07 June 2012

陳陶 Chen Tao: 隴西行 Song of Longxi

Following my October 2009 post of 王翰 Wang Han's 涼州詞 "Song of Liangzhou" and my October 2011 post of 柳中庸 Liu Zhongyong's 征人怨 "A Soldier's Lament", here is yet another very subtle anti-war poem  This poem 隴西行  "Song of Longxi" is by a Late Tang poet 陳陶 Chen Tao, and has passed down in China from generation to generation for more than a thousand years.  It is a poem most hated by sovereigns and best loved by the people, particularly the last 2 lines and most particularly the first 2 characters of these 2 lines viz. 可憐 and 猶是.  I can only hope that my translating them as "Poor souls" and "Still alive" has done Chen Tao justice.  How do you feel?

Two further points on which I need your assistance and suggestions.  First, should the entire poem be rendered in the second person (addressing the dead soldiers), or the third person (narrating their plight), or am I right to render only the last 2 lines in the second person thereby creating a change in the tone of the poem from line 3 on (which is as it should be) and making my rendition less monotonous?  

Second, although "at home as spring comes by" is an appropriate and adequate ending of the poem, I am still inclined towards the "suggestive" interpretation of 春閨  as more than just "boudoir in spring" and am, therefore, very much tempted to embrace "of spring's sweet lullaby" which, to me, feels so much more poetic.  What do you say?  Kindly give my 3 questions some thought and give us, all bloggers, your views.

I now give you Chen Tao's "Song Longxi":-     

Chen Tao (812?-885?):  Song of Longxi

1        They vowed to crush the Tartars, regardless if they should die;
2        Five thousand fur-clad warriors, fell dead, in the dust now lie.
3        Poor souls, your bones abandoned, by Wuding’s shifting shores,
4        Still live in the dreams of your lovers at home as spring comes by.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
25th May 2012 (revised 1.6.12; 6.6.12; 7.6.12)
Translated from the original - 陳陶:   隴西行

1        誓掃匈奴不顧身
2        五千貂錦喪胡塵
3        可憐無定河邊骨
4        猶是春閨夢裡人

*    This English rendition is in hexameter (6 feet) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*    Title:  隴西 Longxi is in present day 甘肅 Gansu Province in the north-western part of China. 
*    Line 1.  I had considered “swore” and “pledged” but have decided for “vowed”.  I had considered “swat” and “smash” but have decided for “crush”.  I have chosen the more general “Tartars” (over “Xiongnus” or “Huns”) to translate 匈奴.  Some may consider “Tartars” more specific, but I have no wish to enter into a detailed discussion here.  I had considered “mindless”, “mind not” and “care not” but have decided for “regardless”.
*    Line 2:  貂錦 “sable and silk brocade” refers to the noble uniform of the elite corps (e.g. 錦衣衛 “Guards in Brocade Uniform”) and is, therefore, a synecdoche for such “soldiers/warriors/troopers”.  I had considered using “uniformed”, “finest” and “elite” to describe the men, but have decided for the inclusion of as “fur-clad” in my translation to highlight the cold weather at the border, hence, “fur-clad  warriors”.  It is not apparent in the original whether the “five thousand” refers to the whole army or just part (albeit, a large part) of it; I have left it open in my rendition.  I have omitted translating  “Hu” (which is a general term for all northern tribes which term I had rendered as “Tartars”  in my rendition of Yue Fei’s “Man Jiang Hong”) since 胡塵  can mean both “land of the northern tribes” and “land infested with people of the northern tribes”.
*    Line 3:  I had considered adding “O pity” somewhere in the line, but have decided “Poor souls” quite adequate.  I have added “abandoned” to heighten the “Poor souls” and “O pity” (which latter word I have not used) sentiments.   無定河 flows south from the Province of Inner Mongolia 内蒙古 through 陝西 Shaanxi Province into 黄河 Huang He, the Yellow River.  For 無定 (“shifting”, “unsettled”, “indeterminate”, etc.), I have used the transliteration “Wuding” but added the word “shifting” in “shifting shores” to explain the sandy and, therefore, changing/shifting nature of the Wuding river course, which also explains why it was so hard to retrieve the remains of the warriors there  abandoned.
*    Line 4:  means a lady’s “quarters/boudoir/bower” at home.  春 is literally “springtime” but figuratively suggests “a lady misses her man” as in 思春 “thinking of/yearning for love”.  I had, therefore, considered using “of love’s sweet lullaby” or “of spring’s sweet lullaby” to end the poem, but have now decided for the less suggestive “at home as spring comes by”.
*    Lines 3 and 4:  Although the poem can be rendered in both the second person (an address to the dead soldiers) and the third person (a narration of the plight of the dead soldiers), I favour the second person as it gives the lines more feeling, but have decided to render only lines 3 and 4 in the second person.

Classical Chinese Poems in English


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