04 August 2016

杜牧 Du Mu: 秋夕 (七夕) Autumn Evening (The 7th Day of the 7th Moon)

Next Tuesday, 9 August 2016  is this year's 7th day of the 7th moon/month on the  lunar calendar which is a traditional Chinese festival for  lovers separated and for love seekers.  Please see my note on  the "Title and line 4".

Here, I am posting this little poem by the famed  Tang dynasty poet Du Mu (not to be confused with Du Fu)  to meet the occasion.  I do hope you will enjoy it:-

Du Mu (803-852): Autumn Evening (The 7th Day of the 7th Moon)

1  (Autumn: cold is the ink-brushed panel in the pale candlelight;)
    'Tis autumn, cold is the ink-brushed panel in the pale candlelight; (revised 2.9.16)
2  (And girls in silk, little fans in hand, frolic with fireflies in flight.)
    My maids in silk, little fans in hand, frolic with fireflies in flight. (revised 2.9.16)
3  (Nightfall: these royal palace grounds, chilled like in water be;}
    Night falls, these royal palace grounds, chilled like in water be; (revised 2.9.16)  
4  (O here I lie to eye the Stars----named Herder and Weaver unite.)
    O here I lie to eye the Stars----of the Herder, the Weaver unite. (revised 2.9.16)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
3 July 2008 (revised 7.7.08; 17.7.08; 27.7.16; 28.7.16; 29.7.16; 2.9.16)
Translated from the original -杜牧: 秋夕 (七夕)

1  銀燭秋光冷畫屏
2  輕羅小扇撲流螢
3  天階()夜色凉如水
4  ()看牽牛織女星

Notes:-

*Form, Meter and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in heptameter (7 beats or feet) to emulate the 7-character lines of the original.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
  
*Title and line 4:  I have added 七夕 “evening of the 7th day of the 7th moon/month” to the title to make it crystal clear that the poet refers to a particular, and not just any, autumn evening as revealed by his making reference to the Stars of the Herder and the Weaver in line 4.  Chinese legend has it that the 2 stars or fairies have been separated, in punishment, by the Heavenly Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝 and allowed to meet once a year on the night of the 7th day of the 7th moon/month when they, though still separated by the Milky Way, are closest to each other.  This has become the festival of “the lover separated” and “the lover yet to come”.

*Lines 1 and 3:  I suggest the words “light” and “colour” in 秋光 (line 1) and 夜色 (line 3) do not mean what they literally say, but refer to “setting”, “scene”, “scenery”, “sights and sounds”, and even “quality” as in 湖光山色, 光景, 觀光, 景色, even 成色, hence, my rendering 秋光 in line 1 simply as “Autumn” and 夜色 in line 3 as “Nightfall”.

*Line 1:  I have not taken 銀燭 to literally mean “candle made of silver” or “candlestick/holder made of silver” but have interpreted to refer to a “silvery/white/pale/pallid” colour and  to refer to 燭光 “candlelight”, hence, my original “in the silvery candlelight” to end the line.  I have now decided for “in the pale candlelight” which takes away any suggestion of a precious metal. I had originally used the literal “painted” to translate but have found it too suggestive of glamour which is incompatible with the idea of “coldness”.  I then used “ink-washed” (the Chinese ink and wash painting style with a brush) and have now decided for “ink-brushed”.  I have rendered “screen/partition” as “panel”.
   
*Line 2:  I have interpreted 輕羅 “light silk” and 小扇 ”little fan” not as a single expression to mean “a little fan made of thin silk” but as 2 expressions to mean “girls (clad) in silk” 輊羅 (with the idea “girls” which is implied, added) and “little fans in hand” 小扇 (with “in hand” which is also implied, added).  To translate I have used “in flight” which rhymes perfectly with “candlelight” (line 1) and “unite” (line 4).

*Line 3:  I have embraced the 天階  version in which “heaven” means “the royal capital or royal palace” and means “courtyard/grounds” (and not “streets”) and have translated it as “royal palace grounds”.  In short, I have taken the poem to be a plaint from a lady who is no longer in the Emperor’s favour.

*Line 4:  I have used the 卧看 version and have decided for the first person “Here I lie” rather than the third person “There she lies” to make the rendition more personal.  I have used the Chinese names of the 2 stars 牽牛 (or 牛郎) and 織女 which I have literally translated as “Herder and Weaver” instead of their proper names in astronomy “Bootes and Vega” since the poem refers to a Chinese festival and is very Chinese (please see my note above on the “Title and line 4”).  Though very much tempted, I have also dropped the idea of using “Romeo and Juliet” for the same reason.  To complete the rhyme, I have added the word “unite” which is not in the original, but without which, the mood is lost.

  

8 comments:

Shifu Yuan said...


向前辈学习。

John Wong said...

Metering,rhymes,Herder/Weaver aside,I beg to differ with line 2 on girls (multiple), especially when juxtaposed with the switch in line 4 to the 1st person “Here I lie”. IMHO, the translation is based on a highly unorthodox if not questionable reading of Du Mu's poem itself. I urge a rereading, and a rework, on the English
version.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank John Wong for his keen observations, but am yet to be enlightened as to how, in his view, this poem ought to be interpreted. He has said my "translation is based on a highly unorthodox if not questionable reading of Du Mu's poem itself". Indeed, I can be faulted for having interpreted the poem to be (1) a palace plaint and (2) for the occasion of the the double-7. But I had always thought these are orthodox and are manifest in the language of the poem itself.

Thanks to John Wong, I have now reconsidered line 2 and have come to decide against "girls" not because it is in plural form, but because it is poor diction. The first part of line 2 now reads "My maids in silk" instead of "And girls in silk". The addition of the word "My" makes lines 2 and 4 consistent and amply justifies the plural "maids"; it is no longer a multitude of "girls" generally.

If it pleases one to interpret 輕羅小扇 as "little fans of thin silk", the first half of the line can be revised to read "Maids in-waiting, silk fans in hand", which however is not my preferred interpretation. One can, of course, interpret line 2 of the poem to mean the protagonist herself "frolic with fireflies in flight". This again is not what I prefer.



John Wong said...

My belated apologies to Andrew for this late repartee. I did attempt on a walk back on some of my less than informed comments, but my mobile platform apparently failed the "reCaptcha" (??) test multiple times and the reply was eventually lost in transmission. Now that I have finally settled down in front of a PC, life returns to normal again.

First, I'd like to say that indeed Andrew offered a plausible interpretation which devided the poem into two parts:

The first 2 lines refer to a scene in which the maids of the mistress were playfully chasing fireflies in the backyard in an autumn evening. The latter two lines switches to the mistress (courtesan, in the sense of a palace lady) who watched the maids played, while at the same time keenly felt the coolness of the patio in a fall night, and (metaphorically) longed for a reunion with her loved one afar. This makes the switch to the use of "I" possible in Line 4.

I have always read this poem (from the perspective of an onlooker) as if it were a Chinese painting which portrays a bored and lovelorn courtesan reclining in her patio or porch, aimlessly fanning away the last autumn fireflies while longing to see her loved one again soon. In this sense, neither the plural "girls" or "maids," nor the switch to "I" would work.

An alternative reading would be a much more intimate one. Again,all first person as in Andrew's, but no maid. Just the mistress. In this case, the use of "I" would fit perfectly well.

Of the several translations of the same poem I have encountered, I must say that Andrew's is perhaps the most refined by far, albeit an interpretation which I do not necessarily embellish.

Needless to say, Du Mu is truly great with 七言绝句。 There are quite a few of them which offer third person naratives parallel to this particularly touching scene.

Best,

John

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John Wong said...

As a follow up to my previous blurbs on Du Mu's 7/7, Andrew's attempt is no small feat and complements/admiration well deserved, esp. on metrics. I beg to differ on interpretation, and that, short of Du Mu himself, on which no one has a monopoly, myself being the least. That being said ...

I read this poems like many others as a lovelorn lament on the life of a woman who misses her man and mate who, apparently, has been gone for some time, in a subdued and perhaps also hopelessly accepting manner. Underneath the surface we sense depression and melancholy.

In his Line 3 explanation, Andrew pictured a palace scene in which maids are playing with fireflies on palace grounds as the courtesan reclines and stares at the stars forlornly, missing her lord from afar.

This is actually not an unorthodox interpretation, but the relative opulent yet bored lifestyle implied by maids attending to their mistress as she rests does diminish the sense of loneliness and despair exuding from the poem itself.

It would be much more powerful, say, if the mistress is sitting all by herself in the lanai, chilled by the lack of purpose in her life enhanced all the more by the coolness of the weak candle light, and the exposed patio in an autumn night.

With Andrew's "I" in mind, I therefore ditch the maids, pick an all "first person" interpretation here, and paraphrase (not in poetry form) Du Mu's 7/7 as follows:

1. Pale candle in autumn light chilling the picture panel
2. In satin with a little fan swatting (aimlessly at the) fireflies
3. The patio at night feels as cool as the water
4. Here I sit watching the Herder and the Weaver

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank John Wong for his kind words and for his rather literal paraphrase. Our disagreement on the interpretation of the poem is but slight and has to do with only line 2: (1) "who is after the fireflies", the protagonist herself or her maids? and (2) "killing (swatting) or playing (frolicking)" with them? Although I stick to my original interpretation, I am still grateful to John Wong for jolting me to reconsider my rendition, and I have now decided to revise it to:=

'Tis autumn, cold is the ink-brushed panel in the pale candlelight;
My maids in silk, little fans in hand, frolic with fireflies in flight.
Night falls, these royal palace grounds, chilled like in water be;
O here I lie to eye the Stars----of the Herder, the Weaver unite.

I have effected my revisions on the original post.

John Wong said...

Now that the Autuumn Moon has come and gone, we have another year to explore how the best translation could become even better yet. I return to "chew on words" this time around.

Structurally, this form of poem contains two sections, customarily (though not always) with two lines in each. To keep the discussion simple, I refer here to the first section only, and in fact. focus on one word (character).


Andrew's interpretation, in "phrases":

1 銀燭-秋光-冷畫屏/noun-noun-noun/silvery candle - autumn light - cool painting panel

2 輕羅-小扇-撲-流螢/noun-noun-verb-noun


I find another reading somewhat more compelling:

1 銀燭-秋光-冷-畫屏/noun-noun-verb-noun/silvery candle - autumn light - cools - painting panel

2 輕羅-小扇-撲-流螢/noun-noun-verb-noun


By "cooling" the painting panel (冷-畫屏), we find here a perfect structural match for "forlicking" the fluttering fireflies (撲-流螢), verb for verb so to speak.

As an aside, in English, I prefer "painted panel" or "panel painting" for a closer match in meaning. Again, chewing words are a lot like small talk. We are looking at margins.