14 June 2018

李頻 Li Pin: 渡漢江 Crossing the River Han

Today I am posting my rendition of the poem "Crossing the River Han" the authorship of which is in dispute.  I have attributed it, like most commentators, to the late Tang dynasty poet Li Pin 李頻 (818-876) rather than the early Tang dynasty poet Song Zhiwen 宋之問 (656?-712). 

I hope I have been able to capture the delicate feelings of the poet approaching home yet not knowing what has happened at home: to ask or not to ask, that is the question!  Here is the poem:-

Li Pin (818-876): Crossing the River Han

1   Away beyond the ranges, no word from home e’er heard:
2   Cut off from winter to winter, cut off for a further spring.     
3   O now as home I’m nearing, the more anxious I grow, and
4   Dare not ask of the comers, for fear they ill news may bring.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
11th June 2017 (revised 15.6.17; 19.6.17; 24.6.17; 29.6.17; 20.2.2018)
Translated from the original – 李頻: 渡漢江

1   嶺外音書絕
2   經冬復歷()
3   近鄉情更怯
4   不敢問來人


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Title and Author:  The River Han 漢江 is a tributary flowing from the north into the Yangzi River.  It is a pity there is no mention of River Han in the poem.  The poem has been attributed by most to 李頻 Li Pin and by some to 宋之問 Song Zhiwen (656?-712).  Following the most popular anthology of Tang dynasty poems, the “Three Hundred Tang Poems” 唐詩三百首, I have chosen Li Pin as the author.

*Line 1:  嶺外 (mountain range, beyond) is rendered as “Away beyond the ranges” with “Away” added to relate that the poet is away from home.  Although most commentators have interpreted to refer to the South Ranges 南嶺 separating the present day Guangdong and Guangxi 廣東 廣西 provinces in the south from the rest of China, I have decided for the literal “ranges” rather than “South Ranges” as the poem is about being far away and cut off for long and not the precise location of the place.  音書絕 (spoken words, written words, cut off) is rendered as “no word from home e’er heard”, with “word from home …  heard” (I hear from home messages spoken or written) to translate 音書, and with “no … e’er” to translate .

*Line 2:  As the rendition of in line 1 as “no … e’er” may be flawed for being less than adequate to fully convey the sense of disconnection, I have in line 2 added the literal translation of as “cut off”.  經冬 (gone through, winter) is rendered as “Cut off from winter to winter” with “cut off” used to also cover (gone through).  I have interpreted the ambiguous (there being no plural form for in Chinese unless the text specifies) not to be a single winter, but to mean at least one year, i.e. 從冬至冬 (from one winter to the next), or even more years (winter being also a synecdoche for year).  I have, therefore, translated with my equally ambiguous “from winter to winter”.  This is reasonable as one single winter is far too short a duration to create the kind of anxiety portrayed in lines 3 and 4. 
For the segment on , there exists two versions: 歷春 (gone through, spring) and 立春 (beginning of spring), the latter being the first of the 24 節氣solar terms (or seasonal division points of the Chinese calendar) which falls  on 4 or 5 of February each year.  (Other solar terms include 春分 (spring equinox), 秋分 (autumn equinox), 夏至 (summer solstice) and 冬至 (winter solstice) which are featured in the now common solar calendar.)  I have chosen the former version for two reasons.  First, 歷春 (gone through spring) lengthens the period away by 3 months, totaling 18 months, with (assuming “winter to winter” to mean one year) the beginning of winter to the beginning of the next making 12 months, plus a 3-month winter, and plus a 3-month spring.  Second, (in 經冬) and (in 歷春) are two different words but share the same meaning as demonstrated in the term 經歷 (gone through or experience).  Hence, although and are pronounced identically in standard Putonghua Chinese (not so in Cantonese), the 歷春 version is still more agreeable to the eye.  I have, therefore, rendered line 2 as “Cut off from winter to winter, cut off for a further spring”.  (Albeit, if authorities find for 立春, my line can be revised to read “Cut off from winter to winter, ‘tis again the prime (= beginning) of spring” totaling 15 months.)  I have rendered the word in the middle (again or also) as “for a further” in my preferred 歷春 version.

*Line 3:  近鄉 (near, home village) is rendered as “O now as home I’m nearing” with “now”, which is implied, added.  情更怯 (feeling, more, afraid) is rendered as “the more anxious I grow” for which I am grateful to Wang Yushu 王玉書, p. 312 of his 王譯唐詩三百首 “Wang’s Translation of 300 Tang Poems”.

*Line 4:  不敢問 (not, dare, ask) is translated literally as “Dare not ask of”.   For 來人 (coming, man), I had considered taking it to be a term for wayfarers who bear messages (according to most, if not all, Chinese-English dictionaries) and rendering it as “couriers”.  I have now decided to interpret it simply as 來者 (come, anyone or anything), i.e. oncoming wayfarers from the other direction (probably from home).  For this, I had seriously considered coining the word “on-comers” (from “oncoming”, like “onlookers” from “onlooking”), but have decided to simply adopt Wang Yushu’s choice of “comer(s)” (ibid).  不敢問來人 is now rendered as “Dare not ask of the comers”; and to this, I have added “for fear they ill news may bring” (which is what the original means but has left unsaid) to complete the sense of the poem, and the rhyme.  (However, if this is considered to have added too much to the original, the poem can end with the reasonable but uninteresting addition of “for news of home they bring”.) 


Walter said...
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Walter Lo said...

It's another fine translation, the only grouse I have is the word "comer." If I am travelling from x to y, and I say "on the way from x to y I met many comers from y," it doesn't sound quite right.