Today, I am posting my rendition of a "tune lyric" or "ci" 詞 by the Song dynasty poet Ye Qingchen 葉清臣. The "tune lyric" is a genre of Chinese poetry in lines of varying lengths and can be known as long-and-short-lined poems. To know a bit more about "tune lyric", please proceed to my first note below.
Robert Nicol's Rendition
My rendition is done in response to Mr. Robert Nicol of Melbourne, Australia who, in April, sent me by email 2 versions of his rendition of the same poem. With his kind permission, I now reproduce below his version 2:
"Congratulations to the Holy Dynasty and Farewell" - Ye Qingchen (English translation by Robert Nicol, Version 2 , 22 Apr 2022)
1 Dinner's fine wine was meant to ensnare you.
2 Don't hasten home.
3 I'm three parts spring, two parts sadness, one part wind and rain.
4 How many flowers have bloomed and withered?
5 But let's relax and sing, not talk of sad things.
6 I know not where we can meet, come next year's peonies.
The original poem in Chinese is shown below after my rendition of the same. You will note that Mr. Robert Nicol's rendition is in 6 lines of varying lengths and is in unrhymed free verse. This is probably because he does not know the original is (a) written in 9 lines, and (b) features a rhyme scheme, which is hard to detect (even for native speaking Chinese) as sounds have changed through time. But it may also be due to his intent to be as concise as possible (as poetry is no prose) and to write in unrhymed free verse. In any case, Mr. Nicol has been able to fully cover the substance of the original. Below is my rendition.
Andrew Wong's Rendition
Ye Qingchen (1000-1049)
Tune: He Shen Cao (Homage to the Imperial Court)
Title: Farewell but Please Remain
1 With my finest wine to fill your cup, I urge you to please remain,
2 Not to unduly hasten to leave, I pray.
3 Of the sweet springtime made of three, two are tinged with sadness,
4 And one, what’s more, all bleak with wind and rain.
5 Flowers blossom, yet flowers demise ---
6 How few, in all, are the flowering days?
7 So, aloud, let us sing! Of sad things, air no plaints!
8 Be merry, because we know not, we, next year when peonies smile,
9 O where, if ever, shall meet each other again.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
23 March 2022 (revised 30.3.2022; 13.4.2022; 21.4.2022; 4.5.2022; 16.5.2022; 17.5.2022)
Translated from the original - 葉清臣 - 寄調: 賀聖朝 題: 留別
*Form, Metre, and Rhyme: The original is a poem in the genre of 詞 “ci” which are the lyrics written to specific tunes which, their music being lost, should be understood as “lyric patterns”. So, “To the tune of …” means “To the lyric pattern of …”, and 詞 “ci” can, therefore, be translated into English as “tune lyrics”. As “tune lyrics” feature a mingling of long and short verse lines, they can, therefore, be also referred to as “long-short-lined verses”. The original is a tune lyric to the tune of “He Shen Cao” which is a lyric pattern of 49 characters in two stanzas (24 and 25 respectively). The long-short-lined length pattern of the original is: 7 5/7 5// 4 4/5 7 5 (numerals stand for number of words, double slash for stanza break). This English rendition follows strictly the same length pattern but with a count of feet or beats or stresses (not syllables). I have, in addition, provided a medial caesura or pause for all lines: after the fourth for 7-beat lines, and after the second for 5- and 4-beat lines. The rhyme scheme of the original is: AA/xA // xA/AxA, with both stanzas having the same rhyme. Although the characters in the original do not sound like rhymes by current day pronunciation (in either Chinese Putonghua or Chinese Cantonese), I think it worthwhile to emulate the original rhyme scheme. Failing to find perfect rhymes, I have, nonetheless, succeeded in using the assonance of the ‘ei’ sound in “remain” (line 1), “pray” (line 2), “rain” (line 4), “days” (line 6), “plaints” (line 7), and “again” (line 9) to satisfy the rhyme scheme.
*Line 1: 滿斟 (full: pour) is rendered as “to fill your cup”, and 綠醑 (green or black; wine), rendered as “With my finest wine”. Here, I have taken 綠 not to mean “green” but to mean a colour close to “black”. I have also taken 綠 to allude to a fine wine called 綠蟻 (green or black; ants), hence, a fine wine, and is rendered as “with my finest wine”. 留君住 (keep; you; stay) is rendered as “I urge you to please remain”.
*Line 2: 莫匆匆歸去 (do not; hurry; hurry; return or go back; leave or away) is rendered as “Not to unduly hasten to leave, I pray” , with “Not to” to translate 莫, “unduly hasten” to render 匆匆, and “to leave” to render 歸去, and with “I pray” added. Please note I have not been able to reproduce the reduplication of 匆匆 in my translation as I find genuine reduplications such as “Not to unduly hurry, hurry away” and “Not to unduly hasten away in haste” less than satisfactory. On 歸去, as the poem is about the friend leaving without indicating whether he is going back to his home or to his post (job), I have rendered 歸去 simply as “(unduly hasten) to leave”, instead of “(unduly hurry) home (in haste)”, keeping the destination unspecified. “I pray” is added to produce the assonance rhyme.
*Lines 3 and 4: I have rendered 三分春色 (three; parts; spring; colour) in line 3 as “Of the sweet springtime made of three”, with “the sweet springtime” to translate 春色, and “made of three”, to translate 三分 to mean the three months of spring with “parts” or “months” taken as understood. 二分愁 (two; parts; sadness) which follows in line 3, is rendered as “two are tinged with sadness” which says two-thirds of the 3-month springtime are tinged with sadness. 更一分風雨 (more; one; part; wind; rain) in line 4 is rendered as “And one, what’s more, all bleak with wind and rain”, with “what’s more” to translate 更, and with “all bleak” added to depict the saddening effects of “wind and rain”.
*Lines 5 and 6: Line 5 花開花謝 is translated literally as “Flowers blossom, yet flowers demise”, with “yet” added. Line 6 都來 (tallying all: the result of tallying [as in 醒來 wake up]) is simply rendered as “in all”. 幾許 (how many) which follows, is a rhetorical question with “how many” to mean “how few” and is rendered as such. Line 6 of the original poem is silent on the “of what” (甚麼) of either “in all” (都來) or “how few” (幾許). As line 6 is the second line of a couplet the opening line of which (line 5) is on flowers, I have taken the “of what” to be “days of flowers in bloom” and have, hence, rendered line 6 都來幾許 as “How few, in all, are the flowering days”.
*Line 7: 且高歌 (in the circumstances; loud; sing) is rendered as “So, aloud, let us sing”, with “So … let us” to translate 且. 休訴 (not, or stop; complain, or talk) is rendered as “Of sad things, (let’s [omitted]) air no plaints”, with “Of sad things” added to make sense of the line and to make it a 5-beat line.
*Line 8: 不知 (not; know) is rendered in the first half line as “Be merry, because we know not, we, …”, with (a) “we know not” to literally translate 不知, and with (b) “Be merry, because” added to link line 8 up to line 7 and down to line 9. I have also inserted in the line a second “we” in “because we know not, we”. Technically, it is moved up from line 9: “O where if ever, (we) shall meet each other again”. I suggest reading this second “we” in line 8, stressed. 來嵗牡丹時 (coming; year; peonies; time) is rendered as “next year when peonies smile”, with “smile” chosen after considering “bloom”.
*Line 9: 再相逢何處 (again; mutual; meet; where) is rendered as “O where, if ever, (we) shall meet each other again”, with “we” moved to line 8, and with “if ever” added. The addition of “if ever” is crucial for a proper understanding of the state of mind of the poet. If he were simply wondering “where” they would meet, he would have written 不知 … 何處再相逢 (= don’t know … where we’ll meet again). But he had written 不知 … 再相逢何處 (= don’t know … we’ll meet again, where), with 何處 (where) placed at the end, somewhat like an afterthought to the implied question of 不知 … 是否 (yes or no) 再相逢 (= don’t know … if we’ll ever meet again), and this state of mind is best covered by the “O where, if ever, shall meet” formulation. For better effects, I suggest reading “if” stressed and “ever” unstressed.