is Translated", Commentary by Eliot Weinberger, Further Comments by Octavio Paz.

TheCyberman2046 said...

Hi Andrew,
Very well said. Indeed you have very deep insight into Chinese/English translation. Frankly speaking, I am a new comer. My experience is only about translating less than 100 poems of Tang and Sung Dynasty. Most of them are done since 2006 and are for fun only. Until I read my friend, YK Kwan’s “English Translation of 50 selected poems” few years ago and your blog from December, 2013, I become to grow a great interest in this. I agreed my “Middle of the road” is not an approach at all. However, from my translation experience of more than 15 years(most of them are not related to poems), like YK said I always try to make it simple, direct, fluent and most of important of all try to literally translated the subject matter as far as possible. The merit of this is to let the reader interpret the hidden meaning of the lines by themselves. In a liberal translation, we may run into the risk of twisting the orginal writer’s real meaning and getting the second intelligence of the interpreter. Anyway, we all know, talking theory is very easy. I hope to learn more from you guys in the days to come. Have a good day!

Ray Heaton said...

As far as I can remember, the book I referred to is "A handbook of translation = 英汉翻译手册

Author: 钟述孔. 钟述孔著. ; Shukong Zhong
Publisher: Commercial Press : 新华书店北京发行所发行, Beijing 1983"

But I have returned the copy I had to the library which is closed for refurbishment until Spring!

I haven't read the other books you refer to, but I will now purchase copies.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Thank you, Ray Heaton and TheCyberman. Let us keep it up.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ray Heaton said...

I thought you may be interested in this link which discusses the merits and demerits of the use of Rhyme in translating Classical Chinese poetry to English. I struggle making my translations rhyme, whereas Andrew achieves this without, as suggested in the linked document,

"...thinking too much of one element and too little of others, a rhymed translation typically loses more than it preserves or recreates..."

http://www.erudit.org/revue/ttr/2009/v22/n1/044787ar.html?lang=en

I have rather less experience of translating poetry (or any other form of translation) than TheCyberman does; I have under a year trying to read Chinese and most of that time has been associated to understanding and interpreting the richness of stories hidden with Mahjong flower tiles (which almost no-one seems to know about despite the popularity of the game, the stories include the classics from Chinese literature such as Romance of the Three Kingdoms, events from the fictitious stories of Ji Gong, revolutionary events such as Taiping and much much more).

I am learning so much from reading Andrew's translations and the notes included with each translation showing the thought processes...have you considered a book, Andrew?

TheCyberman2046 said...

Hi Ray,
Most of the poems or poetry has a musical characteristic. Therefore for the outcome translation I strongly recommend to preserve some forms of rhythum in the rendition. If the translation is rhythumic, it will help reading smoothly. Of course, we can never preserve the original rhythum in its original form.

Most of my reditions are posted at my blog:
http://walk-with-the-creator.blogspot.hk/

Have a good day!

Frank Yue said...

hi, andrew, ray and cyberman,

bravo to you guys, the 3 poetic amigos in cyber space.

and andrew, a book! a book!
give the world a 'new' book
and a 'new' look
on classical chinese poetry in english!

(if you do need an eagle-eyed volunteer proof-reader, you know where to find me.)

Ray Heaton said...

"19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei" arrived in the post this morning. I'll be reading it later today as I have a long trip by Train, so a great opportunity to catch up on all my reading!

Ray Heaton said...

I decided to try my own version of Wang Wei's poem prior to reading the 19 translations. Here is my version...

No-one seen, on the empty mountain
Only heard, the sound of voices
Brightness returning, within the deep forest
Shining again, above the green mosses

...having read the book now, I think mine would fit within the more literal set of translations. I haven't tried to add anything, though I have interpreted line two to "the sound of voices", as I think the word person (or people) becomes redundant once "voices" is used (people, word, sound translated to "the sound of voices").

I have also come across this which may be useful... http://www.textetc.com/workshop/wt-wang-wei-1.html

Ray Heaton said...

I have just come across an anthology of Classical Chinese poetry translated by Xu Yuanzhong (or Yuanchong) titled "Songs of the Immortals". Included is this translation by XYZ,

"Mooring on the River at Jiande"

My boat is moored by mist-veiled rivershore;
I'm grieved to see the setting sun no more.
On boundless plain clouds hang atop the tree;
In water clear the moon seems near to me.

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