11 July 2016

王梵志 Wang Fanzhi: 無題/城外土饅頭 Untitled/Earthy steamed buns, out in the country

Today I am posting a sixth poem by Wang Fanzhi.  The verse is in vernacular and is far from elegant.  But the message is shockingly clear.  

Wang Fanzhi (592? - 670?): Untitled/Earthy steamed buns, out in the country

1    Earthy steamed buns, out in the country,
2    Their fillings alive, and dwell in town;
3    We each in turn will have to take one,
4    Its taste may let you down. Don’t frown!

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
25th April 2015 (revised 29.4.15; 30.4.15; 1.5.15)
Translated from the original - 王梵志: 無題 /城外土饅頭

1    城外土饅頭
2    餡草在城裡
3    一人吃一個
4    莫嫌沒滋味


*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.  An alternative ballad rendition (i.e. lines 2 and 4 shortened to trimeter) is given at the end of the notes.

*Line 1:  “earthy” 饅頭 “steamed buns” is a term coined by the poet to refer to graves or grave mounds which are made of earth in the shape of steamed buns.  I had considered “earthen” which also means “made of earth” but may carry the sense that it is hardened as in earthenware.  I have, therefore, decided for “earthy”.

*Line 2:  The word  means “grass”, hence, “vegetables” which, however, can refer to all items of food, e.g. 點菜 “order dishes” and 買菜 “go to the wet market”.  餡草 should, therefore, be understood as 餡料 “materials used to stuff/fill the buns” and translated simply as “fillings”.  I have added “alive, and dwell” to make clear that the “fillings” refer to people.

*Line 3:  “eat” is translated as “take” which covers both “take/eat a bun” and “take a grave/seat”.  I have added “in turn will have” to make clear the implied sense of the inevitability of death when one’s turn comes.

*Line 4:  Instead of the literal “no taste”, 沒滋味 is taken to mean 沒好味 or 味道不好 “not tasty” and is translated as “taste may let you down”.  莫嫌 is translated as “don’t frown” for the rhyme.
*Alternative Rendition in Ballad Form:-
1    Earthy steamed buns, out in the country,
2    Their fillings still live in town;
3    We each in turn will have to take one,
4    Its taste, a letdown! Don’t frown!


Walter Lo said...
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Walter Lo said...

Perhaps we should not worry too much about the technicalities. How about translating it this:
Earthy steamed buns beyond the city gate,
But their filings are within the city.
Let every person eat one,
But don't complain if they're not to your taste.

Walter Lo said...

I found a few typo errors in my post but somehow I couldn't find the edit button. So please allow me to correct it here - "this:" in the first sentence should be "thus:" and "filings" in the 2nd line of the poem should be "fillings". I suppose my translation is called "free verse." Thank you.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Walter for his free verse rendition. I think he prefers a more literal translation than my insistence on the rhyme.