Today, I am posting my translation of yet another tune lyric poem or "ci" 詞 by the great "King of Tune Lyric Poetry" Li Yu or Li Houzhu 李後主(the last King of Southern Tang. This poem is precisely on the subject of his and his kingdom's demise. Here is my rendition. I hope you'll enjoy it.
Li Yu: Po Zhen Zi/ Song of Crush That Enemy Line
1 E’er since for forty years, this land: my home, my country;
2 A realm of a thousand miles, of a mountained, rivered terrain.
3 Grand palatial towers and chambers, rise high to meet the skies;
4 Jade green leaves on boughs and branches, vines in a misty veil.
5 When did I know of battle shields and blades?
6 Now that I’m made a subject, a lord in name, a captive;
7 Thinned waist, hoary temples: O how I’m wasting away!
8 And worst at the shrine on parting day, hurried-worried despite,
9 Court musicians still remained, just parting songs were played.
10 O tears I rolled before the palace maids.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
24 December 2018 (revised 26.12.18; 27.12.18; 28.12.18; 29.12.18; 31.12.18; 1.1.19)
Translated from the original – 李煜: 破陣子
*Form, Metre and Rhyme: The original is a long-short lined “tune lyric” or “ci” 詞 to the tune 寄調 of “Po Zhen Zi” 破陣子 which is a “lyric pattern” (not tune pattern or music score, as the music is lost) in 2 halves/stanzas of 31 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: 6-6/7-7/5// 6-6/7-7/5//. The original adopts one single rhyme for the entire poem with a rhyme scheme of: xA/xA/A// xA/xA/A//. This English rendition follows the same rhyme scheme. However, as there are fewer rhyme words in English than Chinese, I have only been able to do it with an assonantal “-ei” rhyme in “2- terrain”, “4- veil”, “5- blades”, “7- away”, “9- played” and “10- maids”. (Please note that for the line-length pattern and the rhyme scheme, I have used the single slash to stand for the end of a sentence and the double slash, for the end of a stanza.)
*Line 1: 四十年來 is rendered as “E’er since for forty years” after considering “O since for forty years”, “For forty years e’er since”, “For the past/last forty years”, “Since when/then for forty years” and “Since thence for forty years”. 家 (family, home) 國 (nation, country) is rendered as “my home, my country” (after considering “… my home and country”) with “this land” added.
*Line 2: 三千 (three thousand) 里 (‘li’, which is about one third of a mile, hence, a thousand miles for 3,000 ‘li’) 地 (land, territory) is, therefore, rendered as “A realm of a thousand miles”. Instead of the literal translation of山河as “of mountains and rivers”, it is rendered as “of a mountained, rivered terrain”, after considering “of mountains and rivered terrains/plains”. The word “terrain” (or “plain”) is used to give line 2 (the first rhymed line in the poem) the assonantal “-ei” rhyme for the entire poem.
*Line 3: 樓 and 閣 are translated literally as “towers” and “chambers”. 龍 (dragon) and鳳 (phoenix) refer to the king and his ladies (including the queen) respectively. As they are mere adjectives qualifying the “towers and chambers”, they are not translated but are rendered collectively as “Grand palatial (towers and chambers)”. 連 (connect, link) is rendered as “rise high to meet” and 霄漢 (clouds, sky) is translated literally as “the skies”.
*Line 4: 樹 (tree) is taken to mean tree(s) as a whole, including the branches, twigs and leaves, not just the trunk(s). 枝 (branch) likewise includes the twigs and leaves. 樹 and 枝 are, therefore, rendered as “boughs and branches”. Both 玉 and 瓊 mean “jade” and both words are used to say how luxuriant, magnificent or handsome something or someone is. Here they are used to qualify the vegetation in the royal palace and are rendered collectively as “Jade green leaves (on boughs and branches)”. 作 (make, take to be) 煙 (smoke, mist) 蘿 (vines, climbing plants) is rendered as “vines in a misty veil”.
*Line 5: 干 (shields) 戈 (dagger axes) are battle weapons, and the 2 words put together refer to war. They are rendered quite literally as “of battle shields and blades” with “battle” added (to make clear that they refer to war), and with “blades” used (instead of “dagger axes” which are blades) for the assonantal “-ei” rhyme. 幾 (when, what, how) 曾 (have) 識 (know) is rendered as “When did I know” after considering “What” and “How”. The line is a rhetorical question which means and says “I did not know”. “When did I know” should, therefore, be read as da-dum-da-dum with the word “did” stressed, and “When” (or “What” or “How”) unstressed, because if stressed all these will turn the line into a genuine question.
*Line 6: 一 (one) 旦 (day) should, in my view, be taken together to mean “once” in the sense of “as soon as” or “now that”, instead of taken separately to mean “one day”. It is here rendered as “Now that”. As I take 歸 (return, assign) 為 (to be) to mean “assigned or made to be” or “made to become”, it is rendered as “I’m made”, after considering “I’ve become”. 臣 (the king/emperor’s subordinates of all ranks) 虜 (captive, prisoner) is rendered as “a subject, a lord in name, a captive”, with “a lord in name” added to further depict the poet’s lot. The poet was actually made 違命侯 (the Disobedient Marquis), void of any territory, and put under house arrest.
*Line 7: 沈腰 (Shen’s waist) and 潘鬢 (Pan’s temples) are 2 literary allusions to 2 ancients, respectively 沈約 Shen Yue for his thinned waist, and 潘岳 Pan Yue for the hoary hair on his temples. I have decided not to translate the 2 names but simply what they stand for, and the phrase is, therefore, rendered as “Thinned waist, hoary temples”. 消磨 (wear away/while away) is rendered as “O how I’m wasting away”.
*Line 8: 最是 is translated literally as “And worst”. 辭 (take leave) 廟 (temple, shrine) 日 (day) is translated quite literally as “at the shrine on parting day”. The “shrine” is the royal ancestral shrine in the palace to which one goes to ask one’s forebears for leave to part. 倉 (hurry, hurried) 惶 (frightened, worried, fearful) is rendered as “hurried-worried despite”. I had originally considered “was I”, “we were” and “as might” to follow “hurried-worried”, but have now decided for “despite” as it gives the best link to line 9. I had also considered “hurry-scurry” which I now regard as inferior to my newly coined “hurried-worried” which translates 倉惶 quite fully.
*Line 9: 教 (teach) 坊 (workshop, quarters) refers not to a place in the palace, but to the band of musicians housed in the palace. It is, therefore, rendered as “Court musicians”. 別離 (farewell, parting) 歌 (song) is translated literally as “parting songs”. 奏 in 猶 (still) 奏 (play) is translated literally as “played”. The word 猶 can, in this context, mean either (1) “still” (還 or 仍) or (2) “only” (只 or 獨). I have, in my rendition, covered both meanings, viz. “hurried-worried despite,/ Court musicians still remained, just(=only) parting songs were played”.
*Line 10: 垂 in 垂淚 (falling tears) is rendered as “rolled” rather than “shed”, as “rolled” is more tearful than “shed”; and I take my “O tears I rolled” to be in full accord with the “And worst” sentiments covered in lines 8 to 10.