04 March 2011

李煜 Li Yu: 浪淘沙 (新修訂本) Lang Tao Sha (Newly Revised Version)

My rendition of this famous long-short-lined poem (詞 "ci" or "tz'u) by the last ruler of the Southern Tang dynasty 李後主 Li Yu 李煜 was first posted on this blog some 3 weeks ago simultaneously on this and my other blog www.hkej.com (please click "pen on paper" logo at right hand top corner). The response was overwhelming and I have indeed learned a lot from the discussion that ensued. Above all, it triggered me to take a serious second look at my first rendition which I completed rather hastily in only 3 days. To my chagrin, I found I might indeed have misjudged the situation the poet-king was in, misinterpreted the tone of the poem and rendered and/or added words which are impolitic. This is why I am posting my rendition afresh on this and my other blog, this time this newly revised version.

I take this opportunity to thank all bloggers on both blogs. I think I have conceded to practically all the points they have made and revised my rendition accordingly though not necessarily for the same reasons, as will be seen in the notes. I thank blogger [TJPete] for taking me to task on my uncalled for reference to Milton's "Paradise Lost" and "Paradise Regained" which I have now dropped.

I must thank, in particular, Professor Xu Yuanchong (XYZ) of Peking University. It was his "commentary" (pp. 361-3 in his "On Chinese Verse in English Rhyme" that had led me into wrongly (as I see it now) interpreting 天上 "heaven" 人間 "men's world/earth" as in contrast. But it is his own "rendition of the poem" (supra) that has opened my eyes to the subtleties of the poem. Note in particular his rendering 身是客 in line 4 as "under hospitable roof" and 春去也 天上人間 in lines 9 and 10 as "spring's gone away, so has the paradise of yesterday".

Here I give you my newly revised version:-

Li Yu (937-978): Lang Tao Sha (Waves Scouring the Sands): Reminiscence

1     Outside the curtains, a mizzling, drizzling rain,
2   Spring is on the wane,
3   The chills of foredawn, my silk quilt cannot long sustain.
4   In dream unaware I’m none but a guest of the emperor’s, I cling
5   A while to pleasures vain.

6   (From leaning alone by the railings I must refrain,)
     Alone, from gazing afar I must refrain, 
     (revised 10.3.11)
7   Fair is that rivered terrain,
8   A land I left so lightly, so hard to return to again.
9   Like blossoms scattered on rippling waters, spring is gone!
10 May heaven on earth remain!

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
8th February 2011 (revised 9.2.11; 10.2.11; 17.2.11; 26.2.11; 28.2.11)
Newly revised: 28th February 2011 (revised 1.3.11);-

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

* The original poem is in 2 stanzas of long and short lines with an identical 5-4-7-7-4 (characters) pattern and an identical AAAXA rhyme scheme, represented diagrammatically as: 5A/ 4A/ 7A/ 7X/ 4A// 5A/ 4A/ 7A/ 7X/ 4A//. In this English rendition, I have used pentameter (5 feet) for the two 5-character lines, trimeter (3 feet) for the four 4-character lines and hexameter (6 feet) for the four 7-character lines with the same AAAXA rhyme scheme, the diagrammatic representation for reference being: 5A/ 3A/ 6A/ 6X/ 3A// 5A/ 3A/ 6A/ 6X/ 3A// (I have been able to use a single rhyme for both 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: For the word “curtain”, I had originally used “window” on the ground that “curtain/screen” can and should, in this context, be taken as a synecdoche to stand for “window”, but have now decided to use “curtains”. 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 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 “of foredawn” (the word foredawn 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”. I then decided to use “before dawn”, but have now decided to revert to “foredawn”. Although I have decided for “The chills of foredawn”, “The chills before dawn” is equally acceptable to me.
* Line 4: I had added “of my captor’s” to qualify “guest” so as to make clear the true meaning of the line and penned “I’m none but a guest of my captor’s”. I then decided to add “king no more” to the line to replace “none”, thus: “I’m king no more but a guest of my captor’s”. Then, bearing in mind the poet only says 身是客 “myself as a guest” in the original, words to be added by the translator, if at all necessary, must be discreet lest they run contrary to the non-offensive formulation in the original. I then considered “I’m lord no more but a guest in cloisters” and “I’m none but a cloistered guest of the emperor’s”as the poet was under house arrest, and then “I’m none but an honoured/noble guest of the emperor’s” as the poet was given the title of “king” by the emperor . In the end, I have simply decided for “I’m none but a guest of the emperor’s”.
* Line 5: I have added “vain” for the rhyme to end the line, but which carries through the “dream” of line 4 and the futility of it all. I had originally penned “For a while, I while in vain”, then changed it to “I while a while in vain”. I then considered the more faithful rendition of “A moment’s pleasures in vain”, but have decided for “I cling/ Awhile to pleasures vain” with “I cling” moved up to line 4.
* Line 6: 憑欄 literally means “leaning/standing by the railings” and was originally translated as such. I had, however, interpreted and translated it as 遠眺 literally “looking afar” and had penned “Looking afar, alone, from that I refrain”, then “Alone, from looking afar, I must refrain”, but have now decided to revert to my original translation to retain the ambiguity, thus: “From leaning alone by the railings I must refrain”.
* Line 7: 無限 literally “infinite/infinitely” is interpreted not as (無限) literally “big/vast” but as (無限) literally “fair” and translated as such. For 江山 “rivers and mountains”, I had originally penned “(Fair) was my terrain, domain”, then “(Fair) was my kingdom’s terrain”, but have now decided for “(Fair) is that rivered terrain” being closer to the original. (Shorter Oxford defines “rivered” as “watered by rivers, furnished with a river or rivers”.) The avoidance of words like “domain” and “kingdom” together with changing “was” to “is”and “my” to “that” help maintain the subtlety of the original.
* Line 8: I had originally adapted (literally “part with”) and () (literally “see again”) to mean “losing” and “regaining” the kingdom, and translated them as “paradise”, “lost” and “regain”. Although I said in the note: just borrowing from the titles of John Milton’s “Paradise Lost” and “Paradise Regained”, I was taken to task, and rightly, by a blogger [TJPete]. I now humbly concede that the reference is unnecessary, irrelevant and distracting, not just what is said in the note, but the very words “paradise”, “lost” and “regain” all bundled together in a single line, should have been avoided to preclude confusion. In addition, the “lost, regain” sentiment, though present in the line, is a hidden one which should only be intimated but not spelt out. I have now decided to revert to a less interpretative translation, thus: “A land I left so readily, so hard to return to again”.
* Line 9: For 流水落花 literally “running waters, falling/fallen flowers”, I had considered variously “Fallen flowers on rippling waters”, “Fallen petals on rippling waters”, “Blossoms falling, waters rippling” and “Like petals falling on waters rippling”, decided to use “With blossoms falling on rippling waters”, but have now decided to revise it as “Like blossoms scattered on rippling waters”.
* Line 10: This is the most difficult line to translate. I had originally penned the line as “’Twas heav’n, now a world profane” with a fairly long note: [I think the key words … are 春去也 “spring is gone/no more” … which I take to mean no matter how beautiful spring was/is, it is gone and forever gone … This leads us to interpret天上人間 not as a past “heaven on earth” … but as a past 天上 “heaven/paradise” diametrically opposed to the present 人間 “men’s world on earth”, 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-poet of the Li family line … (then) shorten(ed) … to “now a world profane”.]
Now that I have come to realize the need for the poet to vent his sentiments very discreetly as he was under house arrest and subject to the whims of the Song emperor, I now embrace the most natural and plausible interpretation of the line as “heaven on earth” or “heavenly world” and have penned the line as a prayer: “May heaven on earth remain!”

Classical Chinese Poems in English


Search This Blog