04 September 2012

李煜 Li Yu: 相見歡 (無言獨上西樓) Xiang Jian Huan (Happy Together) (Alone, in silence, up the west tower I go)

POSTSCRIPT 2 (27.1.2108)I have slightly polished my original rendition.  Aside from changing "bow" to "sickle" in line 2 and dropping the addition of "leaves" (not in the original) in line 3 as intimated in Postscript 1, I have revised (also in line 3) "That desolate tree of the phoenix ..." to read "That desolate phoenix tree ..."  The other changes have to do with presentation and punctuation marks.  What follows is the revised/polished poem:-

Li Yu (937-978): Xiang Jian Huan (Happy Together) (Alone, in silence, up the west tower I go)

1        Alone, in silence, up the west tower I go:
2        The moon is like a sickle; 
3     That desolate phoenix tree, this clear, cool autumn, 
3a   Locked deep in the courtyard below.

4         O threads I can’t cut through,
5         In a tangle I can’t undo!
6          Such is my parting sorrow---
7      A taste that tastes so odd, so strange that my heart   
7a    Ne’er ever before did know.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)         譯者黃宏發
3rd March 2011 (revised 7.3.11; 8.3.11; 4.9.12; 19.11.2017; 27.1.2018)

POSTSCRIPT 1 (19.11.2017):  I have never been entirely comfortable with my line 2 for borrowing David Hawkes' "bow" rather than my mentor John Turner's "sickle" to translate 鉤.  I have now come to conclude that this may a perfect example of the sin of "rhyme at the expense of the image".  The line is now revised to read "The moon is like a sickle".

Upon reconsideration of the entire poem, I found I had also failed to render line 3 as faithfully as I could have, e.g. I did not have to add the idea of "leaves".  I have  decided to revise line 3a to read "That desolate tree of the phoenix, this clear, cool autumn".

These revisions are effected in the original post below.  The notes have also been revised accordingly.

ORIGINAL POST (4.9.2012):  This is yet another well-known great long-short-lined poem by Li Yu 李煜 or Li Houzhu 李後主, the last Emperor of the Southern Tang dynasty.  Just for information, although there is a claim that this was written by Meng Chang 孟昶 (919-965) the last Emperor of  the Later Su dynasty 後蜀後主, most believe Li Yu to be the author.

You may also be interested to read Li Yu's other poem of the same 調 tune title, (first line: Flower groves have shed their spring red halo 林花謝了春紅) which I posted here in May 2011 http://chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.hk/2011_05_01_archive.html.  You may wish to note that the 6-character lines were there rendered in tetrameter (4 beats/feet), they are here in pentameter (5 bests/feet) while the 3-character lines are in trimeter in both poems.

Li Yu (937-978): Xiang Jian Huan/Wu Ye Ti (Happy Together/Crows Caw at Night) Autumn Sentiments (1- Alone, in silence, up the west tower I go)

1        Alone, in silence, up the west tower I go:
2        (The moon is like a bow,)
       The moon is like a sickle; (revised 19.11.2017)
3a   (The autumn leaves of that desolate tree, the phoenix,)
       That desolate tree of the phoenix, this clear, cool autumn, (revised 19.11.2017)
3b      locked deep in the courtyard below.

4         O threads I can’t cut through,
5         In a tangle I can’t undo!
6          Such is my parting sorrow---
7a    A taste that tastes so odd, so strange that my heart   
7b       ne’er ever before did know.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)         譯者: 黃宏發
3rd March 2011 (revised 7.3.11; 8.3.11; 4.9.12)
Translated from the original - 李煜相見歡/烏夜啼 秋懷 (1- 無言獨上西樓)

1        無言獨上西樓
2        月如鉤
3a   寂寞梧桐深院
3b   鎖清秋

4        剪不斷
5        理還亂
6        是離愁
7a   別是一般滋味
7b   在心頭


*    The original poem is in 2 stanzas of long and short lines with two rhymes, thus:
“6A/ 3A/ 9A(or 6X+3A)// 3B/ 3B/ 3A/ 9A(or 6X+3A)//” with numerals standing for the number of characters, and alphabets for the rhymes (X meaning unrhymed).
This English rendition follows a similar length pattern and the same rhyme scheme, thus:
“5A/ 3A/ 8A(or 5X+3A)// 3B/ 3B/ 3A/ 8A(or 5X+3A)//” with numerals standing for the number of beats/feet, and alphabets for the rhymes.  I am greatly indebted to David Hawkes for his rendition of this poem which the editor has entitled “To ‘Crows Cry in the Night’ No. 2” in Alice W. Cheang (ed.) “A Silver Treasury of Chinese Lyrics” Hong Kong: The Chinese University 2003, p. 28.  From him I have borrowed the 'ou' rhyme of  "bow, below" (which I have now abandoned) and the 'oo' rhyme of “cut through, undo”.

*    Line 2:  Instead of using the literal “hook or sickle” for , I had originally borrowed “bow” from David Hawkes (supra) to describe the shape of the moon and penned the line as "The moon is like a bow ...)  As this may well be a fine example of "rhyme at the expense of the image," I have now decided for "sickle" used by John Turner who was my high school English Literature master, my mentor.  (Please see note on line 4 and 5 below for the source.)  Not only is "sickle" the image of the original, it can be taken as a slant rhyme as the sound of the syllabic consonant 'l' (here spelt "le") sounds very close to the vowel 'ou'.   

*    Lines 3 and 3a:  For , instead of the literal “lonely”, I have used “desolate” to produce the image of one bald and bare tree, the tree 梧桐 being deciduous.  The Chinese 梧桐 (which is not the same as the “plane” tree known in Chinese as 法國 French 梧桐) is taller and is known as the “parasol” or “phoenix” tree and I have picked the latter which symbolizes royalty.  

      I had originally penned line 3a as "The autumn leaves of the desolate tree, the phoenix" and wrote the following in the note: "清秋 is hard to interpret as can have a lot of different meanings.  Instead of “cold, chilly, cool”, “clear, lucid, bright”, “pure, clean”, “quiet, peaceful”, etc., I have chosen to interpret it along the lines of 清瘦 or 清癯 being “thin, lean” and have used “autumn leaves” (which have fallen, balding the tree) to create the image of a thin and lean (not luscious) autumn."  I have now decided to restore the natural, though ambiguous, meaning of "clear, cool autumn" and revise line 3 to read "That desolate phoenix tree, this clear, cool autumn".   

      I have moved 清秋 “this clear, cool autumn (previously "The autumn leaves”) from 3a in the original up to 3, and 深院 “deep in the courtyard” from 3 down to 3a, as I have interpreted the whole line 3 to mean “the desolate tree and autumn (and the poet himself), all locked deep in the courtyard”.  

     The word “below” borrowed from David Hawkes is added for the rhyme.

*    Lines 4 and 5:  This metaphor of 剪不斷 理還亂 is difficult to translate.  I have here adapted David Hawkes’ formulation of “A knot I can’t cut through,/ A tangle that I can’t undo” (supra) to form my “Threads I can’t cut through/ In a tangle I can’t undo”. 
For reference, I cite below some solutions by other translators:- 
(1)   John A. Turner (p. 87 “A Golden Treasury of Chinese Poetry” HK: The Chinese University 1989): “Shearing will not sever, no,/ Nor sorting dis-entwine their woe” (rhymed);
(2)   Xu Yuanzhong 許淵冲 (pp. 181-2  “譯筆生花鄭州: 文心 2005); “Cut, it won’t break;/ Ordered, a mess ‘twill make” and his other attempts: “Cut, it won’t sever;/ Be ruled, ‘twill never” and “Cut, it won’t break;/ Ruled, it will make/ A mess and wake” (all rhymed); and
(3)   Tony Barnstone (p. 228 “The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry” New York: Anchor Books 2005): “Cut, it won’t break,/ straightened, it stays tangled” (not rhymed).

*    Lines 7 and 7a:  In order to fill out the length of 8 beats/feet to translate the 9- character line, I have in line 7, used “a taste that tastes” to translate 滋味 and two similar (if not synonymous) words “odd” and “strange” for 別是一般.  I had consider using “bitter” instead of “odd”, but have decided against it as the “bitter taste” is only implied in the original poem.  Line 7a bears no correspondence to the original and is added to complete the rhyme and the poem.  I had considered adding “finds hard to ever swallow” but have decided for a formulation along the lines of “never before did know” which can be taken to be just an elaboration of 別是一般 without adding too much to the meaning.  I had considered penning the line as simply “never before did know” or “not ever before did know”, but have in the end decided for “ne’er ever before did know”. 


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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