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!”

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黃宏發
5th February 2017 (revised 9.2.17; 11.2.17)
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 line and “So” to begin the next.  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 the poet (A): “Go then----I’ll ask no more----// there is no end to white clouds there” while Witter Bynner prefers the friend (B): “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 which goes 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 be 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!  Of the world, you’ll ask 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.



Unknown said...

Dear Andrew,
As always your translation is excellent.
I like this poem so much that I use 何所之as my pen-name and named my house 南山客棧. Whenever I read this poem, I have a feeling that I am talking to myself. So I begin to wonder if this was how Wang Wei felt when he wrote this poem. We know that his life had ups and downs. So my “wild guess” is that he was faring badly that he wanted to retire to the downhill of Nanshan. So he wrote this poem for himself and there was no one to bid farewell to.
Recently I found that my "wild theory" could be collaborated by the excellent research paper on this poem by Professor Akira Matsubara of Waseda University:
松原 朗
My “wild theory” has been confirmed by Professor Matsubara.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Akey, Thank you for your kind words of encouragement. Congratulations to you for finding your "wild theory" confirmed by Akira Matsubara although, in my view, it doesn't matter much as a great poem is great whether it was written about oneself or just for oneself.
Best wishes, Andrew Wong.