09 February 2018

劉禹錫 Liu Yuxi: 石頭城/金陵五題 其一 The Stone City /Five Titles on Jinling #1

Today, I am posting a poem on the "Stone City" (present day Nanjing, then called Jinling 金陵) by the great middle Tang dynasty poet Liu Yuxi 劉禹鍚 which I translated last February.  I do hope you will enjoy my rendition:-

Liu Yuxi: The Stone City/Five Titles on Jinling #1

1   Surrounded by hills, this old capital, its environs still in place---   
2   Flood-tides still storm the empty city, and ebb, and quiet befalls.
3   East of the waters of Qinhuai River, that same old ancient moon,
4   Deep in the night, still climbs across the jagged battlement walls.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黃宏發
3rd February 2017
Translated from the original – 劉禹錫: 石頭城/金陵五題 其一

1   山圍故國周遭在
2   潮打空城寂寞回
3   淮水東邊舊時月
4   夜深還過女牆來


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

*Title:  石頭城 (stone, head, city) is the other name for present-day Nanjing 南京 and is used by the poet to refer to Jinling 金陵 which was the capital city of 6 dynasties before the Tang 唐 dynasty (618-907), viz. (1) Wu 吴    or Eastern Wu 東吳 (222-280) in the late Han 漢 period of the Three Kingdoms 三國, (2) Eastern Jin 東晉 (317-420), and the Southern Dynasties of (3)  Song (420-479), (4) Qi (479-502), (5) Liang (502-557) and (6) Chen (557-589). 
*Line 1:  (state or nation or country) is rendered as “capital” as it is meant to refer not to the state but its capital city.  周遭 (surroundings) is translated literally as “environs”, and (present or exist or intact) is rendered as “in place”.  The word “still”, which is implied in all 4 lines, is added here to make abundantly clear the sense of the poem: the city, its environs, the flood-tides, the Qinhuai River, the moon, the battlements are still the same----but the past is gone forever.

*Line 2:  As the city is inland, on the south bank of the Yangzi River and quite a distance from its estuary, (tide) does not refer to tides that occur in very large bodies of water such as seas and large lakes, but to waves of seasonal flood waters of the Yangzi River, and is rendered as “Flood-tides”.   (hit or beat or pound) is rendered as “storm” and (return) rendered as “ebb”.  I have, as explained in line 1, added the word “still” to qualify “storm … and ebb”.  寂寞 in this context should be taken to mean “calm” or “tranquility” and not “lonely” or “lonesome”, and is rendered as “and quiet befalls” which, also, creates a rhyme for “walls” in line 4.

*Line 3:  淮水 (Huai, water) refers to the “Qinhuai River” and is rendered as such, and 東邊 (east, side) rendered as “East of the waters of” with “waters” added to reflect the presence of the word in the original.   舊時月 is rendered literally as “that same old ancient moon” with “ancient” added to make this second half of the line a perfect iambic trimeter.

*Line 4:  女牆 (woman, wall) means “battlement” (and has nothing to do with “woman”) which is a wall with alternating crenels (empty or open parts) and merlons (solid or sheltered parts) on the top for defence or decoration purposes.  I have rendered it as “the jagged battlement walls” with “jagged” added to somehow explain the shape.



Ray Heaton said...

Hi Andrew,

I thought you may be interested in an interpretation of this poem I made some time ago. Not a true translation by anymeans, but still an attempt to reveal the meaning.

Hilltopped, the old city remains.

Tide washed.

Now waters ebb silently.

Of old, the moon rise

on Eastern shores, 

Still crests the empty walls.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Walter Lo has recently commented on my rendition by email. His views are copied below by his kind permission:-

I was reading your translation of 石頭城... There is a minor observation, from my perspective, though I am not sure whether you have the same feeling. And it is that I have some reservation over the use of the words “environs” and “befalls” because of the way I perceive their connotations. I am not sure if my perception in this respect is only personal to me or generally so. I am therefore only sharing my perception for your consideration, whether or not it is justified I can’t say ... The word “environs” seems to me to be usually used in write-ups for architectural planning, tourist brochures and archaeological projects. So it has a technical “ring” to it, and therefore I feel it is not so good a word to use in poetry. As for “befalls,” from my understanding, it is usually used to refer to negative or not-so-good things happening, although it might not necessarily be so. Nonetheless, because of my perception, I feel the connotation makes it not a good word to describe the quiet that returns after the tidal waves have ebbed. However, I am afraid I can’t think of any alternative words to suggest.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

To Walter Lo's comments, I have replied as follows:-

Dear Walter, Thank you for sharing your 2 observations on my line 2. (1) On the word "environs", it is more than just technical, architectural, archaeological. It simply means, according to the Shorter Oxford: "the outskirts, the surrounding districts, of a town 1665 (e.g.) 'London and its Environs' Evelyn", and according to the Webster's Encyclopedic Unabridged: "the surrounding parts or districts as of a city ... 1655-65". It is Modern English, but the word is certainly not too new. (2) On the word "befalls" which is here used as an intransitive verb, I have used it to simply mean neutrally "to pertain ... to happen" (Shorter Oxford), and "to happen or occur ... syn. ... ensue, betide" (Webster's). The negative connotations of ill fate, associated with "befalls", have strengthened, rather than weakened, the line which depicts the desolate state the once glorious city is now in.

Ray Heaton said...

I have a different opinion as to why the choice of the word "environs" is a good one, and that is simply to do with the sibilance established throughout the translation through the repetion of the "s" and occasional soft "c" sounds; the sibilance has three effects for me: it helps tie the whole translation together, it makes me think of the soft sounds of the receding waters as they ebb away,  indeed thirdly the sound softens the whole poem making the city sound deserted of people.

Walter Lo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.