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.   



Ray Heaton said...

I think it fascinating how much literary debate has been undertaken about this poem much of it focused on lines 5 and 6 in particular.  Also interesting is the large number of different translations providing alternate readings of the poem.

For example, for lines 5 and 6, Steven Owen (see link below) suggests

Exhilirating the breast, it produces layers of cloud;
splitting eye-pupils, it has homing birds entering.

This translation,  though to me rather lacking in style, fits well with the learned article by Professor Daniel Hsieh,  Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews, Vol. 16, (Dec., 1994).  In this article, Hsieh shows how Du Fu, almost recoiling in shock at failing in the jinshi,  recalled earlier poetical works to help produce a poem with meaning that extends well beyond the commonplace.

Within Hsieh's article, the same two lines are similarly translated as

Heaving breast, growing layered clouds,
Split eye-sockets, enter returning birds.

Hsieh goes on to say, "Du Fu composed these lines with a deliberate purpose; only after we have fitted the character of his language to his feelings and thoughts can we say that we understand his poem."

Hsieh notes that the phrase  盪胸, dang xiong, has a precedent in 張衡, (Zhang Heng's) 南都賦, "Nan du fu" ("Southern Capital Rhapsody"), "The Yu River scours its breast" (淯水盪其胸,Yushui dang qi xiong) when discussing the fifth line, and with reference to the sixth line's, 決眥, that 曹植, Cao Zhi's, 孟冬篇, "Meng dong pian" ("Early Winter") contains the line, "They widen their eyes splitting their sockets," (張目決眥, zhang mu jue zi).

With additional references to hunting and the shooting of arrows, Hsieh explains that Du Fu's choice of words and their effects is deliberate, and the painful, violent image and the associations with hunting and archery are Du Fu's way of alluding to his own sense of injury and distress about his recent failure in achieving success in the examination system..."With the image of the split eye-socket Du Fu is portraying himself as having been shot down, slain. His ideals have been crushed, and his vision of the world literally shattered".

Hsieh suggests Du Fu uses the image of the returning bird to convey his longing to retreat and return, but Hsieh also suggests that in the first line of the third couplet ("Heaving breast, growing layered clouds"), Du Fu is drawing on the traditions of Mount Tai as a generator of life. The image of animation and birth contrasting with the violent and negative tone of the following line.

Andrew rejects this meaning, preferring instead with the fifth line to refer directly to the mountain hidden by clouds and the sixth a simple observation of birds flying home.  This implies that deeper readings of these lines are perhaps misplaced, and it is the simple viewing of the mountain landscape that inspired Du Fu.  Perhaps this echoes 浮雲連海岱, ("Drifting clouds stretch to Mount Tai and the sea") in Du Fu's 登兖州城樓, Climbing Yanzhou Tower, written about the same time as he was also gazing at the peaks of Mount Tai.  In this line, there's no ambiguity, it's a straightforward observation.   Similarly in 又上後園山腳 ("Once again Ascending the Base of the Mountain by My Rear Garden"), writing late in life, Du Fu simply states, 昔我遊山東,憶戲東嶽陽。窮秋立日觀,矯首望八荒, here Du Fu is reminiscing his viewing of the landscape around Mount Tai.  Wouldn't this have been an opportunity to return to the complexity of heaving breasts and splitting eye-sockets, or does this suggest that these are the over reachings of a young poet to be ever since over analysed by scholars? 

Perhaps then, Andrew's translation is closer to Du Fu's intention?

Steven Owen's translation of Du Fu's poetry can be found here; I hope you can access this link...https://www.degruyter.com/viewbooktoc/product/246946

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Ray Heaton for his learned and fair-minded comment. I had all along known of the sources of 盪胸 in line 5 and 决眥 in line 6, and of the divergent interpretations. I did not wish to be embroiled in any debate and, so, simply stated in my notes that the "breast/bosom" in line 5 refers to the mountain's midriff and not the poet's, and the "eyes" in line 6 are just set and not split.

盪胸决眥 is obviously very strong language and Du Fu might have use it for the purpose of releasing his frustration. But the entire poem is full of strong language, and the poem is more about his ambition and determination to succeed in future examinations. So, Du Fu might have just used 盪胸 as "cleansed...bosom" and 決眥 as "set eyes" in ordinary usage, as I have suggested, which is language strong enough without having to resort to Daniel Hsieh's "heaving breast" and "split eye-sockets".

Perhaps, as suggested by Ray Heaton, "these are the over reaching of a young poet (Du Fu) to be, ever since, over analyzed by scholars". And I hope I am not one of them.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

While responding Ray Heaton, I noticed I had used a wrong word in line 7. The word 臨 is wrong. It should be 凌. The line should read: 會當凌絕頂. I have amended the poem and the relevant note. I am sorry for this.