18 May 2012

李紳 Li Shen: 憫農/古風 2首 其2 (1- 鋤禾日當午) Pity the Peasants/Ancient Air (1- He heaves his hoe...)

Following my April 2012 post last month, here is the second and the more popular of Late Tang poet Li Shen's 2 quatrain (4-line) airs on the poor peasants.  The poem has become popular and famous primarily because of the last 2 lines, particularly the last line which has, for generations and generations, been used Chinese parents to teach their children not to waste food.  I hope you will enjoy my renditions of it.

Li Shen (772-846): Pity the Peasants/Ancient Air, 2 of 2 (1- He heaves his hoe...)

1  He heaves his hoe in the rice-field, under the noonday sun,
2  Onto the soil of the rice-field, his streaming sweat beads run.
3  Ah, do you or don’t you know it?  That bowl of rice we eat:
4  Each grain, each ev’ry granule, the fruit of his labour done.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黄宏發
17th March 2010 (revised 18.3.10; 22.3.10; 24.3.10; 25.3.10; 30.3.10; 17.8.10)
Translated from the original - 李紳憫農/古風 2首 其2 (1- 鋤禾日當午)

1  鋤禾日當午
2  汗滴禾下土
3  誰知盤中飧
4  粒粒皆辛苦


*  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*  Line 1:  I have added the stressed “heave” to strengthen the “he-ho” sound to represent strenuous work.
*  Line 2:  "On-" in Onto" should be read stressed.  I had considered “soggy/sodden rice-field”, but have decided for the more literal “soil of the rice-field”.  I have, for the rhyme, used “run” instead of the literal “drip” to translate and have added “streaming” to bring out the strenuous nature of the toil.

*  Line 3:  The second word "do" should be read stressed.  I have taken 誰知 not to mean “who knows” but to mean “do you know” or, better, “don’t you know” which latter is close to須知 (meaning “you/we ought to know” or “you/we had better know” or “the truth is”) subtly implied/suggested in 誰知..  For 盤中飧 I have used “bowl of rice” instead of the literal “plate of food” so as to follow through the idea of “rice” in lines 1 and 2, rice being the staple food for most Chinese.  I have used “we” in “we eat” instead of “you” (to follow “do you … don’t you”) in order to make clear that the poem is not about any particular bowl of rice or plate of food, but about rice and food in general.

*  Line 4:  Here, the word “each” should be read unstressed.  While the second (in “each every granule”) must be read unstressed, the first (in “each grain”) can be read stressed to make a spondaic (DUMDUM) foot.  An unstressed reading is nonetheless preferred so as not to dilute the effect of my using the alliterative “gr” sound in “grain” and “granule” to translate 粒粒 which is only somewhat covered by the repetition of the word “each”.  I had originally penned the conclusion as “is all for his hard work done”, then toyed with “the fruit of hard work done” and “due all to his hard work done”.  I  have now decided for the "fruit" formulation and to use “labour” instead of “hard work”, hence, "the fruit of his labour done". 


Classical Chinese Poems in English


Search This Blog