10 December 2010

白居易 Bai Juyi: 夜雪 Night in Snow

Winter is approaching. Although it never snows in Hong Kong, those of us who had experienced snow may find this little poem of interest. The famed Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi is also known by the name Po Chu-I.

Bai Juyi (772-846): Night in Snow

1  Surprised to find, so cold, my quilt and pillow;
2  (Then light I see from the papered casement window.)
    Then light I see through my papered casement window.  
    (revised 26.2.15)
3  (Deep in the night, so heavy it snows, I know, when)
    Deep in the night, so heavy's the snow, I know, when  
    (revised 26.2.15)
4  (Bamboos go crack ~ a sound, now ‘n then, I follow.)
    Bamboos go clack---a sound, then again, I follow.
    (revised 26.2.15)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)       譯者: 黃宏發
22nd July 2009 (revised 23.7.09; 24.7.09; 3.8.09; 4.8.09; 5.8.09; 10.12.10)
Translated from the original - 白居易: 夜雪

1  已訝衾枕冷
2  復見窗户明
3  夜深知雪重
4  時聞折竹聲

* This English rendition is in pentameter (5 metrical feet) to emulate the original 5-character lines. The rhyme scheme is AAXA as I take the original to be. The “pillow, window, follow” rhyme is but a falling para-rhyme
* Line 2: The word 復 here means 後 “then”, not 再 “again”. The word 户 “door” is omitted in the translation as it refers to the Chinese “casement door” which is also a window. The word “papered” is added to make clear it is not a glass casement window/door which did not yet exist.
* Line 3: I had originally penned “so heavy’s the snow” but have now decided for “so heavy it snows”.
* Line 4: For the sound of bamboos breaking, I had considered “snap” and “clack”, but have decided for “crack”. For the word 時, I had considered “e’er ‘n anon (ever and anon)”, “now ‘n again (now and again)”and “then ‘n again (then and again)”, but have decided for “now ‘n then (now and then)”


Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Sorry, I have changed my mind. Line 4 should now read:-
Bamboos go crack ~ a sound, then 'n again, I follow.
Andrew Wong.

Frank Yue said...

hi, andrew,

thank you for your rendition (though i find in parts things thereat seem a bit circuitous). bai juyi's style is known to be simple and easy to understand and recite.

would the following attempt be a bit simpler? please advise. thanks!

【夜雪】 白居易
已訝衾枕冷, 復見窗户明。
夜深知雪重, 時聞折竹聲。

Night Snows Bai Juyi (772-846)
Surprised that my quilt and pillow were cold,
Then light reflected on windows, I found.
The night's deep, snows are fall'ng heavy like so;
Now and then, I hear bamboos' breaking sound.


Frank Yue said...

hi, andrew,

i've just translated bai juyi's 'swallow poem' and should be grateful for your critique please.

【燕詩示劉叟】 唐·白居易
梁上有雙燕 翩翩雄與雌
銜泥兩椽間 一巢生四兒
四兒日夜長 索食聲孜孜
青蟲不易捕 黃口無飽期
觜爪雖欲敝 心力不知疲
須臾十來往 猶恐巢中饑
辛勤三十日 母瘦雛漸肥
喃喃教言語 一一刷毛衣

一旦羽翼成 引上庭樹枝
舉翅不回顧 隨風四散飛
雌雄空中鳴 聲盡呼不歸
卻入空巢裏 啁啾終夜悲
燕燕爾勿悲 爾當返自思
思爾為雛日 高飛背母時
當時父母念 今日爾應知

Swallow Poem to show Liu the Elderly Bai Juyi (Tang)
There are two Swallows on the beam;
They're a fine Husband-and-Wife team.
Mud with sweet saliva they mix,
To build a nest for their four chicks.
Yellow hatchlings grow day and night,
Always crying for more food flight.
Green worms are not easy to catch,
Babies' hunger is ne'er dispatch'd.
Though signs of stress beaks and claws show,
Fatigue the lov'ng parents don't know.
Even after a dozen flights,
Will the dear ones still need more bites?
After thirty laborious days,
Nestlings are plump, and Mom slim stays.
They're taught to speak and sing high notes;
Groomed are their fine feathery coats.

Once the young birds' wings become strong,
They're led up th' branches before long.
Off they fly -- never looking back,
Dispersing in the wind, and tack.
The parents cry endless in th' wind!
But th' young birds are ne'er again seen.
Returning to their empty nest,
All night -- sorrows swell up their breast.
Swallow, Swallow, grieve not like so,
Just remember your days of old,
When you were young you turn'd your back
To your parents and off you tack'd!
Your Mom and Dad were worried so --
Today, the same griefs you should know.


Ray Heaton said...

This looked at first a simple poem, but it defied my ability to translate for quite some. Eventually I went for the following...

Disturbed at my cold and lonely bed
while through my window, light is shed.
By snow that is weighed as night grows old,
The sound of Bamboo's snap is told.

I've distorted some of the meanings here to add a rhyming sequence, though I have chosen this to be as couplets rather than the original pattern of xxox which is using Leng, Ming and Sheng as the endings to line 1,2 and 4.

I am relating the first line to the Chinese idiom, "A Cold Pillow and Lonely Bed" or Zhen Leng Qin Han, as similar phrasing is being used here. This refers to a cold and solitary existence, so I am making an assumption that the poet is reflecting on his state of mind

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

I thank Frank Yue and Ray Heaton for their renditions of 2010 and 2014 respectively. Forgive me for offering no comment in return as I honestly prefer my own. But they have certainly goaded me to take a second look at my rendition, and have decided to revise it slightly to read as follows;-
1 Surprised to find, so cold, my quilt and pillow;
2 Then light I see through my papered casement window.
3 Deep in the night, so heavy the snow, I know, when
4 Bamboos go clack---a sound, then again, I follow.
Line 2: I have revised "from the" to read "through my".
Line 3: I have revised "it snows" to read "the snow".
Line 4: I have revised "crack" to read "clack".
I have now effected these revisions on the post itself.

Andrew W.F. Wong 黃宏發 said...

Sorry, one more revision for line 4:-
I have revised "now 'n then" to read "then again".

Anonymous said...

I read with great interest. I don't speak Mandarin that is why attempts to translate are even more interesting for me. Well English is also only one of my language and is not my native, but I try to understand. Thank you


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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