05 October 2009

王翰 Wang Han: 涼州詞 Song of Liangzhou (The Battlefront)

Azurino wrote the following lines on 4 August 2009 in his comments on my August 2009 post ("Peach Blossoms at the Dalin Temple" by Bai Juyi):

王翰 《涼州曲》
Grapewine I would like to taste,
have to go yet I would crave.
Thou dost not tease drunk soldiers of all,
Long ago few come back from war.

Encouraged by Azurino's attempt, I promised I would give this Wang Han 王翰 poem a try. Here is my rendition:-

Wang Han (687-735?): Song of Liangzhou (The Battlefront)

1  A grape-wine so fine, a cup that gleams at night,
2  To drink on I’d love, but for the summons to fight.
3  Sneer not, O jeer not, if in battle, drunken, I lie,
4  How many, we soldiers, ever came home all right?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)          譯者: 黃宏發
21 September 2009 (revised 22.9.09; 23.9.09; 24.9.09)
Translated from the original - 王翰: 涼州詞

1  葡萄美酒夜光杯
2  欲飲琵琶馬上催
3  醉卧沙場君莫笑
4  古來征戰幾人回

* This English rendition is in pentameter (5 metrical feet) while the original is in 7-character lines. The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
* Line 2: I have interpreted 欲飲 to mean “wish to continue to drink” which make better sense than “wish to begin to drink”, hence, “To drink on I’d love”. I have omitted translating 琵琶 “pipa” (being a musical instrument somewhat like a lute) and 馬上 “mounted on horseback” (being how the “pipa” was played in the Chinese western frontier to serve as a bugle call to summon the soldiers). The meaning of “cannot drink (on) because of the (urging and urgent) summons” is fully covered by translating 催 as “but for the summons to fight”.
* Line 3: I have translated 沙場 “battleground/field” as simply “in battle”
* Line 4: I have translated 征戰 “going to war/battle” as simply “we soldiers”. I have added “all right” to add the very reasonable meaning of “safe and sound” and, obviously, to complete the rhyme.


Azurino said...

原詩七字(音節一句) ,是否有點長氣呢?
走近「形美」 古漢詩英譯實踐點滴
ISBN 7-118-04843-7

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Azurino, I had, a year ago, acquired a copy of the book you referred to. Thank you. I don't quite understand your question 原詩七字(音節一句),是否有點長氣呢? Unlike others, I count neither words 字 nor syllables 音節, but count feet or beats or stresses or accented syllables 音步. Best wishes, Andrew Wong.

Haricot 微豆 said...

Dear Mr. Wong:

It's by chance that I am visiting your blog, but what a pleasant surprise. Just like you, I enjoy the challenge of translating Chinese poems into English, but unlike you, I am not an expert and am doing it just for fun. Anyway, here is a couple that I have translated:

* 鮑照【朗月行】的英文翻譯 / An English translation of the "Moon Shine Song" by Bao Zhao 414-466 http://lotusandcedar.blogspot.com/2009/10/english-translation-of-moon-shine-song.html

* 隱仕陶淵明: 【 歸園田居】/ Tao Yuan Ming, the Hermit Poet: "Return to the Countryside" http://lotusandcedar.blogspot.com/2007/04/tao-yuan-ming-hermit-poet-return-to.html



Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Haricot, Thank you for your kind words and for sharing with me two poems of Bao Zhao and Tao Qian you translated and your most interesting blog. I am no expert in either translation or poetry. It is just a hobby I picked up a couple of years ago but is now pursued with passion. At the moment, as you will see from my blog, I am concentrating on Tang quatrains and have no wish to digress into other poems. In any case, inspired by your efforts, my preliminary research on Tao Qian shows that "thirty years" might have been mistaken for "thirteen years". Keep on with your excellent work. Andrew Wong.

Frank Yue said...

hi, andrew, this wang han poem is one of my favourites. fine translation (but if i may add, it seems some details like 'jade cup', 'call to mount pipa' are somehow not translated). your critique of my feeble attempt below will be much appreciated:

"Song of Liangzhou" Wang Han (Tang)
O Aromatic, fine wine in glow-at-night jade cup round!
I'm about to drink as horseback lutes to mount at once sound.
If I lay drunk on the battlefied sands, do not laugh, m'friend!
Since time began, how many have come back at battles' end?

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Dear Frank,

I agree I have omitted translating "horseback" and "lute/pipa" which I have explained in my note on line 2. This line is most problematic in interpretation. Does "pipa" go with "drink" which gives the picture of a feast truncated by the call to mount the horses and fight? Does "pipa" go with "horseback" which means the call to fight is given in the form of lutes played on horseback going round the camp? It appears that only by omitting "pipa" and "horseback" can the true sense of the line emerge.

I have translated "cup" and have not omitted translating "jade". The addition of "jade" which is not in the original is your interpretation that the cup can only be made of jade while I am content to leave it ambiguous. You have also added "aromatic" while I think "fine" will suffice.

As I said when conversing with Azurino in the comments above, I count the beats or stresses or accents in my lines. This is called rhythm. You may wish to begin to do so.

Best wishes, Andrew Wong.

Frank Yue said...

hi, andrew,

thanks for your detailed comments. i've benefited from reading Shih Ying-chou's translation of the same
(in 'chinese-english tang poems').
ideally, the translated work should not be one word more or one word less compared to the meaning and true intention of the original. basically, that's of course 信雅达: 嚴復語。and 譯詞如譯詩,盡量保存原文的意美,音美,形美: 許淵冲語。(arrh! the wide gulf between hi-sounding theory and applied practice. and yes, rhythm is my weak spot, too bad books on the subject are not audio.)

each translated piece reflects the translator's background, values, own understanding and life experience in interpreting the original. for me, i deem it still acceptable if the minor "add-on" further expands and complements, but must not contradict, the writer's intent on a certain point.

use of the term "jade cup" is instinctive here, because of the ultra-thin dark green jade cups tourists can buy as souvenirs on site today in Xinkiang. but they also may be made of white jade.

i think the original 馬上 is a pun: it's both 'on horseback' and 'at once'. there are two interpretations of 馬上催: the playing of pipa is to urge the generals and captains to drink up in a rare feast, or a call for the cavalry to mount for action. i opt for the latter to reflect the reality of a harsh life of cavalrymen at the border.

so, now i'd like to change the I's to We's in the translation:

"Song of Liangzhou" Wang Han (Tang)
O Aromatic, fine wine in glow-at-night jade cups round!
We're about to drink as horseback lutes to mount at once sound.
If we lay drunk on the battlefield sands, do not laugh, m'friend!
Since time began, how many have come back at battles' end?

thanks again for giving us this excellent blog for free exchange of ideas!

andrew said...

Here's my translation:

Grapewine contained in glass of jade/
would have nother sip yet time won't wait/
Laugh not at drunkards lying on warfields/
How many e'er returned from ancient blood kills

Lo Tai Yin (Walter) said...

A poignant poem! Thanks to Andrew for introducing this poem and for the translation. I have also attempted a translation...

1 Grape wine into glasses, sparkling in the evening light, pour;
2 Just when we yearn for more the pipa sounds the march to war.
3 Laugh not if soldiers lay drunk on the fields in battle;
4 Down the ages how many from war e’er returned before.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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