12 February 2019

李煜 Li Yu: 浪淘沙 Lang Tao Sha/ Waves Washing Sands (往事只堪哀) (My past was such I cannot but bemoan)

Today, I am posting a "tune lyric" or "ci" 詞 by the reputedly great "King of Tune Lyric", the last King of Southern Tang, Li Yu 李煜 .

This is my most recent translation.  I hope you will be able to find how woe and sorrow can be so very beautifully expressed.

Postscript (13.2.2019): 
I had never been too happy with my line 5 in my English rendition of this great poem.  I first posted it yesterday (12.2.19) as:
Who will ever come? Oh, woe!
A few hours later yesterday, I revised it on this post to:
No one will ever come! O woe!
And today (13.2.19), I am further revising the line to:
Shall no one ever come? O woe!
I have now also revised my note on line 5 to record and explain the revisions, particularly the last one.

May I ask: which of the above 3 versions do you prefer, and do you have a version of your own?  Please share with us, followers of this Chinese poetry translation blog, your wisdom.

Li Yu (937-978): Lang Tao Sha/ Waves Washing Sands (My past was such I cannot but bemoan)

1   My past was such I cannot but bemoan;
2   Fair scenes hardly dispel my sorrow.
3   This windy autumn, on my courtyard steps, mossy lichens encroach;
4   I just leave the beaded blinds in my quarters, lie idly hung unrolled ---
5   Shall no one ever come? O woe!

6   Sunken is my golden armour, buried deep low;
7   Smothered, my spirit, by weeds o’ergrown.
8   On a night so cool, the sky so clear, the moon with a blooming halo,
9   I think of my towering palace chambers, now mere hollow shadows,
10 Cast in vain on the river below.       

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
25 January 2019 (revised 28.1.19; 29.1.19; 30.1.19; 31.1.19; 1.2.19; 8.2.19; 11.2.19)
Translated from the original - 李煜: 浪淘沙 (往事只堪哀)

1   往事只堪哀
2   對景難排
3   秋風庭院蘚侵階
4   一任珠簾閒不捲
5   終日誰來

6   金鎖已沈埋
7   壯氣蒿萊
8   晚涼天淨月華開
9   想得玉樓瑶殿影
10 空照秦淮

Notes:

*Form, Meter and Rhyme:  The original is a long-short lined “tune Lyric” or “ci” to the tune of 寄調 “Lang Tao Sha” 浪淘沙 which is a “lyric pattern” (not music score as the music is lost) in 2 halves/stanzas of 27 characters each.  This English rendition strictly follows the same long-short lined lyric pattern but with a count of feet or beats (and not syllables) to determine the length of the lines.  The long-short line-length scheme of both the original and this rendition is: 5-4/7-7-4// 5-4/7-7-4//.  The original adopts a single rhyme for the entire poem with a rhyme scheme of AA/AxA// AA/AxA//.  As there are fewer rhyme words in English than Chinese, I have only been able to do it through the assonantal vowel sound “ow” (as in grow, flows, glowed, blown, etc.)  This I have done (“bemoan” -1, “sorrow” -2, “encroach” -3, “woe” -5, “low” -6, “o’ergrown” -7, “halo” -8, and “below” -10), and have done so even for the 2 originally unrhymed lines (“unrolled” -4, and “shadows” -9).  The rhyme scheme for this English rendition is thus AA/AAA// AA/AAA//.

*Line 1:  往事 (past events) is rendered as “My past was such”.  (only) (can) is rendered as “I cannot but …” which is so much more powerful than “I can only …”  is rendered as the verb “bemoan” after considering such adjectives as “(be) doleful, mournful, woeful, or sorrowful”.

*Line 2:  (in the face of) is implied in the English rendition and is not translated, while the context dictates that (scenes) refers to “Fair scenes” and is rendered as such.  難排 is rendered as “hardly dispel my sorrow” with “my sorrow” (after considering “woe”) added to make sense of the line.

*Line 3:  秋風 is taken to refer to the season “autumn” and not the “wind” and is rendered as “This windy autumn” rather than “in the autumn wind”. 庭院蘚侵階 is rendered as “on my courtyard steps, mossy lichens encroach”.  I have used both “moss(y)” and “lichens” to translate to create a 3-beat end to the line.  For (invade, occupy), I have decided for “encroach” after considering the use of less appropriate words like “grow”, “erode” and “corrode”.

*Line 4:  一任珠簾 is rendered as “I just leave the beaded blinds in my quarters” with “in my quarters” added which takes one from the outside in line 3 to the inside in this line 4.  There exists another version which has the second character (let, leave) as or (row) which I have not adopted. 閒不捲 is rendered as “lie idly hung unrolled”.

*Line 5:  終日 (end of day) should be understood as “whole day (and not just today but) every day” and is, therefore, rendered here as “ever” (rather than "all day")without any reference to “day”.  The line 終日誰來 “who will ever come” is a rhetorical question to mean “no one will ever come”.  The truth is: not that no one would come, but that the poet was in solitary confinement and was allowed no visitors.  I had first rendered this line as “Who will ever come? Oh, woe!” with the interjection “Oh, woe!” added to complete the sense of the line and the “ow” end rhyme.  I then revised it to "No one will ever come! O woe!" which conveys the lonely sentiments fully but lacks the rhetorical form.  I have, therefore, further revised the line to "Shall no one ever come? O woe!"

*Line 6:  (golden) (chain, lock, meshed armour) is translated literally as “golden armour” after rejecting the “chain” and “lock” interpretations of and dismissing the other version of the poem which has 金鎖 as金劍 (golden sword).  (already) (sunk) (buried) is rendered as “Sunken … buried deep low” with “deep low” added for the rhyme.

*Line 7: (heroic) (spirit) is rendered simply as “my spirit”.  蒿萊 refers to 2 kinds of weeds and is simply rendered as “weeds”.  The line is rendered as “Smothered, my spirit, by weeds o’ergrown” with “smothered” and “o’ergrown” added to make sense of the line.

*Line 8:  夜涼 is rendered as “On a night so cool”.  天淨 is translated literally as “the sky so clear” after dismissing the alternative version of the word (clear) as (silent, quiet).  (moon) (radiance, flower) (open) is rendered as “the moon with a blooming halo”.

*Line 9:  想得 is taken to mean 想到 and is rendered as “I think of” rather than “I can see (in my mind’s eye)” which can be misleading.  (jade) (towers) (jade) 殿 (chambers) is rendered as “my towering palace chambers” with the word “palace” used to translate and which are adjectives used to say these are palace buildings.  is translated literally as “shadows” with “now mere hollow” added in front of “shadows” to anticipate and amplify the “hollowness, emptiness” of the word (empty, hollow, in vain) in the original line 10.

*Line 10:  (shine) is rendered as “shadows,/ Cast” which is required by the context of “the moon casting the shadows of the palace buildings” as presented in lines 8 to 10.  I have added “below” to end the line for the “ow” rhyme.  To keep this line to 4 feet/beats to translate 空照秦淮, I had considered (a) “Cast on the River Qinhuai (or Qinhuai River) below” and (b) “Cast in vain on the river (or Qinhuai) below”.  I have decided against (a) as it fails to translate the word (empty, hollow, in vain) which idea, in my view, pervades and is central to the whole poem.  I have, therefore, decided for (b), and as for the choice between “the river” and “Qinhuai”, I have decided for “the river”, as “Qinhuai” (without qualifying it as a river) may not mean much to the uninitiated and a transliterated translation of it may even be baffling.  The line is, hence, rendered as “Cast in vain on the river below”. 

2 comments:

Ray Heaton said...


I thought I would try the 5th line challenge! But it isnt really line 5 that bothered me so much, rather line 2's four beats, which I thought difficult to read in that way due to the two syllable "sorrow" at the end of the line...to me it reads as closer to 5 beats. So, I tried swapping out "sorrow" for "woe" and then rather than duplicate "woe" in line 5, tried a different treatment on that difficult line (much easier in Chinese!). If used, it would force a change in line 7 to again avoid duplicated words.

Here's my first attempt then, maintaining Andrew's other lines intact...

My past was such I cannot but bemoan;
Fair scenes hardly dispel my woe.
This windy autumn, on my courtyard steps, mossy lichens encroach;
I just leave the beaded blinds in my quarters, lie idly hung unrolled---
No one comes, my spirits low.

I don't know this poet at all well, indeed I have seen few interesting translations of his poetry and hence perhaps unwisely ignored him. I just checked in "Sunflower Splendor"; there are perhaps a dozen of his poems within, including the poem here. The translator of the poem within the book is David Bryant: his fifth line reads "For now no one comes for all the day", I think this a rather clumsy translation!

Of Andrew's three alternatives, I prefer the one Andrew has settled on for the reasons Andrew explains. Another potential which could be read as rhetorical, reverses the words in the second alternative to "Will no one ever come, O woe". Almost the same as Andrew's preference, but uses "Will" as it better fits the context, whereas "Shall" requires the pronouns "I" or "We" to make grammatical sense.

Ray Heaton said...

I thought I'd comment further as I said in my prior post that I don't know much about Li's poetry and thought that translations to English of his poetry rather poor. I do of course appreciate Li's broadening of the "ci" thematic range and the scale of (at least in interpretation) his personal expression of the desperation felt in his incarceration.

Some examples of what I would consider poor and awkward translations include:

# "In the lonely inner garden of wutong trees is locked late autumn"

(Taken from "The complete ci poetry of the tang and five dynasties, potentially translated by Zong Qi Cai)

# I've previously mentioned "Cut it doesn't break/Tidied a mess again" on one of Andrew's previous translations.

# "The people's rosy cheeks are all that's changed", 只是朱颜改, much better translated by Andrew some years ago.

None of these are incorrect, indeed quite a literal translation in most cases. And that's where Andrew tends to differ, as can be seen in this month's translation. For example, line 7, 壯氣蒿萊,  "Smothered, my spirit, by weeds o’ergrown", close to literal (heroic spirit overgrown weeds, but noting that 萊 has an old meaning of wasteland if we wanted to develop the line along those lines) with just enough added to develop the intended sense while remaining true to the poet (and not "In the jungle, there lies my heroic spirit", as E C Chang would have it, nor the awful "And all my youth is turned to weeds" by Daniel Bryant).