02 January 2016

王維 Wang Wei: 田園樂 7首 其6 Pastoral Bliss 6 of 7

Happy New Year 2016.  Today, I am posting my translation of a beautiful little poem by Wang Wei. This poem is a rare "six-character quatrain" 六言絕句 (4 lines of 6 characters each), rare in that practically all classical Chinese quatrains are of five or seven characters.  In this poem, Wang Wei has shown that they can be equally, if not more beautiful.  

This Wang Wei poem further features “parallel matching lines” 對仗 which is not expected of “quatrains” 絕句 but required of the middle 4 lines (3 and 4, and 5 and 6) of the 8-line “octets” 律詩.  As can be seen from my rendition and notes, Wang Wei’s parallelism is thorough and complete.  Each line has 3 “2-character phrases” and each such “phrase” in a beginning line finds a perfect match in the succeeding line.

Wang Wei (701-761): Pastoral Bliss (Wang Chuan Six-Character Quatrain) 6 of 7

1  Peach-blows crimson, bearing the night’s drizzle drops, they glisten;
2  Willows so green, wearing the morning’s misty whiffs, they gleam.
3  Petals fallen, the gardener houseboy, his grounds as yet un-swept;
4  Orioles warbling, this man of the mountains still lies serene in dream.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黄宏發
24th October 2015 (revised 2.11.15; 25.11.15; 27.11.15; 3.12.15; 6.12.15)
Translated from the original - 王維: 田園樂 (輞川六言) 7 其6

1    桃紅復含宿雨
2    柳綠更帶朝()
3    花落家僮未掃
4    鶯啼山客猶眠


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in heptameter (7 feet or beats) while the original is in 6-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.  In classical Chinese poetry, “6-character quatrains六言絕句 are rare, and Wang Wei is a great master of the art.  This Wang Wei poem further features “parallel matching lines” 對仗 which is not expected of “quatrains” 絕句 but required of the middle 4 lines (3 and 4, and 5 and 6) of the 8-line “octets” 律詩, both (quatrains and octets) being “regulated verses” 近體詩.  As can be seen from my rendition and notes, Wang Wei’s parallelism is thorough and complete.  Each line has 3 “2-character phrases” and each such “phrase” in a beginning line finds a perfect match in the succeeding line.

*Lines 1 and 2 (Parallelism): The first and third of the 3 “2-character expressions” in these 2 lines match perfectly in both the original and my rendition: 桃紅 “Peach blows crimson” and 宿雨 “the night’s drizzle drops” in line 1 match perfectly with 柳綠 “Willows so green” and 朝煙 “the morning’s misty whiffs” in line 2.  Although I have been able to use the equally perfect parallels of “bearing … they glisten” in line 1 and “wearing … they gleam” in line 2 to translate the perfect parallels of 復含 and 更帶 of the original, I have failed to faithfully translate in line 1 and in line 2 as will be explained in the notes to follow.

*Line 1:  “peach” in 桃紅 refers not to the plant, nor the fruit, but the flower, and is translated as “peach blows” which means but, here, sounds better than “blossoms”, “flowers”, or “blooms”.  “red” is rendered as “crimson”, a purplish red.  According to in Chinese, the colour of peach flowers “ranges from pale to dark pink or red, sometimes white從粉至深粉紅或紅, 有時為白色” while in English simply says “pink”, but on the web page of (which sells peach blossom juice) I found they are “pale pink with a deep magenta center” and magenta or fuchsia, like crimson, is purplish red.  The peach flowers in the poem must be either paler or darker pink with a crimson core, or simply crimson.  宿雨 “last night’s rain” is rendered as “the night’s drizzle drops” with “the night” referring to “last night”.  “keep in the mouth” or “contain” in 復含is rendered as “bearing”, and  “furthermore” is understood and is not translated.  Instead, I have added “they glisten” (not in the original) at the end to paint a picture of “crimson peach flowers glistening in last night’s rain drops” which, in my view, is the image the poet wishes to present.

*Line 2: I had originally penned “Willows verdant” to translate 柳綠 “willows, green” but have decided for “Willows so/new green” in order to capture the “ee” sound in “green” to go with “gleam” at the end of the line.   “morning” in () is preferred over “spring” as (a) with peach flowers and mists, spring is obvious without having to mention it, and (b) “this morning” is a better match word for 宿 “last night” in line 1.  “smoke” here means “mist” or, better, “smoke-like mists” and 朝煙 is therefore rendered as “the morning’s misty whiffs” to match “the night’s drizzle drops” in line 1.   ”carry” in 更帶 is rendered as “wearing” to parallel “bearing” in line 1.  And , like in line 1, both meaning “furthermore”, is understood and not translated, and instead I have added (not in the original) “they gleam” to parallel “they glisten” in line 1, presenting a picture of “green willows gleaming through the morning’s whiffs of mist”.

*Lines 3 and 4 (Parallelism):  The first and second of the 3 “2-character expressions” in these 2 lines match perfectly in both the original and my rendition: 花落 “Petals fallen” and 家僮 “the gardener houseboy” in line 3 match perfectly with 鶯啼 “Orioles warbling” and 山客 “this man of the mountains” in line 4.  Again, I have been unable to render equally perfectly the third matching pair, i.e. 未掃 “his grounds as yet un-swept” in line 3 and 猶眠 “still lies serene in dream” in line 4 as will be explained in the notes to follow.

*Line 3:  I have translated “flower” “fallen” as “Petals fallen”.  家僮 is rendered as “the gardener houseboy” to make clear this is the houseboy whose duties include the sweeping of the fallen petals in the grounds.  未掃 “not yet swept” is rendered as “his grounds as yet un-swept”, with “his grounds” (not in the original) added for the same reason as adding “gardener” to “houseboy” and in order for the line to make sense. As alternatives to the use of “un-swept” which is unorthodox, I had considered “… awaits a/his sweeping” and “… yet to be swept” but have decided for “… as yet un-swept” which is the closest to the original.

*Line 4:  For “crow, twitter, trill or sing” in 鶯啼, I have chosen “warbling” over “trilling” as the latter is too shrill and noisy, quite out of place in a scene so still, calm and serene.  in 山客 “mountain, and guest” should be understood not as “guest” or “visitor” but as simply  “man” as in 劍客 “swordsman” and 政客 “politician”; and山客 must, therefore,  be 山人 not “mountain man” but “man who lives in the mountains away from the community” or “recluse, hermit”.  I had originally penned “mountain recluse/hermit” but have decided for “man of the mountains” being the closest to the original.  As 山客 here ambiguously refers to the poet himself, I have chosen to render it as “this (and not, the) man of the mountains” making it possible for one to picture the poet pointing to himself when saying “this”.  猶眠 “still sleeping/asleep” is rendered as “still lies serene in dream” with “serene” (not in the original) added to make 7 beats, consistent with the other 3 lines and, seriously, to avoid an abrupt and possibly misleading ending.  I had considered “idly, at ease, easy” but have decided for “serene”.

*Lines 2 and 4 (End Rhyme):  I had originally penned line 2 as “drooping in the morning’s mists, they seem to weep” to end rhyme with “… still lies serene asleep” in line 4.  I justified my addition of the idea of “weep” (not in the original) and said in my original notes:- to present a picture of green willows drooping as if weeping in the morning mist, “weeping willow” 垂柳 (mistakenly named “salix babylonica” or Babylon willow) being native to and widely cultivated in China.  I have now decided to drop the idea of “weep” which can paint a totally different picture, and to add, instead, “gleam” to better parallel “glisten” in line 1.  For the end rhyme in line 4, I have now penned “in dream” which is equivalent in meaning to “asleep” and, hence, “… still lies serene in dream” in line 4 to end rhyme with “… the morning’s misty whiffs, they gleam” in line 2.

1 comment:

Ray Heaton said...

I thought it may be interesting to compare Andrew’s translation to that of best selling author Vikram Seth, (from Seth’s “Three Chinese Poets” published by Phoenix in 1992). Seth titles his translation as “The Pleasures of the Country”, (the poem is copied below and uses Seth’s punctuation).

The Pleasures of the Country

Peach blossom’s red; again it holds night rain.
Willows are green, clad once more in spring mist.
The houseboy’s not yet swept the fallen flowers.
The orioles chirp, but don’t wake my hill guest.

I think the first thing to notice is how much more representative Andrew’s translation is of the parallelism evident in the original (despite Andrew’s slight reticence with some of his introductions to the poem, for me the “as yet un-swept” and “serene in dream” are good parallels, both reflecting inaction, but more on this later). As Seth reverses the third line somewhat, beginning the line with the houseboy, he destroys the parallelism retained by Andrew’s sequencing and his “man of the mountain”. Seth’s parallelism is better in lines one and two, “Peach blossom’s red” with “Willows are green”, “again it holds” with “clad once more” and “night rain” and “spring mist”; yet he fails to provide the rich imagery achieved by Andrew, who manages to convey an early spring morning so clearly.

Lines one and two are essentially the same in each translation, though Seth has retained both 復 and 更 (“again” and “once more”), but Seth’s translation creates an image that is, as Andrew explains in his dismissal of “weep”, counter to the message being conveyed by Wang Wei.

It’s lines three and four where I think Andrew’s translation far superior to Seth’s, even though I find both third lines a little clumsy; Seth’s punctuation in “The houseboy’s not yet swept” reads rather contrived (but less so than “Peach blossom’s red”), yet introducing something similar seems to improve Andrew’s line, where the second caesura is slightly abrupt – perhaps change to, “the gardener houseboy’s grounds as yet are un-swept”.

There is no message in Seth’s version, even though quite a literal translation (especially line three). Seth’s “hill guest” misses the point entirely, whereas Andrew’s “man of the mountain” with it’s ever so slight ambiguity renders Wang Wei’s intention completely clear. And it’s here where I think the inaction mentioned earlier becomes important; nature in all its beauty continues relentless, whether man takes part or not (the houseboy and poet both sleep on); Wang Wei reminds us of his desires to be a recluse, he’d rather be a man of the mountains than court official, a retreat amongst nature, his withdrawal motivated by his Buddhist beliefs; Andrew’s translation has emphasised this whereas I feel Seth’s has missed it completely.