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.


Ray Heaton said...

Rather than repeat much of what I said against Andrew's previous translation of Wang Fanzhi's poetry, I thought I'd ask a question instead...

I wonder if the poet used certain words that have more than one meaning as a means of expressing his rebellious nature?

For example, 剌, rebellious; 隱, to live like a hermit; 道, the Way; 翻, search

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Ray Heaton for his long comment on my rendition of the other poem (Other people ride high on horses) and for the question he now raises. We do not know much about Wang Fanzhi except he became a Buddhist monk or "devotee" (as Peter Hobson would have it) at the age of say fifty, roaming the country, living on alms, and writing or chiming his "poetry" in the vernacular. There is no indication that he was "rebellious" except that he did advise us against worldly matters and worldly ways. Though I am no scholar of Chinese, I do know the language and, in my pursuits, I do endeavor to neither under-read nor over-read the words, lines and the poem. As my "pen-power" gadget doesn't seem to be working, I will respond to the 4 Chinese words by and by.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Now that I have fixed my Chinese writing pad, I will attempt to show that Ray Heaton might have over-read the words concerned or read them out of context:-

(a) The word 刺 in line 3 can mean (1) prick, pierce, stab, (2)irritate, stimulate, (3) assassinate (much more rebellious than his "rebellious"), (4) spy, pry, make secret inquiries, (5) criticize, (6) sting, thorn, splinter, and even (7) visiting card. [New Age Chinese-English Dictionary} I suggest the proper context is 刺眼 meaning "dazzling" or "offensive" and have rendered it simply as "prick your eyes". Please see my note on line 3.

(b) The dominant meaning of the word 隱 in line 4 is (1) hide from view, conceal, (2) latent, dormant, lurking, and (3) privacy, secret.[New Age E-C Dict.] Although the other meaning of the word "pain" can only be found in Chinese dictionaries, I have adopted it and have explained, not in so many words, in my note on line 4 that, though ingenious, neither Eugene Eoyang's "hide my feet under a bushel" nor Jake Holman's "cover up my feet" fit the context of the poem on Wang Fanzhi wearing his "socks" inside out on purpose, for comfort, and not for appearance and approbation. The idea of "hermit" is entirely out of context.

(c) Similarly, for the word 道 in line 2, the idea of "the Way (Daoism/Taoism)" is an over-reading of 人皆道 which structurally requires it to mean simply the literal "people all say" and has nothing to do with with Daoism. Given the context, even 人道 may not mean "humanism" but simply "people say", e.g. 蘇軾 念奴嬌 赤壁懷古 「故壘西邊 人道是 三國周郎赤壁」

(d) Although the word 翻 in line 1 can mean rummage and search, and 翻著襪, search for socks to wear, this interpretation is out of context with the next and subsequent lines, and must, therefore, be understood and translated as turning/wearing (socks) inside out.

Finally, having read Eliot Weinberger's "19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei", his "Postscript" (p.51) and Octavio Paz's "Further Comments" (pp.45-50) and particularly their view on translating the word 上 in line 4 of Wang Wei's 鹿柴 Deer Park/Range/Enclosure: 復照青苔上, I am reminded that I could always be wrong, yet a stand must be taken.

And here, I venture to suggest that Prof. Peter A. Boodberg (his version: "Once more to glowlight the blue-green mosses---going up") has erred in concluding that 上 shang should be translated as "going up" simply because the word "had an alternate meaning in the Tang dynasty: to rise. The usage apparently dropped out of the language centuries ago." (Not his, but Weinberger's words, p.51.) The fact is the "to rise" meaning and usage is still very much alive, but not in the "something 上" context which can only mean "on/upon something". The poet Octavio Paz has rendered this line most poetically (his version: "it illuminates the moss and, green, rises") and has explained off this "rising" flaw by bringing in the argument of the "spiritual character of the scene" accentuated by his formulation "the green reflection ascends or rises." (His own word, p.50.) Mark the final part of his "Further Comments". This may be true translation, but is it. I am still thinking.

Ray Heaton said...

I guess I was too brief and misled you! I wasn't suggesting your interpretation and translation of the poem was in any way incorrect, in fact I think your interpretation is spot on. I was merely toying with the thought that some words within the poem, having more than one meaning, would have appealed to those reading it (or hearing it) in a way which enriched their experience...even though the words' meaning within the context of the poem would have been quite clearly as you have expressed them. A sort of intellectual game being played between the poets I suppose!

Walter said...

I think such poetry follows the tradition of Ch'an Buddhism. Once translated into English we tend to zoom in to a particular interpretation. But in the original, Ch'an sayings and poetry can have multiple allusions and might be driving at a much deeper meaning not so easily comprehended. How about being enlightened by Ch'an? haha :)