08 June 2009

杜牧 Du Mu: 泊秦淮 Moored on River Qinhuai

I have been to Nanjing twice recently, both in May, and visited River Qinhuai where I imbibed no wine but tea. A little secret, the Nanjing local tea called Yuhua 雨花 (Rain Flower) is truly super. You must try it when you go there next. Let me now offer you my latest translation:-

Du Mu (803-852): Moored on River Qinhuai

1 Mist-clad, the coldish water! Moon-filled, the riverside sand!
2 I moor for the night on the Qinhuai, where wining houses stand.
3 O simple song-girls know not, the shame of a kingdom demised,
4 Still sing from o’er the river, that song by the merry king’s hand.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
2nd June 2009 (revised 3.6.09; 4.6.09; 5.6.09; 6.6.09; 8.6.09)
Translated from the original - 杜牧: 泊秦淮

1 煙籠寒水月籠沙
2 夜泊秦淮近酒家
3 商女不知亡國恨
4 隔江猶唱後庭花

* This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) while the original is in 7-character lines. The rhyme scheme is AABA as in the original.
* Title and lines 1, 2 and 4: “Qinhuai” 秦淮 is a river in present day Nanjing 南京, an ancient capital. I have added the word “River” in the title and the word “riverside” in line 1 to make clear that 秦淮 “Qinhuai” in the title and “the Qinhuai” in line 2 is a river.
* Line 2: I had considered “wining halls at hand” and “wine-halls close at hand”, but have decided against them as “at hand” suggests an inclination to frequent the wine halls which is not suggested by the poem as a whole. I have used the very neutral formulation of “moor...on…where…stand” in order to capture a “not far from” meaning of 近; however, if the literal word of “near” is preferred, an alternative would be “near the wine-hall strand” which does not sound as good.
* Lines 3 and 4: I have used “kingdom demised” in line 3 rather than “nation”, “country” or “land” to pave the way to my translating the song/tune referred to in line 4 not by its title but by its author. 後庭花 (literally: Rear= Inner Yard Flowers), abbreviated from 玉樹 etc. (literally: Jade=Graceful Trees etc.), is the title of a song/tune purportedly written by 陳叔寳 Chen Subao popularly known as 陳後主 (the Last Lord of Chen) of the Southern Chen Dynasty 南陳 (capital present day Nanjing, then called 建康) which ruled over the southern half of China prior to unification by the 隋 Sui Dynasty. He was most licentious during his short reign (582-589) when he and his court indulged daily in wine and dine, song and dance which led to the fall of the dynasty. I have chosen not to translate the reference to the song/tune by the title (which does not tell much without the assistance of a long note), but by the authorship (which makes sense even without this note), hence, the line “Still sing from o’er the river, that song by the merry king’s hand”. I had considered “gay king’s hand”, but have decided against it for its homosexual connotations. A worse case would be “gay lord’s hand”. The word “merry” can be replaced by “same” or “very” (which means the same) if one wishes to be minimalist. However, that song (including that music and that lifestyle) had always been considered to be the cause of the fall of the dynasty, 亡國之音, the music that brings down a nation, so to speak.

Classical Chinese Poems in English


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