11 December 2012

李白 Li Bai: 秋浦歌 17首 其15 Song of Qiupu 15 of 17 (白髮三千丈) (My hoary hair, a full three-furlong)

China's poet immortal Li Bai of the Tang dynasty had written in his early fifties (around 753) a total of 17 Songs of Qiupu while visiting Qiupu (in current day Anhui province).  In August 2011, I posted my rendition of his rather unusual Song XIV (14th) on the subject of smelters (Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky). Li Bai: Song of Qiupu 14 (Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky)  I do hope you had enjoyed it.  Today, I am posting my rendition of his most popular Song 15.  This beautiful little poem is on his melancholia.  As you will see, if my rendition has done him justice, the way his sentiments are expressed is subdued, subtle, yet lasting.  

Li Bai (701-762):  Song of Qiupu 15 of 17 (My hoary hair, a full three-furlong)

1    My hoary hair, a full three-furlong,
2    Its cause, my sorrow, equally long.
3    O autumn frosts in my mirror clear, from  
4    Where have you come, my hair to throng?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
11th June 2012 (revised 12.6.12; 13.6.12; 11.12.12)
Translated from the original - 李白秋浦歌 17首 其15 (1- 白髮三千丈)

1   白髮三千丈
2    缘(離)愁似
3    不知明鏡裏
4    何處得秋霜


*    This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*    Line 1:  三千丈 “three thousand zhang” equals 9.9 kilometres (1,000 zhang measures 3,300 metres) is obviously a hyperbole out of all proportions.  I have reduced this length to 3 furlongs which is slightly less than half a mile or slightly more than half a kilometre (1 furlong being 220 yards or roughly 200 metres) though primarily for the rhyme, but should be an acceptable hyperbole for the length of any person’s hair.  Instead of penning it as “three furlongs”, I have used “a full three-furlong” without the “s” to complete the “furlong-long-throng” rhyme, stealing from Shakespeare’s “Full fathom five thy father lies” in “The Tempest”.

*    Line 2:  I had considered “likewise” but have now decided for “equally” which gives a better alliterative effect.

*    Lines 3 and 4:  I have scrambled these 2 lines in my rendition: first, by moving 秋霜 “autumn frosts” (echoing the “hoariness” in line 1) from the end of line 4 to the beginning of line 3 to be associated immediately with the person in the 明鏡  “clear mirror” (which being a synecdoche for the person, hence “my clear mirror”), and second, by translating 不知 “know not” (line 3) and 何處 “where” (line 4) as a rhetorical question: “O …, from (line 3)/ Where have you come (line 4) …?”

*    Line 4:  Following from the previous note, I had considered the term 何處 "from/ Where" to mean 何時 "since/ When" but have decided to stick to the literal meaning.  I had considered translating 得 "acquired" as "to me belong" but have decided for the more expressive and straightforward "my hair to throng" with the implied word "hair" added.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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