10 February 2011

李煜 Li Yu: 浪淘沙 懷舊 Lang Tao Sha (Waves Scouring the Sands) Reminiscence

This lament of a captive king Li Houzhu 李後主, the last ruler 後主 of the Li 李 family line's Southern Tang 南唐 dynasty in 10th century China, is my latest rendition. I am posting it simultaneously on this and my other blog at www.hkej.com. One cannot help but think of and speculate on Mubarak in Egypt. But, no politics, please!
The poem is most touching as will be seen in this and other translations. It is, in addition, beautifully structured with a single rhyme running through 8 of the 10 lines of varying length in a pattern of 5-4-7-7-4 characters per stanza. In my rendition, I have emulated this pattern. My rhyme scheme is AAAXA, AAAXA as in the original. My long-short line pattern, in terms of beats/stresses/feet, is 5-3-6-6-3 per stanza. I have not seen this done before, and shall be grateful to be able to get in touch with others who are attempting the same.
This poem and my rendition are not long, but my notes are. So, just sit back and enjoy the poem.

Li Yu (936-978): Lang Tao Sha (Waves Scouring the Sands): Reminiscence

1   Outside the window, a mizzling, drizzling rain,
2   Spring is on the wane,
3   The chills b’fore dawn, my silk quilt cannot long sustain.
4   In dream, unaware I’m none but a guest of my captor’s,
5   For a while I while in vain.

6   Alone: from looking afar, I must refrain,
7   Fair was my kingdom’s terrain,
8   A paradise lost so readily, so very hard to regain.
9   Like petals falling on rippling waters, spring is no more:
10 ‘Twas heav’n, now a world profane.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)       譯者: 黃宏發
8th February 2011 (revised 9.2.11; 10.2.11; 2nd 10.2.11)
Translated from the original - 李煜浪淘沙 懷舊

1   簾外雨潺潺
2   春意闌珊
3   羅衾不耐五更寒
4  夢裡不知身是客
5   一晌貪歡

6   獨自莫憑欄
7   無限江山
8   别時容易見時難
9   流水落花春去也
10 天上人間

* This English rendition is in long and short lines, pentameter (5 feet) for the two 5-character lines (1 and 6), trimeter (3 feet) for the four 4-character lines (2, 5, 7 and 10), and hexameter (6 feet) for the four 7-character lines (3, 4, 8 and 9). The rhyme scheme follows the original AAAXA, AAAXA. I have been able to use a single rhyme for the entire poem of 2 stanzas without having to use a different rhyme for the second stanza as I did for Yue Fei’s “Man Jiang Hong”. I wish to record my indebtedness to 施頴for the rhyme words of “rain”, “wane”and “vain” in his rendition of the same poem he entitled “In Captivity (Tune: Waves Washing Sand)” on pp.184-185 of his ”Tang and Song Poetry: Chinese-English” (中英對照讀唐詩宋詞), Taipei: Chiuko (台北: 九歌), 2006.
* Line 1: I had considered “curtain” but have decided for “window” as (curtain or screen) can and should be taken as a synecdoche to stand for (window). This choice is due in part to my conscious decision not to feature in rendition any internal rhyme of the “-ain” sound for reasons explained in my notes on lines 7 and 8, and extended, in this case, to the eye rhyme of “curtain” and “rain”. For the onomatopoeiac 潺潺 I have used the “-izzling” sound in two different words instead of repeating either “mizzling” or “drizzling”
* Line 2: I had originally penned “Springtide, on the wane” but have now decided for “Spring is on the wane” to pave the way to the final categorical “spring is no more (gone)” in line 9.
* Line 3: 五更 (5th watch/period) is the last period (3 to 5 a.m.) in the ancient Chinese system of night watches (1st 7 to 9 p.m., 2nd 9 to 11 p.m., 3rd 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., and 4th 1 to 3 a.m.) and is the period just before dawn. I had originally used the word “foredawn” (unfortunately found only in American dictionaries, as far as I gather) which best fits 五更 and sounds so much better than the coined word “pre-dawn”. Although I have decided for “The chills b’fore dawn”, “The chills of foredawn” is equally acceptable to me.
* Line 4: I have added “of my captor’s” to qualify “guest” so as to make clear the true meaning of the line. I had considered “I’m king no more, a guest of my captor’s””, but have decided for “I’m none but a guest of my captor’s” as being more faithful.
* Line 5: I have added “in vain” for the rhyme but which carries through the “dream” state of line 4,
* Line 6: 憑欄 literally “leaning by the railings” is interpreted and translated as 遠眺 literally “looking afar”. I had originally penned “Looking afar, alone, from that I refrain”, but have now decided for “Alone: from looking afar, I must refrain”.
* Line 7: 無限 literally “infinite” is interpreted not as (無限) literally “big/vast” but as (無限) literally “fair” and translated as such. I had considered “Fair was my terrain, domain” but have decided for “Fair was my kingdom’s terrain” as the internal rhyme may be tediously distracting.
* Line 8: literally “part with” and () literally “see again” are adapted to mean “losing” and “regaining” the kingdom and translated as “paradise”, “lost” and “regain” borrowing just from the titles of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained”. I had considered “so hard to again regain”, but have decided for “so very hard to regain” avoiding the tedious internal rhyme of “again regain”.
* Line 9: For 流水落花 literally “running waters, fallen flowers”, I had considered “Fallen flowers on rippling waters”, “Fallen petals on rippling waters” and “Blossoms falling, waters rippling” which all begin the line with a stressed syllable. I have now decided to begin the line with an unstressed “Like” which turns the emphasis rightly to 春去也 literally spring is gone, thus, “Like petals falling on waters rippling, spring is no more”.
* Line 10: I think the key words to interpreting line 10 are 春去也 “spring is gone/no more” in line 9 meaning no matter how beautiful spring was/is, it is gone and forever gone, which meaning is fully in tune with the sentiments of all previous lines. This leads us to interpret天上人間 not as a past “heaven on earth” (this world, a heavenly paradise) the poet is reminiscing, but as a past 天上 “heaven/paradise” diametrically opposed to the present 人間 “men’s world”, thus, “’Twas heav’n, now men’s world”, to which I have added “profane” (meaning, inter alia, unholy, sacrilegious, common, vulgar) to complete the rhyme and to make plain my interpretation of the sentiments of this last king/emperor-poet of the Li family line 李後主 of the South Tang 南唐dynasty. After due consideration, I have decided to shorten “now men’s world profane” to “now a world profane”.

Classical Chinese Poems in English


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