07 September 2010

馬致遠 Ma Zhiyuan: 天淨沙 秋思 Tian Jing Sha "Autumn Thoughts"

This poem is a 曲 "qu" or song of the 元 Yuan Dynasty which is akin to 詞 "ci" or song of the 宋 Song Dynasty made up of long and short lines. I had earlier last May posted a Song "ci", Yue Fei's "The River All Red". This is my first attempt at a Yuan "qu". This poem is particularly challenging as it is a sheer juxtaposition of images, e.g. "dried vine(s)", "old tree(s)", "evening crow(s)" in the first line followed by more in subsequent lines. While I can simply present the images in sequence (montage?) like most faithful translators do, I have chosen to give a clear interpretation to the whole poem by adding verbs to 4 of the 5 lines. So we have "crows ... roosting", "homes of people nestling" leading up in contrast to "scrawny horse ... trudging", "sun ... setting" (verb in the original), and "wanderer ... a-roaming". "They have homes, while I don't," so to speak. In so doing, I of course run the risk of being labelled "a square peg in a round hole" or, more precisely, "an over-sized square peg fits not the round hole". But at least some c'onsolation can be found in the "ing" rhyme in an AAAAA rhyme scheme made possible only by the addition of verbs not present but implied in the original. Please enjoy reading it out --- slowly but loudly.

Ma Zhiyuan (1260-1364):  Tian Jing Sha (Heavenly Pure Sand) -- Autumn Thoughts

1  An old tree, dried vines entwined, by ev’ning crows come roosting;

2  O’er a small bridge, by a running stream, homes of people nestling.
3  On an old road, in the autumn wind, a scrawny horse keeps trudging.
4  The sun, slanting, to the west, setting ---
5  Heart-torn, lovelorn, the wanderer, to the verge of the sky a-roaming.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者黄宏發
18th August 2010 (revised 19.8.10; 20.8.10; 6.9.10)
Translated from the original - 馬致遠:  天淨沙 -- 秋思

1  枯藤老樹昏鴉
2  小橋流水人家
3  古道西風瘦馬
4  夕陽西下
5  斷腸人在天涯

* The original is in 5 lines with the first 3 lines in 6 characters, the 4th a 4-character line and the last line back to 6 characters. The rhyme scheme is AAAAA with an “a” or “ah” rhyme. (It should be noted that although the last word in the last line is pronounced “ngai” in Cantonese, it is “ya” in Putonghua.). My English rendition emulates the pattern of the original with 6 beats/stresses in the first 3 lines and the last and 4 beats/stresses in the 4th line. My rhyme scheme is AAAAA like the original, with a uniform “ing” ending. Although, strictly speaking, a simple “ing” does not constitute a rhyme, the pattern is pleasing to the eye and the rendition, hopefully, also pleasing to the ear. As will be seen from the following work draft, most of the verbs ending with “ing” are not in the original (lines 1-3 and 5) but are added primarily to produce this eye rhyme pattern:-
Dried (bald/bare) vines, old tree, evening crows (add: roosting)
Small bridge, running water (stream/rivulet), people (others) homes (add: nestling)
Old road, west (autumn/high) wind, scrawny horse (add: trudging)
Evening sun west sets (slanting/setting)
Guts-torn (heart-torn/love-lorn) man at sky’s (land’s) end (add: roaming/a-roaming)
As can also be seen from the above, although none of the verbs concerned is in the original, each and every is implied and is essential in translation whether into English or into modern day Chinese.
* Line 1: I had considered “dead”, “bald” and “bare” for but have decided for “dried”. I have added “entwined”, which is not in the original, for assonance with “vines” in addition to being descriptive of a scene of the symbiosis of the tree and vines. The word “come” in “come roosting” should be read unstressed.
* Line 2: For I have chosen “stream” over “waters/rivulet”. For 人家 I had considered “others’ homesteads/homes of others” to cover the poet’s (though ambiguous, yet readily apparent) meaning that none of the houses is the wanderer’s home, but have decided that “homes of people” should suffice. “Nestle/nestling” here is ambiguously rich in meaning. It takes in the meaning of both “lie half hidden or embedded in some place” and “lie snugly in some situation”. (Shorter Oxford Dictionary)
* Line 3: For 西風 I have rejected the literal “west wind(s)” as, to the Englishmen and the Europeans, west wind is a spring wind, Zephyr, which is not what the poet refers to. I have then considered “winds now high” but have decided for “in the autumn wind”. The word “keeps” in “keeps trudging” should be read unstressed.
* Line 5: I have spelt out “man” as the “wanderer”. I had considered “to/in the/a land at the sky’s end a-roaming”, but have decided for “to the verge of the sky a-roaming”. I have added “a- (meaning in the process of)” to “roaming” so as to amplify my interpretation that 在天涯 means 浪迹天涯 not just “at the verge of the sky”, but “to the verge of the sky a-roaming”.

Classical Chinese Poems in English


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