02 May 2017

王梵志 Wang Fanzhi: 無題/我有一方便 Untitled/Of prescription, I have a ready piece

As there appears to be a lot of interest in the poems of Wang Fanzhi on this blog, I am posting here one more quatrain by this lay Buddhist.  Here we go:-

Wang Fanzhi (592?-670?): Untitled/Of prescription, I have a ready piece

1    Of prescription, I have a ready piece,
2    It’s worth, a hundred rolls of fleece----
3    In fights, lie low as ever one should;
4    Till death, see no county-authorities.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa )    譯者::黃宏發
27 December 2016 (revised 4.1.2017; 5.1.17; 10.1.17)
Translated from the original

王梵志: 無題/我有一方便

1    我有一方便
2    價值百疋練
3    相打長伏弱
4    至死不入縣

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition of the 5-character quatrain is in tetrameter (4 beats or feet.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original. 
*Line 1:  一方便 is rendered as “Of prescription … a ready piece” (a ready piece of prescription) after considering “remedy”.
*Line 2:  百疋 is rendered as “a hundred rolls” after considering “bolts” and “lengths”.  (which is a plain white  “silk” or “cloth” fabric) is loosely rendered as “fleece” (which is woolen) for the rhyme.  This I consider acceptable as the point here is the “worth” which is clearly made in “a hundred rolls” which is a lot for the poor, whatever the material.
*Line 3:  相打 is rendered as “In fights” ( “each other” is not translated as it takes at least 2 to fight) after considering “quarrels” and “conflicts”.  伏弱 is rendered as “lie low” after considering “stay weak” and “stay low”.  (long or always) is rendered as “as ever one should” after considering “always”.

*Line 4:  I had considered rendering 至死 as “In life (till death = during life)” but have decided to stick to the literal “Till death”.  (county) refers to the county government, its physical office and its officials, or “the authorities”, and not literally the county.  Hence, (not)(enter)(county) does not mean “not to enter the county” but means “have nothing to do with the county authorities”, i.e. “not to deal with nor to be dealt with by the county authorities”.  I had originally considered rendering as “county police”, but found it inadequate.  I then considered “county office” and “county authorities” and found both adequate, but have chosen “county authorities” which is superior in sense despite its extra, supernumerary beat in the word “authorities”.  For (not)(enter), I had considered “deal not with”, “see not”, “meet not”, “go not to”, “stay away from”, “steer clear of” and have decided for “see no” over “meet no”.  The line, therefore, now reads: “Till death, see no county-authorities” which completes the “piece(1), fleece(2), and -ties(4)” rhyme.  I suggest reading “-ties” unstressed (to keep to a 4-beat line) and have, therefore, hyphenated “county-authorities” to make it easier to be read as 2 dactyls, thus: DUM-da-da-DUM-da-da. 

01 April 2017

羅隱 Luo Yin: 自遣 To Myself (My Way)

Today, I am posting a poem by the late Tang dynasty poet Luo Yin.  Read whatever pleases you into the poem, but do also read into it my interpretation of it (in this my English rendition) which is a far cry from being the song of a drunk or an unsuccessful imperial office seeker.

Please enjoy it!  Here we go:-

Luo Yin (833-910): To Myself (My Way)

1   When I gain, aloud I sing, when lose, I just let go----
2   Woeful and regretful: the way to unending sorrow. 
3   (Today, this wine of mine, drink and be drunk today;)
     Today while the wine is mine, drink and be drunk today; (revised 18.4.17)
4   Tomorrow. if worries come, worry not till tomorrow.                                                                     
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
18th January 2017 (revised 24.1.17; 31.3.17; 18.4.17)
Translated from the original - 羅隱: 自遣

1   得即高歌失即休
2   多愁多恨亦悠悠
3   今朝有酒今朝醉
4   明日愁來明日愁


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain.  This English rendition of the quatrain is in heptameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 7-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Title:  自遣 means “to release/console myself” and is probably best translated simply as “To Myself” which I have adopted.  I had originally entitled it “My Way” because the poem gives a very clear message that one should “follow the way of nature” 順其自然 which is the way of the poet who is a Daoist 道家.  I have, therefore, added “My Way” as an alternative title.

*Line 1:  For 得失, after considering “high” and “low”, I have decided for the literal “gain” and “lose”.  高歌 is translated also literally as “aloud I sing”. I have taken the word (stop, quit, etc.) to be the key to understanding the line and the poem.  It certainly does not mean “sullen” (found in a Wiki translation), nor does it mean “stop/quit in the sense of giving up”.  In my view, the only correct interpretation is 罷休 (let the matter drop) and it is, therefore, rendered as “just let go”.

*Line 2:  The word can mean either “worry” or “woe/sorrow”.  In this line, I have taken it to mean “woe/sorrow” (in contrast to “worry” in line 4) and it is rendered as “Woe…”.  The word can mean either “hatred” or “regret”.  Since the poem has nothing to do with hatred, it is rendered as “regret…”.  The word (many) is rendered as “full” or rather, the suffix “-ful”, hence, 多愁多恨 rendered as “Woeful and regretful”.  I suggest reading “and” stressed to make the first half of the line 3 beats.  Of the various meanings of 悠悠 I have chosen “long lasting, never ending” and have rendered it as “unending”.  The word (also) is taken to mean 也正是 (also, precisely, is); and the whole line can be paraphrased as “To be full of woe and regret is precisely what makes sorrow unending” and rendered as “Woeful and regretful: the way to unending sorrow” with the word “way” added to bring out the message that “woeful and regretful” is not the poet’s “way”, his “way” being what transpires in lines 1, 3 and 4.

*Line 3:    (morning) refers to (day), hence, 今朝 is translated as “Today”.  有酒 (have, wine) means “there is wine” or “I have wine” and is rendered as “while the wine is mine” (to mean "when there is wine at my disposal") after considering “this wine of mine", "this wine is mine", "while there is wine", "while there’s still wine”, “while I have wine”, and "while I still have wine". (This sentence revised 18.4.17.)  The word (drunk) in Chinese includes 飲酒 (to drink, alcoholic beverage) and is best rendered as “drink and be drunk”.

*Line 4:  I have taken the here to refer to “worry” in contrast to “woe/sorrow” in line 2.  明日愁來 is, therefore, rendered as “Tomorrow, if worries come” after considering “Tomorrow, come worries” and “Tomorrow, when worries come”.  For the 明日愁 ending the line, I had originally penned “are worries for tomorrow”, but have now decided for “worry not till tomorrow”.

01 March 2017

王維 Wang Wei: 送別 (1-下馬飲君酒) Farewell (1- Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell)

The famed Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei had written 2 poems with the same title "Farewell" 送別.  I had posted one in November 2013 on this blog entitled (with the first line included): "Farewell (Here in the hills, I bade you farewell)". 

Early last month (February 2017), a retired entomologist Akey Hung wrote in the comments section of my said post (linked above).  He gave me a rendition of the other Wang Wei "Farewell" poem by the renowned translator of Chinese poetry Burton Watson and asked me for my rendition.  This I have now done which I have entitled: "Farewell (Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell)".

I am grateful to Akey Hung without whose encouragement I may never attempt this other "Farewell" poem.  I am also grateful to Burton Watson for his rendition which, in my view, is superior to Witter Bynner's rendition, and from which I have borrowed a few ideas: my "nothing is going my way" is inspired by his "nothing goes right", and my "Go then", though based on my interpretation of 但去 as 去吧, represents my full agreement with his "Go then".

Although I have been unable to achieve perfect rhyme, I hope my "-ing" rhyme of "heading, retiring, unending" will suffice.  Here goes my rendition:-

Wang Wei: Farewell (1- Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell)

1   Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell;
2   I asked, “My friend, where are you heading?”
3   “Oh, nothing is working my way,” you said,        
4   “So be back to the crags of Nanshan, retiring.”
5   “Go then!  Of the world, you’ll ask no more!
6   Ah, days of endless white clouds, unending!”
(Originally posted 1st March 2017)

1   Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell.
2   I asked, "My friend, where are you heading?"
3   You said, "Oh, nothing is working my way,
4   So be back to the crags of Nanshan, retiring."
5   "Go then!  You'll ask of the world no more!
6   Ah, days of endless white clouds, unending!"
(Revised 24th April 2017) 

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黃宏發
5th February 2017 (revised 9.2.17; 11.2.17; 24.4.17)
Translated from the original – 王維: 送別 (1-下馬飲君酒)

1   下馬飲君酒
2   問君何所之
3   君言不得意
4   歸卧南山陲
5   但去莫復問
6   白雲無盡時


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character old style verse 古詩 in 6 lines which I will term “sestet” 六行詩.  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXAXA as in the original.

*Title:  Wang Wei has another poem of the same title, the other being a quatrain, while this, a sestet.

*Line 1:  飲君酒 (drink, your, wine) does not mean “drink your/someone’s wine” but “toasting”, i.e. asking you/someone or all present to drink wine in honour of somebody or something.  (Here, the sound of the word “yin” should be uttered in the “falling tone” 去聲 and pronounced as in .)  I have, therefore, rendered it as “we drank to bid you farewell” with (a) “wine” omitted (which is implied in “drank to bid”), and (b) “to bid … farewell” added (which repeats the title and is a useful reminder that the occasion is “farewell drinks”).

*Line 2:  is translated literally as “I asked”, a simple enquiry, in contrast to the impregnated “ask of the world” in line 5.  I have used “My friend” to translate (you or Sir).  For , I have decided for “heading” (after considering “going” and “tiding”) for being more literal.

*Line 3:  The word is translated literally as “said” after considering “replied”, “answered” and, particularly, “sighed”, indicative of the friend’s dissatisfaction with his lot, which, I hope, is adequately covered by my rendering 不得意 (not, in accord with, wish) as “nothing is working my way” and the adding of “Oh” to begin the reply and “So” to begin the next line.  I suggest reading the word “my” stressed, thus: “my way” read as DUM da.

*Line 4:  歸卧 (return, sleep) is rendered as “be back to … retiring”, and 南山陲 (south, mountain, frontier or border or remote part) is not translated literally as “the edge/side of Nanshan” but rendered as “the crags of Nanshan”, for the “back-crags” assonance, with “crags (rocks) to represent the remoteness.  I have not translated南山 “Nanshan” as ”Southern or South Mountain” as the term refers to the mountain “Zhongnanshan” 終南山 and has nothing to do with its being in the far South of the country, which it is not.

*Lines 5 and 6:  The question is: whether (A) the poet or (B) the friend be taken as the speaker of these last 2 lines?  In other words, should the 3 sets of couplets be: (A) poet sets the scene and asks--friend replies--poet concludes, or (B) poet sets the scene and asks--friend replies--friend concludes”?  Burton Watson has chosen (A) the poet: “Go then----I’ll ask no more----// there is no end to white clouds there” while Witter Bynner prefers (B) the friend: “So give me leave and ask me no questions// White clouds pass there without end”.  Although both are plausible, I find (A) much more natural: a 4-line reply and conclusion from the friend out of a 6-line poem seems a disproportionately long monologue.  I have, therefore, decided to take the poet to be the speaker of lines 5 and 6.

*Line 5:  The key question to ask in the line 但去莫復問 (only, go, not = don’t or won’t, again, ask) is the word “ask”.  On the face of it, the line can only mean (A) paraphrasing Watson, “You go then, I will ask no further” (a not too caring poet), or (B) paraphrasing and adapting Bynner, “Allow me to go, ask me no (further) questions” (an egocentric and rude friend).  Both take “ask” as “enquire’, as simply the asking of the wheretos and, perhaps, also the whys and wherefores of the retiring friend.  Contrary to them, I suggest hidden behind the word “ask” is the asking about, hence, the seeking of worldly matters 世事, i.e. success, advancement, riches, status, etc.  This friend who is about to leave to become a hermit will and should begin to不問世事 “not to ask in pursuit of worldly matters”, 不復問 … “ask in pursuit … no more”, and this is what 莫復問 in the line means.   I have, therefore, rendered the line as “Go then!  You'll ask of the world no more!”  I am gratefully to Burton Watson for having borrowed from him his translation of 但去 as “Go then!”

*Line 6:  I have used “days” to render  (time).  As 無盡 (no end) can be understood to describe both (time = days) and 白雲 (white clouds), I have used “endless” for “white clouds” and “unending” for “days”.  I had originally penned “Ah, halcyon days of white clouds, unending” but have now rejected “halcyon” for carrying allusions which may be misleading and for being too Western to be used in a Chinese poem.


01 February 2017

鄭燮 (鄭板橋) Zheng Xie (Zheng Banqiao): 詠雪 On Snowflakes

Last month, I posted here my first ever octet (or 8-line verse) rendition, that of Du Fu's "Beholding the Mountain" 望嶽, but was disappointed to find there had only been about 100 viewers.  Today, I am reverting to quatrains and am posting one by a Qing 清 dynasty poet/painter 鄭燮 Zheng Xie, more popularly known as 鄭板橋 Zheng Banqiao.

This quatrain is not of the traditional type.  All 4 lines rhyme and the language sounds colloquial. Some claim this may be the beginning of modern colloquial verse in Chinese which I doubt as the language used by his Tang dynasty predecessor Wang Fanzhi is even more colloquial.

This poem "On Snowflakes" is a fun poem which plays on numbers (from 1 to 10, then to 10,000, delightfully written and, I hope, equally delightfully rendered into English.  The beauty of it lies in snowflakes transforming into plum-flowers, particularly beautiful in this Chinese Lunar New Year season of plum flowers and snow.

I hope you will enjoy this.  Here we go:-

Zheng Xie (Zheng Banqiao) (1693-1765): On Snowflakes

1   One, and two flakes, snowflakes three and four;
2   Five six, sev’n eight, nine flakes, ten and more;
3   A thousand, ten thousand, myriad flakes galore,
4   Glide into plum-flow’rs, snowflakes seen no more.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
19th January 2017 (revised 20.1.17)
Translated from the original - 鄭燮 (鄭板橋): 詠雪

1   一片兩片三四片
2   五六七八九十片
3   千片萬片無數片
4   飛入梅花都不見


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain but not of the traditional kind with (a) the word (piece or flake) appearing 7 times, (b) the use of the same word for rhyme in 3 lines, and (c) all 4 lines have the same end rhyme in violation of the rule that line 3 should never rhyme, and all in addition to the language being colloquial.  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 beats or feet) while the original is in 7-syllable lines.  My rhyme scheme follows the original’s unorthodox AAAA.

*Title:  is literally “to sing” or “to versify” or, as the product, “a verse” or “an ode”.  I have left it out as being superfluous.  is literally “snow”.  As the poem is not about “snow”, but about flakes of snow, I have decided to entitle it “On Snowflakes” or just “Snowflakes” without seriously suggesting to change the original name to 詠雪花 or just 雪花.

*Line 1:  In this line, I have reduced the number of times or flakes appear from 3 to 2.  One of these two appear in the word “snowflakes” which brings in the theme early.

*Line 2:  The word “seven” is shortened to “sev’n” so as to make “sev’n eight” disyllabic with “sev’n” read stressed.

*Line 3:  I suggest reading “A thousand” and “ten thousand” as amphibrachs (da-DUM-da). 

*Line 4:  (fly) is rendered as “Glide” which means to fly gracefully downwards. To translate都不見 (all, not, see), I had originally penned “to remain in sight no more” which is faithful, if not entirely literal, but have found it wanting as it makes no sense at all.  The snow of the snowflakes is still in sight, not flying but staying on the plum-trees’ branches and twigs.  I then considered adding to this last half-line the word “snow” (not in the original) which makes it possible for me to say to the effect “snow not seen as snow”.  After considering “not seen as snow at all” and “seen as snow no more”, I have decided for “snowflakes seen no more” which is a rather literal translation of 都不見 but with “snowflakes” added.  The line now reads: “Glide into plum-flow’rs, snowflakes seen no more”.  Snow is still in sight, not seen as snowflakes but as plum-flowers: a beautiful picture of the transformation of snowflakes into plum-flowers. 

03 January 2017

杜甫 Du Fu: 望嶽 Beholding the Mountain (Mount Dai or Taishan)

Happy New Year 2017!!!

You may recall that I first began this blog  in January 2008 after half a year's  search on how to best translate classical Chinese poems into English.  I have yet to come to a final conclusion  on the matter, but have decided  from the very beginning to work  on  the very short ones, particularly verses of 4 lines of equal line-length which I will term "quatrains" 四行詩  which  includes the new style (very stringently) regulated verse 近體詩, the 4-lined "jueju" 絕句, and equivalent less regulated  old style poem  古詩.  I had, at times,  ventured into  the easier-going long and short lined verses 長短句 i.e. "ci"  詞, and song lyrics.  Hence, from the very beginning, I had abandoned translating 8-lined poems including  the new style (extremely stringent because of the parallelism requirement for lines 3 and 4, and 5 and 6) regulated verse  近體詩 called "lushi" 律詩 with 8 lines, and less regulated 8-lined old style poems 古詩  like this Du Fu  poem on Mount Taishan.

The first drafts of this English rendition  were read by many of my friends 9 years ago.  I  thank them for their views, comment and encouraging words.  I am glad I am now able to post/publish it after having convinced myself that it is well nigh impossi ble to stick to the original rhyme scheme of a single rhyme.  Like what I have done for my "ci" (long short lines) translations (please see Li Yu 李煜 for example), I have settled  for less than a single  rhyme with, I hope, success.

Here  we go:-

Du Fu (712770):  Beholding the Mountain (Mount Dai or Taishan)

1  O majestic Mount Taishan, how shall I speak of you?
2  A landmark of green unfolding beyond all Qi and Lu.
3  Endowed, by the Creator, with heavenly beauty true;
4  Your shaded North severed from Southsides sunny milieu.

5  Cleansed in clusters of clouds, your bosom not in sight;
6  I set my eyes to follow the homing birds in flight.
7  One day for sure will I, ascend your utmost height,
8  To see the other summits dwarfed by your towering might.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)         譯者:  黄宏發
21 May 2007 (revised 11.6.07; 31.7.07; 31.10.16; 30.11.16; 21.12.16)
Translated from the original - 杜甫: 望嶽

1  岱宗夫如何     
2  齊魯青未了
3  造化鍾神秀
4  陰陽割昏曉    

5  盪胸生曾雲  
6  決眥入歸鳥
7  會當凌絕項  
8  一覽衆山小


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character old style verse 五言古詩 (or 五古) which just happens to be in 8 lines.  Although, technically, it is not a new style 近體 5-character regulated verse 五言律詩 (or 五律) which must be in 8 lines and which is subject to more stringent rules, I will take it as if they were the same and refer to all 8-line verses with the same number of characters simply as octets (8-line verses八行詩) in my English renditions.  While the original is in 5-character (= 5-syllable) lines, this English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet)  I have failed to emulate the rhyme scheme of the original which is XAXA XAXA and have adopted AAAA BBBB as my rhyme scheme.

*Title and line 1:   (mountain) refers to 五嶽 the 5 sacred mountains in the East, South, West, North, and Middle of China, respectively named 泰山 Taishan, 衡山 Hengshan, 華山 Huashan, 恒山 Hengshan, and 嵩山 Songshan.   Dai is another name for Taishan; and of these 5 mountains, Taishan ranks the highest, hence, 岱宗 means Dai the greatest, which I have translated as majestic Mount Taishan.  This makes the line readily comprehensible.   is an exclamation which is rendered as O.

*Line 2:  齊魯 Qi and Lu are the old names of respectively the northern and southern parts of the present-day Shantung 山東 Province.  未了 “not ending in is rendered as unfolding beyond after considering extending, stretching, spreading, covering, straddling and following my making clear Dai is a mountain in line 1, I have here in line 2 added landmark rather than landscape to make sure that 青 “green refers not just to green but to the green mountain.  I had considered but rejected the verdant landmark formulation as landmark of green unfolding beyond best translates 青未了.

*Line 3:  造物 is translated literally as the Creator, and rendered as Endowed.  It is suggested that Endowed, by the creator should be read with by also stressed to make 3 beats in the first half of the line.  I had considered but rejected rendering it as Endowed by the Lord Creator which would wrongly make it look too Christian.  For the second half, 神秀 is rendered as heavenly beauty true rather than divine beauty true for the same reasons.  The word true is added to make the you rhyme.

*Line 4:   and here refer to 山陰 and 山陽 the North (hence shaded) and South (hence sunny) sides respectively of the mountain range.   and which should mean dusk and dawn respectively are understood as metaphors for shaded and sunny and are rendered as such.   is translated literally as severed.

*Line 5:   is the same word as 層 “layers and /層雲 is rendered as clusters of clouds.   is rendered as cleansed.  I had considered bathed but have decided for cleansed for the alliteration of the k sound.   can be rendered as chest or breast, but I do not take 蕩胸 to mean the poets chest being bathed, as he is simply beholding the mountain and not up in the mountain.   is, therefore, rendered as bosom to mean the mountains midriff covered by or bathed/cleansed in clusters of clouds.  I have added the logical picture of not in sight to make an -ight rhyme for the second stanza.  I have dropped translating which is implied in the word in in in clusters of clouds.

*Line 6:  决眥 is rendered as I set my eyes after considering strain, focus, aim,  turn.   (enter) is rendered as to follow after considering capture, take in, observe, and 歸鳥 rendered as the homing birds, with in flight (which is implied in returning) added for the -ight rhyme.

*Line 7:  I had originally penned Endeavour and strive shall I for 會當 which, taken together, means ought to but, separately, means ought to and means surely will/can.  I have, therefore, decided for One day for sure will I".  凌   is rendered as ascend after considering clamber", "scale and reach.  I had considered dazzling for to parallel towering in line 8, but have decided for the literal utmost.   is rendered as height for the rhyme.

*Line 8:  一覽衆山 is rendered as To see the other summits, and rendered as dwarfed with by your towering might added for the rhyme and to bring the poem to a forceful end.