I apologize for the delay in doing my July posts as I had been cruising Alaska and touring Seattle with my whole family. Today, I am posting "The Song Hemanzi" by the late Tang poet Zhang Hu. Here is my rendition of it:-
Zhang Hu (? -859?): Palace Plaint/The Song Hemanzi
1 Far from my home three thousand miles away;
2 Deep in the palace, twenty years in-waiting.
3 The sad song Hemanzi, O once its singing begins,
4 Before my lord, my two eyes in tears unabating.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
20th March 2017 (revised 21.3.17; 23.3.17; 24.3.17; 28.3.17; 30.3.17)
Translated from the original – 張祜: 宮詞/何滿子
*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. Although the original poem can be read as either (a) the poet speaking (narrating the plaint of a lady) or (b) the lady speaking (making her own plaint), this English rendition is in the first person with the lady as the speaker, hence, “my (instead of her) home” in line 1 and “my (instead of her) lord” in line 4.
*Title: This poem is the plaint of a lady about her unhappiness in the palace, the title 宮詞 (palace verse) is, therefore, rendered as “Palace Plaint”. A more popular title of the poem is 何滿子, which appears in line 3 and refers to the title of a song and tune composed by a death convict (a Mr. He 何 named Manzi 滿子) who wrote it to seek royal pardon, alas, without success; his song, though, became popular and had come to be known as “Hemanzi”. 何滿子 is, therefore, rendered as “ The Song Hemanzi” in the title, and as “The sad song Hemanzi” in line 3.
*Line 1: 故 (old) 國 (country, not nation) is rendered as simply “home”. 里 (li = Chinese mile) is about half a kilometer or a third of a mile long. Although 三千里 (3,000 li’s) is only 1,000 miles, I have decided to take it as a hyperbole, and to (a) stick to the figure “three thousand” (as it is a better parallel to “twenty” in line 2) and (b) use “miles” as the unit (avoiding the unfamiliar and incomprehensible unit of “li’s”).
*Line 2: I have rendered 深宮 as “Deep in the palace” after deciding against adding “Kept” or “Shut” in favour of the literal “Deep”. I have added “in-waiting” after “twenty years” to make clear the sense of the poem that the lady concerned is a palace maid, not a concubine or consort. One may, perhaps, also take it to hint at her waiting/hoping for an elevation to a higher status, without success, hence, the plaint.
*Line 3: 何滿子 is rendered as “The sad song Hemanzi” (see my note above on the Title) with “sad” added to make clear the song is associated with sadness, not sweetness. The word 一 (one) in 一聲 does not mean the numeral or quantity “one”, but means 一旦 or 一經 which should properly be translated as “once” (in the sense of “as soon as”, and not once = one time). 聲 (sound) in 一聲 should not be taken to be the noun “sound”, “voice”, “note”, etc. to be qualified by the numeral one, but should be taken to be a verb meaning 發聲 “utter the sound” or, in this context, simply 唱 “sing”. 一聲 should, therefore, be understood as 一唱 which means一經(我 or 有人)唱出 “as soon as/once (I or someone) sings it”. As the original is silent on who sings the song (a chorus, or the dancers, or the lady concerned, or some other singer), I have rendered it ambiguously and, hence, inclusively as “once its singing begins”.
*Line 4: For 雙淚 (two, tears), I had considered “two streams of tears” but have decided for “my two eyes in tears”. To translate 落, I had considered using either “unabating” or “cascading”, both rather hyperbolic, to convey the sense that the lady cannot hold back her tears. Although “cascading” is closer to落, I have decided for “unabating” which gives “in-waiting” in line 2 a perfect rhyme.
As for 君前, the last two words of the poem, the last word 前 means “before” or “in the presence of”, but the key word 君 can mean both “the monarch” and “you”, 君前 can be interpreted to mean “before the monarch” or “before you” or “before you the monarch”. Most renditions with the poet as the speaker have adopted the “before the monarch” interpretation, e.g. Betty Tseng’s “A few words of Swan Song for His Majesty”, Innes Herdan’s “even in her Lord’s presence”, Peter Harris’ “in the presence of her lord” (while Witter Bynner and 許淵沖 Xu Yuanzhong simply omit covering 君前 altogether), so has one rendition (incomplete search) with the lady as the speaker, i.e. Geoffrey Waters’ “As I (i.e. the lady) sang the first sad notes … before the emperor”. However, most renditions with the lady as the speaker have adopted the “before you” interpretation, e.g. 王玉書 Wang Yushu’s “I cannot hold back, before you”, and most translations into modern Chinese “在你(的)面前 = before you” by 邱燮友, 王進祥, 孫瑋, etc. I suppose if one takes the poem to be the lady’s plaint addressed to the monarch, renditions of “before you” can be regarded as equivalent to renditions of “before you the monarch” which, in my view, is the complete and, hence, correct interpretation. But protocol dictates that the monarch should not be addressed simply as “you”; and I have seen only one such attempt (again, incomplete search) at rendering 君前 in accordance with the “before you the monarch” interpretation, i.e. 何中堅 C.K. Ho’s “Before you, sir” (p. 85 of his “Chinese Poetry of Tang and Song Dynasties: A New Translation”, Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 2012. As it may not be proper to use “sir” to either address or refer to “the monarch”, I have decided for “my lord”, and after considering “In my lord’s presence” and “Before you my lord”, I have decided to render it simply as “Before my lord” (with “my lord” taken to mean both “(my) lord = (my) monarch” and “my lord = you").