20 January 2012

高適 Gao Shih: 除夜作 Written in the Night of New Year’s Eve

This year 2012, New Year's Day of the Chinese Lunar Calendar falls on Monday the 23rd of January. At this, the Eve of the Chinese New Year, I post here a Tang dynasty poem which suits the occasion but, hopefully suits not the happier personal circumstances of the readers. Wishing you all a prosperous Year of the Dragon.  Kung Hei Fat Choy!

Gao Shih (701-765): Written in the Night of New Year’s Eve

1   In the cold of the tavern lamplight, unslept, alone am I;
2  This heart of mine, in sojourn, turned sad, O why? I sigh.
3  Tonight, O I wish I were home, yet a thousand miles away; 
4  Come tomorrow, my hair grayed, another year’s gone by!
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)       譯者: 黃宏發
27th December 2010 (revised 28.12.10; 2.1.11; 20.1.12)
Translated from the original - 高適除夜作

1  旅館寒燈獨不眠
2  客心何事轉淒然
3  故鄉今夜思千里
4  霜鬢明朝又一年

*    This English rendition is in hexameter while the original is in 7-character lines..  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.-
*    Line 1:  For the first half of the line, I had considered “In/’Neath the cold tavern (inn/road house) lamplight/the cold lamplight of the tavern (inn/road house)”, but have decided for “In the cold of the tavern lamplight”.  For the second half, I had considered “awake” (for alliteration with “alone”) and “sleepless” (for being more faithful and for being a fashionable word) but have decided for “unslept”.  I had also considered ending the line with “I lie”, but “am I” is obviously more faithful to the original.
*    Line 2:  I have not translated 何事 as a question of “for what” but as a rhetorical question of “why” 為何 and have, therefore, added “I sigh” which is not in the original to reinforce the effect..  I had originally penned the line as “In sojourn, my heart is saddened, why, O why? I sigh.”, but have decided for the present line.
*    Line 3:  I have interpreted the line as the poet thinking of home and not as folks at home thinking of him.  I had originally penned “Tonight, my thoughts are of home, a thousand miles away”, considered rewriting it as “O tonight I long to be home, yet away a thousand miles” and have now decided for “O tonight I wish I were home, yet a thousand miles away”.  Although 千里  (thousand “li”) is only about 300 miles, I take it to be a hyperbole and have retained the word  “thousand” which is more effective than “hundreds of”
*     Line 4:  I have contracted “my hair greyed” to “m’hair greyed” in order lead one to read it as “me hair”.  I think my interpretation of 又一年 as “another year has gone (by)” is more in tune with the rest of the poem and more reasonable than “another year has come (along)”.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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