Today I am posting yet another of Wang Fanzhi's untitled 5-character quatrains on the subject of death. On the face of it, the poem is on the fear of dying, and even my rendition lends support to this reading of fear of death: fear of dropping dead all of a sudden, fear of being the next to die. But is this a correct reading?
In my view, the poem should be read as a reminder of the impermanence of life and inevitability of death, and that these truths are to be accepted and lived with and not feared. I have, therefore, attempted to build in an ambiguity in line 4. I have used the word "afraid" rather than "scared", "frightened" or "fearful" to tone down the "fear" to the extent that it can be read as "unhappiness" much like toning 恐畏 from 恐懼 down to 恐怕, and have narrowed down that it is the death next in turn that the poet is unhappy, uneasy about. Acceptance, with reluctance?
I hope you will enjoy this simple poem:-
Wang Fanzhi (592?-670?): Untitled/A man drops dead before me
1 A man drops dead before me;
2 Like on fire my bowels burn.
3 Not ‘cos I feel for that man,
4 But afraid me be next in turn.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黄宏發
23rd November 2016 (revised 24.11.16; 30.11.16)
Translated from the original - 王梵志: 無題/我見那漢死
*Form, Metre and Rhyme: The original is a 5-character quatrain in language which is less than elegant. This English rendition is in trimester (3 beats or feet) which shortens the original 5-character lines. The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.
*Line 1: 我見 (I see) is rendered as “before me” and 死 (dies, dying, dead) rendered as “drops dead” so as to make the death more abrupt and closer to the poet. 那漢 (that man) is rendered as “A man” here , which is a normal opening but which subtly brings out the message of the poem (according to my interpretation) that this man is every man.
*Line 2: 肚 is rendered as “bowels” and 裏 (in/the inside) is omitted as its meaning is included in “bowels”. 熱如火 is rendered as “Like on fire … burn”. The juxtaposition of “bowels” and “burn” evokes the ailment called “heartburn”.
*Line 3: For 不是, I had originally penned “Not that” but have decided for “Not ‘cos (because)”. 惜 is rendered as “I feel for” after considering ”pity, love, care about”. 那漢 is translated literally as “that man”.