08 April 2018

曹鄴 Cao Ye: 官倉鼠 Rats in Government Granaries

What I am posting today is a 7-character quatrain by Cao Ye of late Tang when theTang dynasty was on the decline.  It is a light verse on a serious subject---corruption---using "rats" as the analogy.  

Line 1 says: like rats in granaries, government officials are unduly rich, unduly fat.  Line 2 says: their corruption, including (more than just embezzlement) extortion, perversion of justice, etc. is open, blatant.  Line 3 says: as a result, army provisions cut and the people go hungry.  Line 4, finally, asks the rhetorical question: who has made or allowed you rats/officials to feast like that, crying out against corruption and hinting at pervasive corruption whether systemic or condoned.  I hope my "by/ Whose grace..." has done full justice to the ambiguity in the poet's 遣.

Please enjoy this as a sequel to   Li Shen's   2 "Pity the Peasants" poems posted in  my last post.

Cao Ye (816?-875?): Rats in Government Granaries

1   Rats in government gran'ries are fat like cats, I say;
2   Ev’n if one opens the door, they just won’t go away.
3   Soldiers’ supplies depleted, folks famished, why! O by            
4   Whose grace you feed and fete each ev’ry single day?     

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
16th January 2017 (revised 22.1.17)
Translated from the original - 曹鄴: 官倉鼠

1   官倉老鼠大如斗
2   見人開門亦不走     
3   健兒無糧百姓饑
4   遣朝朝入君口


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

*Title and Line 1:  is rendered as “government” after considering “official” and “imperial”, and as “granaries” after considering “depots” and “storage”.  in line 1 is a unit of dry measure for grains and, thus, the vessel used in measuring the volume.  It is either a bucket with a handle in the middle or a dipper (scoop) with a handle by the side or at the end.  Although I have been unable to determine the actual size, it cannot be too big as the vessel is used for speedy measurement probably with one arm.  It is not huge but, certainly, bigger than a rat.  In any case, I have in my rendition, changed the 大如斗 “as big as a bucket/dipper” simile to a “fat like cats” simile which is more vivid and which rings with the “rats, fat, cats” rhyme.  I have now checked the 漢語大詞典 (pp. 8-13) and learned that in the Tang dynasty, one “dou” is equivalent to about 2 litres, the size of a fat cat.  The current equivalent (which began from the Ming dynasty) is 10 litres.

*Line 2:  見人 (see, man) is taken to mean 有人 (there is, man) and is rendered as “…if one”.  開門(open, door) is rendered literally as “opens the door”.  亦不 (even so , won’t) is rendered as “Ev’n … just won’t”.  For the entire half line 亦不走, I had originally toyed with the idea of reinforcing “won’t go” by adding “but stay” in the place of “away” as 不走 (won’t go) means the same as 要留 (want to stay), but considering the poet has chosen 不走 over 要留, I have decided to render it literally as “they just won’t go away”.

*Line 3:  健兒 (athletes, the athletic) refers to “Soldiers’” and is rendered as such after considering “The braves’”.  健兒糧盡 is rendered as “Soldiers’ supplies depleted” after considering “provisions,” and 百姓饑 as “folks famished”.  The word “why”, read stressed, which is not in the original, is added to complete the 6-beat line and to strengthen the sense of indignation, irrespective of whether it is used as an exclamation or a question.  The last 2 words “O by”, read unstressed, are added to create an enjambment that links up line 3 and 4 to heighten the contrast between hunger and feast.

*Line 4:  is literally “who”.  While the meaning of the word is various, to make sense in this context, it can only mean “make. let or allow”.  誰遣 therefore means “who has made, or let, or allowed”, and is rendered as “by/ Whose grace”.   (morning) stands for, and refers to, “day”, and 朝朝 is therefore rendered as “each, every single day”.  入君口 (enter/feed, your, mouth) can be translated quite literally as “you feed your mouth”.  I had originally penned “you feed and feast” but have now polished it to “you feed and fete” for the additional “ei” sound (in the word “fete”) which now pervades the line, viz. “grace, fete, day”.


Walter Lo said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Walter, Thank you. Amended. Regards, Andrew.

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