12 July 2011

温庭筠 Wen Tingyun: 更漏子 (1- 玉爐香) Geng Lou Zi (Clepsydra, or Water Clock) (1- A jadite incense burner)

This is my latest translated work. This "long-short lined lyric" poem (or "ci" 詞) by the great late Tang dynasty poet Wen Tingyun is of the autumn sentiments of a woman left at home. Although the cause is not apparent in the poem, one can reasonably imagine the husband at war. Whether or not a war weary poem, it beautifully portrays the love they share or, at least, the deep love of hers. Here is my rendition:-

Wen Tingyun (812-870): Geng Lou Zi (Clepsydra, or Water Clock) - Autumn Sentiments

1    A jadite incense burner,
2    Red wax, in tears, aglow,
3       Lights up, in the hall, a face immersed in autumn sorrow.
4    Her painted eyebrows waned,
5       Her hair no more well groomed,
6      To a long night of a cold bed she’s doomed.

7      The phoenix tree now stripping,
8    From midnight drizzles dripping,
9      They know not her heart, the pains of separation a-ripping.
10  A leaf follows a leaf,
11   A plop echoes a drop,
12  Till morn unslept, onto empty steps they plop.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
7th July 2011 (revised 8.7.11; 12.7.11)
Translated from the original - 温庭筠更漏子 - 秋意

1    玉爐香
2       紅蠟淚
3    偏照畫堂秋思
4       眉翠薄
5       鬢雲殘
6       夜長衾枕寒

7     梧桐樹
8     三更雨
9     不道離情正苦
10   一葉葉
11   一聲聲
12   空階滴到明

* In this English rendition, I have used trimeter (3 metrical feet) for the original 3-character lines, hexameter (6 feet) for 6-character lines, and pentameter (5 feet) for 5-character lines. The rhyme scheme is XAAXBB, CCCXDD as in the original. Though not apparent in current Chinese pronunciation, lines 2 and 3 do rhyme as being in the “” rhyme, and lines 7 , 8 and 9 also rhyme as being in the”” rhyme.
* Line 1: I had variously considered “Jadite, the incense burner”, “A jadite burner of incense”, “Incense in a jadite censer” and “Incense from a jadite burner”, but have decided for the plain “A jadite incense burner”.
* Line 2: I had considered “Red candles, in tears, aglow”, but have decided to literally translate the synecdoche in the original Chinese as “wax”. I have added “aglow” which is not in the original line 2 but implied in line 3 so as to rhyme with “sorrow” in line 3.
* Line 3: 偏照 is translated as “lights up” to follow on from “aglow” in line 2. I have interpreted 秋思 not per se as “autumn sentiments” but as those of a lady left at home (probably by her army husband at the frontier) and, hence, rendered as “a face immersed in autumn sorrow”.
* Lines 4 and 5: I had considered but rejected “Her painted brows have waned,/ Her hair by now ungroomed” and “Her painted eyebrows, now waned./ Her hair, no longer (well) groomed”.
* Line 6: 衾枕 is translated as “bed”, instead of the literal “quilt and pillow”, in the interest of a shorter 5-foot line. I have interpreted 衾枕寒 “quilt, pillow cold” to mean “sleeping alone”, hence “a cold bed” suffices. (One can either take “quilt and pillow” in the original as a synecdoche to mean “bed”, or take my “bed” as a synecdoche for the original “quilt and pillow”.) The line should be read as “pyrrhic/ spondee/ pyrrhic/ spondee/ iamb”.
* Lines 7 and 8: I have added “stripping” (line 7)” and “dripping” (line 8), which are not in the original, so as to make a rhyme for lines 7, 8 and 9 and to herald in “a leaf follows a leaf” (line 10) and “a plop echoes a drop” (line 11).
* Line 8: 三更, the third watch of the night (from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m.) is, here, translated as “midnight”. I have added “From” so as to be consistent with “Till morn” in line 12
* Line 9: The word “separation” should be read with both “se-” and “-ra-” accented.
* Line 11: As the word “sound” in the original refers to raindrops, the meaning of the line is translated as “drop” with the onomatopoeic “plop” and the verb “echoes” to translate the repetition of .
* Line 12: I have added “unslept” which, though not in the original, is both reasonably implied and, more important, necessary as (a) the phrase “Till morn unslept” subtly shifts the focus back to the lady protagonist and retains the ambiguity of 空階滴到明 that, at daybreak, drizzles may not stop and may carry on which translations like “till the break of day” or “till the dawn of morn” cannot succeed, and (b) the assonance of the “ep” sound in “unslept” and “steps”

Classical Chinese Poems in English


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