04 May 2016

王梵志 Wang Fanzhi: 無題/梵志翻著襪 Untitled/My socks, Fanzhi's, worn inside out

Today I am posting another "not so elegant" poem by the early Tang dynasty Buddhist monk Wang Fanzhi.  No title is given to the poem, and I have used the first line, put in brackets, as its title, similar to his other poem which I posted here in May 2015 putting in brackets the first line Other men ride high on horses.  The moral of that poem is "Be content!" while this poem, "Be oneself!  Never mind the worldly ways!"  I do hope you will enjoy it.

Wang Fanzhi (592? – 670?): Untitled/My socks, Fanzhi’s, worn inside out

1    My socks, Fanzhi’s, worn inside out;
2    Everybody says it’s wrong.
3    I’d rather have them prick your eyes,
4    Than let them hurt my feet daylong.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
22nd April 2015 (29.4.15; 7.5.15; 21.5.15)
Translated from the original - 王梵志: 無題 /梵志翻著襪

1    梵志翻著襪
2    人皆道是錯
3    乍可剌你眼
4    不可隱我脚


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English is a tetrameter (4 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.  (line 2) and (line 4), which do not rhyme in current Chinese pronunciation, did rhyme in the Tang dynasty as belonging to 入聲 Entering Tone 藥韻 “Yao (Cantonese Yeuk)” Rhyme. (My speculation: and were pronounced “tsok” and “gok” respectively.)   In addition to this tetrametric rendition, I have also done an alternative ballad rendition which is given at the end of these notes.

*Line 1:  翻著, the colloquial for 反穿, is literally “wear (something) inside out”.  “socks”, in the Tang dynasty, were everyday boot-like light shoes without a hard sole worn informally.  In order to make clear that these were shoes and not socks, I had originally wanted to translate it as “light shoes”, “soft shoes”, “cloth shoes”, “slip-on shoes”, “slip-ons”, “slippers” and even coined ones such as “sock-shoes” and “shoe-socks”.  But have found them inappropriate and have decided to stick to “socks”.  This literal translation of as “sock” closely approximates English usage in the past.  The Shorter Oxford defines “Sock” as “1.  A covering for the foot, of the nature of a light shoe….. Now rare or obsolete” and “3.  A light shoe worn by comic actors on the ancient … stage”.  I had originally penned the line as “Fanzhi’s socks, worn inside out”, then considered “I wear my socks, the inside out”, “Fanzhi’s, my socks, worn inside out” and “Me Fanzhi’s socks, worn inside out” and have finally decided for “My socks, Fanzhi’s, worn inside out” which best captures the meaning of the line, viz. “I (Wang Fanzhi) wear my socks inside out”.

*Line 2:  I had originally penned “I’m wrong”, but have now decided for “it’s wrong”.  I think this makes it a lesser offence.

*Lines 3 and 4:  乍可 in line 3 means寧可 “would rather” and is translated, together with 不可 “not/no” in line 4, as “I’d (would) rather … /Than …..”.
*Line 3:  To translate “prick/dazzle  你眼 “your eyes”, I had considered “poke you in the eyes” (Jake Holman, web search “Jake Holman’s Selection of Favourite Chinese Poems Page 5”, 3rd poem), “an eyesore” (Eugene Eoyang, poem #6 on p. 84 in Wu-chi Liu & Irving Yucheng Lo, “Sunflower Splendor”, Bloomington: Indiana Univ. 1985, Midland ed. 1990), “offend your eyes” (a perfect equivalent, but colourless), “poke at your eyes” (a variation of Holman’s above) and, simply, “hurt your eyes”, and have now decided for “prick your eyes” (metaphorically, not physically). 

*Line 4:  Contrary to Eugene Eoyang’s “Than hide my feet under a bushel” (op. cit.) and Jake Holman’s “Than cover up my feet” (op. cit.), the word should not be taken to mean “hide/cover up”, but “cause pain/suffering”, e.g. 民隱 “people’s pain/suffering. The “pain” here, or just “discomfort”, is caused by the rough and hemmed in side of the cloth material of such socks being worn properly in, so as to show off on the outside the smooth side of the material.  I have, therefore translated it as “hurt”.   To end the line, I have added “daylong (the whole day long)” to rhyme with line 2 (“wrong”).  The addition is reasonable as such socks were worn as informal daytime shoes.
*Alternative Rendition in Ballad Form:
1    My socks, Fanzhi’s, worn inside out,
2    Ev’ryone says it’s wrong.
3    I’d rather have them prick your eyes,
4    Than hurt my feet daylong.