06 September 2014

李白 Li Bai: 夏日山中 A Summer Day in the Mountains

Was Li Bai a "nudist"?  Was he, the greatest of all lyrical poets (I believe) not only a drunkard but also a "nudist"?  I really have no idea.  But this question of mine may be the best answer to the question (raised by my friends, resulting in this my translation): Why is this beautiful poem so well known among translators in the West, yet so unfamiliar to the Chinese?  The answer may well be because it is not included in the popular anthologies such as "300 Tang Poems"; but this, again, begs the question. Why is it not in the popular anthologies?  Anathema, I suppose.

In the poem, Li Bai nowhere advocates "nudism"; he simply wishes to relax in a cool place and in a cool, not necessarily conventional, manner----undressed.  Nowadays, although we have air-conditioning to counter the summer heat, we still need to relax, to be free, easy and unrestrained in the first place. This, I believe, is Li Bai's message.  I have used the word "idle/idling".  Can you think of a better word?  Now just relax, and enjoy being idle!   

 Li Bai (701-762):  A Summer Day in the Mountains

1  Too lazy to wave my fan of white plumes;
2  Rather, go naked, ‘neath the greenwood trees,
3  (With my headcloth undone, on a stone wall hung,)
    My headcloth undone, on a stone wall hung,
    (revised 30.9.16)
4  Idling, bare-headed, in the pine-filled breeze.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)          譯者: 黄宏發
20th August 2014 (revised 21.8.14; 22.8.14)
Translated from the original - 李白: 夏日山中

1  懶搖白羽扇
2  裸體()青林中
3  脫巾掛石壁
4  露頂灑松風

*Meter and rhyme:  This English rendition is in tetrameter while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.  Although the “trees-breeze” rhyme is more than over-used, I still find it fits the poem rather perfectly.
*Line 1: “lazy” in 懶搖 must mean “not to” and is most aptly translated as “too lazy to”.  I happen to have read on the web (I was travelling and had no access to my books) the renditions of the poem by 3 great translators of Chinese poetry; only Burton Watson has it right with his “too lazy to” while Arthur Waley has it as “gently I stir” and Stephen Owen, “lazily waving”. For the word , thanks to a friend Flavia Cheng, I have chosen “wave” which is in agreement with Watson (wave) and Owen (waving).  For  in 羽扇, as  plumes are larger than feathers and more suited to the making of fans, I have, like Watson, chosen “plume(s)” to translate while both Waley and Owen have chosen “feather(s)”. 
*Line 2:  For 裸體 or 裸袒 I had originally penned “bare-backed” but have decided to borrow “go naked” from Flavia Cheng.  I had then penned "Go naked instead", but have now decided for "Rather, go naked".  For 青林中 I had originally penned “in the grove of green trees”, then revised “in the green grove of trees”.  I consider it necessary to add the word “trees” to make the “trees-breeze” rhyme, as there is no better word than “breeze” for line 4.  I have, therefore, decided to change the “in the . . . grove” formulation to that of “’neath . . . trees”, thus, “’neath the greenwood trees”. .”  “Greenwood” is defined, in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, as “woodland, esp. in summer” and is, thus, perfect for 青林, although also defined as “forest in full leaf, esp. as the home of outlaws in olden times”.  This reminds me of a few lines in an old English ballad: “As Robin Hood in the forest strayed,/ All under the greenwood tree,/ He was aware of a brave young man,/ As fine as fine might be.”  I must have borrowed from it.
*Line 3:  For “towel” or cloth” which refers to 頭巾 “cloth for the head”, I had originally written “headband”, but have now decided to borrow from Burton Watson his “headcloth” which should be acceptable as the loincloth’s counterpart for the head.
*Line 4: For 露頂 “bare top/head”, I had considered “hair down” but have decided for “bare-headed”.  I believe the word (sprinkle, spray, spill, shed, etc.) must be understood in terms of 灑脫 (free and easy) and/or 瀟灑 (natural and unrestrained), both adjectives while the word in question is clearly a verb.  I had originally considered but rejected “basking . . . in the . . . breeze” (as one can only bask in the sun); I had also considered and rejected “bathing . . . in the . . .  breeze” (as this may be taken to mean actually bathing).  I then translated 灑松風 into modern Mandarin Chinese as 在松風裡,悠然自得 or colloquially as 在松風裡,閑着 and have come to the conclusion that 閑着 (idle) best conveys the message of “free, easy, natural, unrestrained”, thus, “Idling, bare-headed, in the pine-filled breeze”.


Ray Heaton said...

I too have seen the second line as both 裸袒青林中 and 裸体青林中, one of which could be translated as stripped to the waist rather than naked. I don't know which is correct!

I translated this poem some time ago, here's my version. I avoided trying to rhyme the poem:

Waving lazily, my white feathered fan,
Lying naked, within the green copse.
Take off my cap, now hung on a rock,
As the wind blows dew through the pine

I have used "dew" for 露, unlike all other translations I have found which tend to use this as the top of the head when joined with 顶. But if it's not "dew" then what is being sprinkled or shed by the wind on the pines?

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Ray Heaton for his very admirable rendition in free verse of this Li Bai poem.
* On his use of "waving lazily" in line 1, I had categorically said this is a wrong understanding of the expression 懶搖 which can only mean "too lazy to wave" or "not bother to wave".
* On the question of whether Li Bai originally wrote 裸袒 or 裸體, I do not believe this is of any significance, as the key word here is 裸 "naked" which means 露體 "body exposed" and which should best be translated as "naked" as Ray Heaton has so done, bearing in mind that "naked" does not necessarily mean "stark naked" and can be understood as "stripped to the waist" or "bare-backed' as I had originally considered. Now, back to the original question, having done no serious research on the authenticity and dates of the various versions, I believe Li Bai wrote 體. My speculation is based on the parallelism of 裸體 (make naked the body) in line 2 to 脫巾 (take off the headcloth) in line 3 and 露項 (expose the head) in line 4, all featuring a verb-noun formulation. I further speculate that 袒 could have crept in to tone down Li Bai's audacity and/or to show Li Bai was a man of knowledge too. 孟子 Mencius in 公孫丑 上 Kung-sun Chow Part 1 wrote: 雖袒褐裸裎於我側,爾焉能浼我哉 "Although you srtand by my side with breast and arms bare, or with your body naked, how can you defile me?" (Translation is by James Legge.) Now, although our choice of thew word "naked" is rather stark, it is the best for 裸體. Considering it was summer, he must have been wearing a thin long garment (like the Japanese "yukata") without any underclothes except perhaps a loincloth with which, even after stripping, he was not that stark naked. The beauty of my "go naked" and Ray Heaton's "lying naked" retains that ambiguity while "stripping to the waist" sets it in concrete.
* On line 4, the problem, as I said in my notes, is the word 灑 "sprinkle" and not the word 露 which is "dew" only when used as a noun. When used as a verb/adjective, it means "expose(d)", and together with 頂 which must mean "head" as in 醐醐灌頂 "the head filled with wisdom", 露頂 must mean "head exposed", hence, my "bare-headed". And then, on a summer day from late morning to early afternoon, even up in the mountains, there can be no dew to speak of. Ray Heaton asks, "But if it's not "dew" then what is being sprinkled or shed by the wind on the pines?" My answer is: "Pine-needles!" Coming to think of it, my original "Bathing, bare-headed, in the pine-filled breeze" may be right after all.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I inadvertently wrote in my remarks on line 4 above, "And then, on a summer day from late morning to early afternoon . . ."" "early afternoon" should read "late afternoon."

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

More on the question of dew in summer. Yesterday happened to be "White Dew" the solar term (one of the 24 divisions of the solar year in the traditional Chinese calendar) which marks the beginning of the appearance of dew, which falls invariably between 7th and 9th of September. I wrote on "White Dew" in my July 2012 post on Ezra Pound's (The Jewel Stairs' Grievance) and my (Sentiments on the Steps of Marble) rendition of that Li Bai poem. Ray Heaton may wish to recall we did exchange views on that poem too. Here is the link: http://chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.hk/2012/07/li-bai-sentiments-on-steps-of-marble.html

Ray Heaton said...

Thank you Andrew, this is a masterclass in translating!

It was some time ago when I first translated the poem (both the rendition I provided here, and the question raised over "Dew") and I'm not sure I would now translate the poem the same way! I do think "Dew" a mistake and as you say, 露 here means "to reveal", possibly like 露出馬腳; and I do like the thought of "bare headed in the pine filled breeze".

I would never have gone for "Too lazy..." in line 1, but I now see why this is a much better translation and provides a deeper understanding of the poem. This provides the feeling of a hot summers day, the poet trying to find a cool place to rest; the lethargy brought on by the heat making even the waving of his fan too onerous. I prefer 'Idling' to 'Bathing' in line 4 as 'Idling' seems to maintain this lethargic response.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Keen, in fact great, observation on "lethargy".

Unknown said...

Very nice and helpful information has been given in this article. I like the way you explain the things. Keep posting. Thanks..
french voice overs   

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I have today decided to revise line 3 by dropping the first word "With" which is superfluous. The line now reads: "My headcloth undone, on a stone wall hung". This is effected in my post.