07 January 2015

盧綸 Lu Lun: 塞下曲 6首 其2 Border Song 2 of 6

Happy New Year 2015.  Today, I am posting # II of Tang dynasty poet Lu Lun's six "Border Songs" (# I being posted here August 2014).  I hope you will find this a little less learned and a bit more pleasant.

Lu Lun (748-800?):  Border Song 2 of 6

1  Windswept, the dim grove of cattails shook so;
2  ‘Twas dark, the general still arched his bow.
3  Next dawn, for its hoary feathers they looked,
4  Sunk deep in a stone cleft was found his arrow.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
7th June 2013 (revised 10.6.13; 11.6.13; 12.6.13; 13.6.13; 14.6.13)

Translated from the original -  盧綸:  塞下曲 6首 其2
1  林暗草驚風
2  將軍夜引弓
3  平明尋白羽
4  在石稜中

*    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:  For I had considered “dark” but have decided for “dim”.  驚風 (in this context of 草驚風) should not be understood as an infantile illness of the heart and liver (with convulsions), but as 風吹草動 ”grass rustling in the wind”.  I have, therefore, rendered as “shook so”.  I have translated as “Windswept” which I find superior to “In the wind”.  I had originally translated simply as grass, but have come to realize that the grass must be rather tall to make sense of the poem and have decided for “cattails” rather than “tall grass”.  My rendition of the entire line makes it clear that I take the word “grove/woods/forest” to be a 草林 “grove of tall grass/cattails”.
*    Line 2:  For I have chosen “dark” over “night”.  For I had originally preferred the literal “drew” but have now decided for the more emphatic “arched”.
*    Line 3:  For I had originally penned “searched” but have now decided for “looked” to echo “shook” in line 1.  For I had considered the technically correct “fletchings” (being feathers attached to an arrow’s shaft) but have decided for the literal “feathers”.

*    Line 4:  I have rendered as “Sunk deep in”.  (also written as ) in 石稜 is a problematic word.  It means the “edge” or “corner” of any substance and would not make much sense when qualified by “stone” and used in the context of 没在.  However, the existence of such expressions as 稜磳 稜層 稜角 all used in association with rocks and stones suggest 石稜 is probably an inversion of 稜石.   I have, therefore, considered rendering it simply as “the rocks” but have now decided for “a stone cleft” which makes the arrowshot much more dramatic and poetic and which idea of a crevice is adopted by most translators.  To end the poem, I have added “arrow” (which is absent from but implied in the original) so as to complete both the meaning of the line and the “so-bow-arrow” rhyme of the poem.  As I need to add more words to complete the meter, I had considered variously: “all of the arrow”, “the entire arrow” “the head of the arrow”, “the shaft of the arrow”, “the shaft, the arrow”, “most of the arrow”, “O truly that arrow”, “the very same arrow”, “the self-same arrow” and “we found that arrow”, and have settled for “was found his arrow” which adds the least to the original.


Ray Heaton said...

Posted as two comments, as too long for just one!

This poem at first appears too simple, almost without meaning! How does the poem relate to the struggles of life for soldiers garrisoned at the border? Compared to Border Song #1 with the General rallying his troops, flags flying, his golden arrows fletched with vulture's feathers, Border Song #2 seems incongruous, simply shooting an arrow in the dark not found until morning, and that's about it!

There is no aspiration or ambition, no expression of fighting the enemy bravely. There is no story here of soldiers longing for home, missing their families and their hometowns. No depiction of the hard life experienced by the frontier soldiers.

However if we accept the poem is about the great warrior general, Li Guang, maybe we can interpret and understand the poem better and evaluate Andrews translation appropriately. One night, Li Guang on horseback shoots his arrow at what appears to be a tiger; leaving the kill until morning his arrow is found instead embedded in a rock. This shows that the warrior had such power in his bow arm, he can pull a bow with high draw weight and shoot arrows at such force to pierce stone.

If this view about Li Guang being the source of the story is true, has this mighty warrior battling in the north come through in Andrew's translation? I think the answer to that is mostly, yes.

Ray Heaton said...

Although "Windswept" is indeed a superior choice and immediately tells the reader that this is an unpleasant place to be, the wind whipping across the borderlands, using this coupled with "a dim grove of Cattails" detracts from the drama of the scene for me..."Cattails" being a 'too-pleasant a sounding' word, and "dim" not quite dramatic enough. The use of Cattails is an interesting word choice, I would personally relate Cattails to a marsh area rather than the harsh northern border's inhospitable landscape, I wonder if that was in Andrew's mind?

Lines 3 and 4 do not simply imply a lost arrow that has to be searched for, rather, the general hits his target despite the darkness, the wind and the tall grasses and merely waits until dawn for his soldiers to look for and collect the prey. Of course, 尋, doesn't really, allow much scope, so Andrew's avoidance of "to search" in favour of "to look for" helps here, and of course "sunk deep" provides the power and strength of the archer and so compensates for the lack of explicitly describing the General's might in line 2.

Line 2 doesn't quite work, although there isn't an awful lot in the original poem either, simply the general drawing his bow in the night. I think the word "still" doesn't portray the powerful nature of the general and could perhaps be replaced - I had thought, "arched his mighty bow", but that seems a bit cliched and adds a perhaps unwanted extra syllable. I'm not keen on the use of "'Twas", either, it detracts and makes me think of the often parodied "'twas a dark and stormy night"!

Using "hoary" for 白(white) has several effects; it's an unusual word choice and so makes you stop and think, maybe Andrew simply meant to use this to mean white but has, unconsciously or otherwise, brought in added depth. Hoary brings to mind the possibility of hoarfrost and so telling us about the cold northern frontier with dawn's frost on the feathers. Hoary can relate to being old and grey, so long the soldiers have been here even the feathers on their arrows have aged.

Despite my reticence over "Cattails" and line 2 in general, Andrew has managed to provide the aspiration, ambition and bravery through showing us this is no ordinary general, but one who can split stone with his arrow; the windswept and shaking grasses together with the hoary, not simply white, feathers of the arrow at daybreak telling us the adverse conditions experienced by the soldiers; and hoary too telling us how long the soldiers have been away from family and home.

Maybe not such a simple poem at all!

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Ray Heaton for his learned and most thoughtful comments and am particularly grateful for his bringing up the idea that the poem is about the story of the "Flying General" Li Guang 飛將軍 李廣 shooting a rock for a tiger. I have been given to understand these 6 Border Songs by Lu Lun do tell the story of an anonymous general with each song depicting one scene; and this General X is probably not Li Gang who lived in the Han dynasty and died some one thousand years ago. Although the protagonist of these 6 Songs is not Li Guang, this Song #2 certainly alludes to Li Guang, but what is the story of General X? in Song #2? In my view, it is the story of "vigilance" on the part of General X and his men. When I first translated it, I was so carried away by the Li Guang story of tiger (cattails), bow (arched), rock and arrow that I had overlooked the simple main theme of the story of this scene 2 of 6 scenes. Some rather major revisions are required. Let me first give you the revised version before responding to Ray's various points.

Lu Lun: Border Song II of Six
1 A dim grove, windswept, its tall grass shook so;
2 'Twas night, there the general aimed his bow.
3 Came dawn, for its white feathers they looked;
4 Sunk deep in a stone cleft was found his arrow.

I will follow up tomorrow.

Frank Yue said...



ray heaton is a terrific critic!

btw, i can't access your blog in the public library in HK.(have u been "black listed"?)

【塞下曲 • 其二】 唐 • 盧倫

【塞下曲 • 其二】 唐 • 卢伦

林暗草驚風, 林暗草惊风,
將軍夜引弓。 将军夜引弓。
平明尋白羽, 平明寻白羽,
没在石棱中。 没在石棱中。

SAI SHA QU ("Border Song" No. 2 of 4)
-- by LU LUN (748-800: Tang dynasty)
-- Translated by Frank C Yue

In the dark woods, movement in grass startles the night patrol;
The great General fires a spontaneous shot from his bow.
And lo, of his white-feather'd arrow the morning does show --
Deep inside a piece of rock it has buried itself whole!

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Again, forgive me. I am now able to find time to continue today.

Line 1: I have put "A dim grove" in first place to (a) suggest a scene of soldiers (on patrol) saw a grove which was dim and possibly suspect, and (b) reduce all the unpleasantness associated with being "whipped by wind" and with the head-strong trochaic "windswept" which is now relegated to second place to explain why "its (the grove's) "tall grass shook so". I have decided to defer to Ray Heaton to drop "cattails" but not entirely for the reasons he has advanced. Cattails do grow in less than desert regions unless totally arid. (I have only recently seen a picture of a vast stretch of cattails in Inner Mongolia.) I had originally chosen "cattail" because the word comes from "cat-tail, cat's-tail," the tail of a feline animal which includes the tiger, highly fitting for the Li Guang story. I have now decided to replace it with "tall grass" to make the meaning clear as "cattail" is not carried by most dictionaries. I am prepared to revert to "cattails" better "cat-tails" if Ray Heaton is agreeable.

Line 2: I must first admit that the word "still" (or "yet") that I had used is completely off the mark and detracts from the true message in this simple line. I hope it is "'Twas dark" that has thrown Ray Heaton off. I have now decided to use "'Twas night" to simply state the time, followed by "there the general aimed his bow" to simply state the act of the general that night, but with the addition of the word "there" and the choice of the word "aimed" over my original "arched" and Ray Heaton's "drew". Technically, Heaton's "drew" is the most appropriate word for 引. But one draws the bow for a reason, a target. I have, therefore, added "there" and picked "aimed" so as to bring out the vigilance and diligence on the part of the general who was personally overseeing the patrol that night and personally took the shot for fear what moved might be a wild beast (tiger), an enemy or enemy scout

Line 3: I agree with Ray Heaton that my choice of "hoary" for 白 "white" is defective. He may even be right about my unconscious; but I am consciously aware that I had originally only thought that "hoary feathers" sound better than "white feathers" or "feathers of white".

Lines 3 and 4: I have revised the first word of line 3 to read "Came" to make line 3 and 4 clearly in the past tense. However, if I were to revise it to read "Now" the 2 lines can be changed to the present tense, thus, "Now dawn ... feathers they look;/ Sunk deep ... is found his arrow." I wonder which is superior!

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Hello, Frank. A Happy New Year 2015 to you. How have you been?
Ray Heaton is indeed a terrific critic. His critiques have helped me a lot in refining my renditions, so had your contributions and critiques some years ago.
As for access to my blog, blogspot.com (mine being part of it) is banned in all of China (PRC) except Hong Kong and Macau. I do not see an extension of the banning to Hong Kong and Macau coming. It would indeed be news if mine is banned, even if only in public libraries. There are 2 types of terminals in Hong Kong's public libraries, one for the catalogue and the other for general use. You must have used the catalogue terminal. Better luck next time.

Frank Yue said...

o andrew,
i'm afraid the times have changed.
a few years back, i could access your blog at public libraries in hk, but not now apparently. the site is simply blocked by the authority.
try it yourself with your own laptop or ipad when you're next in a public library.

Frank Yue said...

n am back in my other home. we may yet meet again in fuutre over a bottle o red wine!

Frank Yue said...

n a happy n healthful yr. o the lamb to u n family!

Frank Yue said...

n andrew,
some critics die hard.

i'm still not quite comfortable with your line $:

"4 Sunk deep in a stone cleft was found his arrow."

-- because the story goes that the flying general (alluring to Li Guang) was also amazed himself that his arrow penetrated the rock. so, he consciously tried to repeat the feat but to no avail. it was not a fluke shot. he fired spontaneously the night before when he was startled and thought his life was at stake, staring at a crouched tiger!

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Frank. His story of General Li Guang is in fact history according to Sima Qian' Shi Ji or Record of the Grand Historian 司馬遷:史記 which runs: 廣出獵,見草中石,以為虎而射之,中石沒鏃,視之石也。因復更射之,終不能復入石矣。 From this we know that the poem is not about the story of Li Guang who was hunting while this un-named general was not.