Today, I am posting my rendition of Liu Changqing's beautiful little poem "Zither Played in Tune". You may wish to note that my rendition approximates the original in a number of ways:-
(a) 5 beats per line to render the 5-character lines of the original;
(b) end rhymes of "Pines" and "lines" to emulate the original's 寒 and 彈 in lines 2 and 4;
(c) a caesura between the 2-beat and 3-beat half lines to represent the pause between the 2nd and 3rd characters in the original;
(d) the order of words/phrases follow, by and large, the order of the characters/phrases of the original; and
(e) the use of onomatopoeia (ling'ring-o-ling'ring) to translate onomatopoeia (泠汵) in the original.
Here we go:-
Liu Changqing (714-790): (Hearing the) Zither Played in Tune
1 Ling'r-o-ling'ring, the seven-string zither chimes;
2 Silent, I hear: the bleak notes of Windswept Pines.
3 This tune of old, although myself I love, yet
4 Folks of the day, now rarely play these lines.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黄宏發
16th May 2017 (revised 18.5.17; 19.5.17; 22.5.17; 23.5.17; 25.5.17)
Translated from the original - 劉長卿: (聽)彈琴
*Form, Metre and Rhyme: The original is a 5-character quatrain. This English rendition is in pentameter (5 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-syllable lines. The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.
*Line 1: 泠泠 (not 冷冷 meaning “cold”) is onomatopoeic of the sound of running creek water transferred to imitate the sound of the zither. It is pronounced “ling-ling” in both Putonghua and Cantonese, and is rendered here, also in onomatopoeia, as “ling'ring-o-ling'ring" (after having first penned it as "tingling-o-tingling" over “tinkling-o-tinkling”) for being closer to the "ling" sound and devoid of merry-making connotations. 七弦 (seven, string) refers to the 七弦琴, a musical instrument with 7 strings called the ‘qin’ 琴 similar to the zither, and is rendered as “the seven-string zither”. Although 上 when pronounced in the “falling tone” 去聲(二十三漾韻) to mean “on top of” (e.g. 山上 “on the hill” and 書上 “in the book”) can be translated into English as the preposition “on” or “in” and the line, hence, rendered as “On/In the tinkling of the seven-string zither”, I have adopted a much more active interpretation of the word 上 and pronounce it in the “rising tone” 上聲(二十二養韻) to mean “to ascend” or related verbs (which verb depends on the context, e.g. 上山 “go up a hill”, 上書 “submit a letter”, 上火車 “board a train”, 上塲 “come/go on stage”, or just 上 “go fight”). 上 is, therefore, rendered as “chimes”, after considering “arises”, “rises”, “rising”, “chiming”, “in play”, “in tune” and “played in tune”.
*Line 2: 靜聽 (silent, hear) is rendered as “Silent, I hear” to mean “I keep silent to hear” which is what the original says. 松風 (pine, wind) refers to the title of the music score 風入松 (wind, enter, pine) and is rendered capitalized as “Windswept Pines” after considering “Wind Through Pines” and “Wind Into Pines”. 寒 (cold) describes the nature of the tune and is, therefore, rendered as “the bleak notes of” with “notes” added to make clear the music is cold and bleak, and not the wind, nor the pines.
*Line 3: 古調 (old, tune) is understood in the singular as the one tune referred to in line 2 and is rendered “this tune of old”. 雖自愛 (although, self, love) is rendered as “although myself I love”. I have added “yet” to end the line to provide an enjambment to lead to line 4.
*Line 4: I had originally penned line 4 as “Yet few folks still play it, these fickle modern times” which I truly love but which I have to discard for 2 reasons. First, the addition of the word “fickle”, which is not in the original, has added too much into the poet’s plain statement of 今 “nowadays”. Second, and more important, 多 (many) in 今人多不彈 should be properly understood as “people often” 人多, not as “many people” 多人, hence, “nowadays, people often don’t play it” and not “nowadays, many people don’t play it”. If conversely formulated as 少 (few) as if the line were written as 如今人少彈, it should be properly understood as “people rarely” 人少, not “few people” 少人, hence, “nowadays, people rarely play it” and not “nowadays, few people play it”. The line should, therefore, be properly translated as “Folks of the day, not often play these lines” or, better, “Folks of the day, now rarely play these lines” which I have decided for..