12 November 2014

王勃 Wang Bo: 山中 In the Mountains

Here is my translation of a quatrain by early Tang dynasty poet 王勃 Wang Bo who is better known for having written one masterpiece of Chinese prose and poetry 滕王閣序 or 滕王閣詩序 "On Prince Teng's Tower: A Tribute with a Poem".  To find out more about this, you may wish to visit my friend Frank Yue's blog "Chinese Poetry in English Verse":- http://chinesepoetryinenglishverse.blogspot.hk/2013/03/by-bank-of-river-gan-king-tengs-grand.html.

Wang Bo is regarded as one of the Four Greats of Early Tang 初唐四傑 (together with 楊烱 Yang Jiong, 盧照鄰 Lu Zhaolin and 駱賓王 Luo Binwang). Unfortunately, he died young at the age of 26 (or 28 by Chinese reckoning which takes birth to be one year old and passage of the New Year to be two) in an accident at sea in the South China Sea while sailing north from 交趾 Jiaozhi (probably present day 榮市 Vinh city, 義安省 Nghe An province, 中北部 Middle-North region, Vietnam) where his father was posted to in relegation. It may be of interest to note that the American Cochin-China and the British Cochin China came from the French Cochinchina (or Cochinchine) which derived from the Portugese Cochim-China which borrowed from the Malay Kuchi which in turn derived from the Chinese Jiaozhi, pronounced Giao Chi in Vietnamese and Gao Tsi in Cantonese Chinese.  You may wish to search for "Cochinchina" in Wikipedia.

Without further ado, here goes this little poem:-  

Wang Bo (650-676): In the Mountains

1  As languid, long as the river, steeped in sorrow am I,
2  A myriad miles from home----to return, but when? I sigh.
3  (O now as day demises, so high are the autumn winds that)
And now as darkness nears, high are the autumn winds that
(revised 17.11.14)
4  On each and every mountain, how the yellow leaves fly!
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
24 July 2008 (revised 25.7.08; 18.9.08; 20.9.08; 22.9.08; 7.11.2014)
Translated from the original - 王勃: 山中

1  長江悲已滯
2  萬里念將歸
3 况屬高風晚
4  山山黃葉飛

*The original is in 5-character lines.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats) as I have been unable to render it in pentameter (5 beats).  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*Line 1:  I had originally penned “Like the long and languid river” but have now decided for “As languid, long as the river”.
*Line 2:  I had originally penned “Myriads of miles from home” but have now decided for “A myriad miles from home”.
*Line 3:  For the word “late in the day”, I had originally penned “Oh, as daylight wanes” but have now decided for “O now as day demises” (amended as "And now as darkness falls" 17.11.14).  高風 here means “autumn winds” which are high or strong.  This translation covers both “autumn” and “high”.  (I have deleted "so" from "so high are the". 17.11.14)
*Line 4:  For the repetition of the word in the line, I have used the less than perfect repetition of the letter “e” in “each and every”.  For 黃葉 “yellow leaves”, I had considered “falling leaves” but have decided for the literal translation.


Ray Heaton said...

I think that's an outstanding first line! Beautifully translated and, in a single line, exactly reflects the poet's state of mind.

In the Journal of the American Oriental Society, Volume 124 Number 3, Timothy Wai Keung Chan wrote an essay titled "Restoration of a Poetry Anthology by Wang Bo"; Chan writes that Wang

"...articulates disillusion in the disguise of nostalgia, a unified theme that dovetail with [his] motive of making a return to a political position. Transcendence of sadness self-consolation and new hope defines a discourse in all of his writings dating from this period of wandering...". (After Wang managed to displease the Emperor, he is more or less exiled).

Chan considers the poem you have translated here Andrew, to be a potential inclusion within the reconstructed anthology, and, if it is, the poet is then using the poem as an expression of being far from his lost position in Chang'an; in Wang's "Inscribed on a wall in Jianyin, Pu'an", Chan uses the translation "...when will the sojourner return...", a similar question as in Andrew's translation, "...to return, but when...", the poet wondering when will he be allowed to rejoin the elite and regain the Emperor's favour.

The second pair of lines emphasise his loneliness and isolation, the high winds and mountains between him and where he feels is his rightful home.

I do though find the use of demises in line three a little odd, and I wonder why you chose that word, Andrew?

Rather presumptiously, I came up with a couple of alternatives, using "darkness" to also indicate the depression that the translation expresses in the first two lines

O now as darkness befalls
O now as darkness ensues

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Ray,
Thank you yet again for your very learned comment(s). Although I have yet to read Timothy Chan's piece, I whole-heartedly agree with both him and your good self that Wang Bo was longing for a return to Chang-an. He was in exile/relegation twice in his short life, the second led to his accidental death. This poem was probably written during his first when he went to Szechuan, as the languid water was that of thew Long River's. Has Timothy Chan said something similar?

The answer to your question why have I chosen to use the "as day demises" is a simple one: it is for alliteration. I said in my notes that I had originally penned "as daylight wanes" Thank you for suggesting "darkness" which I find most attractive, particularly "darkness ensues" which is much more fitting than "darkness befalls". Please allow me to borrow from you and revise the first half of the line to read "And now as darkness nears". I have taken this opportunity to revise "O" to read "And" which is a more faithful translation of the word 况 which means "moreover" or "in addition". I have effected the revision in the post.

We have been exchanging views on the blog for quite some time now. Don't you agree that it is time that we should face to face if you happen to be or visit Hong Kong?

Ray Heaton said...

It would be the greatest honour to meet you in person; I don't have any travel plans at present, but I would so love to visit Hong Kong and many parts of mainland China. My interests are in Chinese poetry, researching mahjong flower tile origins (stories, operas, Chengyu etc) and chinese culture in general! I'd need many months to visit everything!

I'm so pleased you think my comments worth your while; I learn so much from your translations, much more than I can ever give back!

Oh yes...I thought "And" better than "O" too!