18 August 2018

白居易 Bai Juyi: 後宮詞 In the Rear Palace Chambers


Today, I am posting a palace plaint by Bai Juiyi which I translated some 5 years ago but had forgotten I had never posted it for sharing.  Here it is:-


Bai Juyi (772-846):  In the Rear Palace Chambers

1       Silken towel tear-soaked, to her dreams she cannot cling;  
2       Deep at night from the front hall, songs to the beat keep ringing.
3       Her face still fair, cheeks rosy, alas, no longer in grace, there
4       She leans by the perfume censer, sitting till day comes dawning

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
15th March 2013
Translated from the original - 白居易:  後宮詞

1       淚濕羅巾夢不成
2       夜深前殿按歌聲
3       红颜未老恩先斷
4       斜倚薰籠坐到明

Notes:

*    This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.  The sound of the “cling(1) ringing(2) dawning(4)” rhyme, though imperfect, is quite accidentally identical to the original’s (1) (2) (4) rhyme if read in Cantonese.

*    Line 1:  Both and mean, in this context, 濕盡 “soak” and it does not matter which one is preferred.  I had originally penned the opening as “Tear-soaked her silken kerchief” but have now decided for “Silken towel tear-soaked” as I find the sound of the “silken kerchief” alliteration too harsh.  I have moved “tear-soaked” from the beginning to the end of the opening to make a softer alliteration of “towel tear-soaked”.

*    Line 2:  I have used “keep ringing” to translate instead of the literal “sound or noise”.

*    Line 3:  红颜 rosy face” refers to the lady and is translated as “Her face” with the meaning of “rosy” to follow in the translation of 未老 “not old yet” which is rendered through the word “still”, thus “still fair" followed by "cheeks rosy" (rather than "still rosy”).  I take the word to mean 恩寵 and have decided for “grace” (over “love” and “favour”).  I had considered but rejected “has fallen from grace” as it might give the impression that the lady had done something wrong.  I had also considered the more literal “his grace withdrawn (or recanted)” but have decided for the more poetic “no longer in grace”.  I have added “alas” which is not but implied in the original.  Although the last word “there” should belong to line 4, it is moved up to end line 3 so as to shorten somewhat the pause between lines 3 and 4.

*    Line 4:  To translate 斜倚 I have used “leans” and “by” without indicating any direction, whether forward, backward or sideways, which could be “against” but certainly not “on” .  坐到明 is rendered as “sitting till day comes dawning” which can cover both 明天 “the next day” and 天明 or 黎明 “dawn”.

*    Alternative version:  Below is an alternative version with a different rhyme:-

            Bai Juyi:  In the Rear Palace Chambers

1       Her silken towel tear-soaked, to her dreams she will not go;
2       Deep at night from the front hall, songs to the drumbeat flow.
3       Her face still fair, cheeks rosy, alas, no longer in grace, there
4       She leans by the perfume censer, sitting till dawn in sorrow.

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