02 December 2013

李商隱 Li Shangyin: 夜雨寄北(內) Written on a Rainy Night - A Letter to the North (My Wife)



Li Shangyin (813-858): Written on a Rainy Night: A Letter Sent North 



You asked of my day of return --- I, alas, have none to tell;


In Bashan night rains, in autumn, cause ponds and pools to swell.      


O how I wish I were with you, west chamber’s candles to trim, and


To talk of the times and hours, when in Bashan night rains fell.

ORIGINAL POST (December 2013):

Here is my rendition of a beautiful poem by Li Shangyin (late Tang dynasty poet) which I translated some 3 years ago.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Li Shangyin (813-858): Written on a Rainy Night - A Letter to the North (My Wife)

1  You asked of my date of return, I alas have none to tell,
2   In Bashan night rains in autumn, the pools and puddles swell.
3   How I long to be with you, your west wing candles to trim, and  
4   To talk of the times and hours when in Bashan night rains fell.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
2nd November 2008 (revised 3.11.08; 5.11.08; 6.11.08; 17.11.08; 19.2.09; 26.6.09; 20.10.10; 22.10.10; 25.10.10; 26.10.10)
Translated from the original - 李商隱: 夜雨寄北()

1  君問歸期未有期
2  巴山夜雨漲秋池
3  何當共剪西窗燭
4  却話巴山夜雨時

* Meter and rhyme:  The original poem is in 7-character lines.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet).  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.  I am indebted to 施穎洲 for the “tell(1) -swell(2) - fell(4)” rhyme of his rendition of the same poem which he has entitled “Lines for Home in Rainy Night” in his ”Tang and Song Poetry: Chinese-English” (中英對照讀唐詩宋詞), Taipei: Chiuko (台北: 九歌), 2006, pp. 156-157.
* Title and interpretation:  There are 2 versions to the title, “to the North” 寄北 and “to My Wife” 寄內, giving rather different interpretations to the poem.  Although “to the North” is the preferred title, “to My Wife” is the preferred interpretation of most Chinese scholars as the contents of the poem, albeit ambiguous, conveys an intimacy which can only be marital.  My rendition is similarly ambiguous although I have taken “to the North” in the title as there are strong grounds for this, as by the time the poet was posted to Bashan (present day Chongqing 重慶 until recently the eastern part of Sichuan 四川), his wife had already passed away.  The addressee must therefore be someone very close to the poet; and it has been suggested that a possible addressee is Wen Tingyun (812-870) 温庭筠, a poet who had exchanged poems with the poet. 
* Line 1:  I had considered “day” but have decided for “date” to translate .
* Line 2:  I had used “puddles and ponds do swell” and “pools and ponds do swell” but have now decided for “pools and puddles swell”.
* Line 3:  For 何堪共 I had considered but rejected “O how I long to be home with you” as this would make the poem unambiguously a letter to the wife (please see my note on title and interpretation above).  I had then considered “how I long/wish we’re together/I’m with you/to join you/to be with you” and have decided for “How I long to be with you” (the word “with” read stressed).  For 剪西窗燭 I had considered “by the west window candles to trim” and the whole line as “How I long to trim with you, candles by the window to the west”.  Now that I have come to interpret 西窗 “west window” as a synecdoche for 西廂 “west wing/room/suite”, I have decided for “your west wing candles to trim”.
* Line 4:  I had first penned the line as “To speak of our lonesome times when in Bashan night rains fell”, but       have now decided against adding “lonesome” (which is not in the original) and have changed it to “To talk of the times and hours when in Bashan night rains fell”.

01 November 2013

王維 Wang Wei: 送別 (山中相送罷) Farewell (Here in the hills, I bade you farewell)

POSTSCRIPT (26 April 2018):  I have polished my rendition as follows:

Here in the hills, I bade you farewell;
Now by dusk I close my twiggen door.
Oh grass will again be green next spring!
Might you, my lord, be back once more?


Here is a simple yet beautiful quatrain by the famed Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei.  It is taken to be a friendship poem by most, but I suppose one can always use it as a love poem without changing too many words.

Wang Wei (701-761):  Farewell (Here in the hills, I bade you farewell)

1  Here in the hills, I bade you farewell;
2  And by dusk I closed my twiggen door.
3  O grass will again be green next spring!
4  Might you, my lord, be back once more?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
24th September 2013 (revised 25.9.13; 26.9.13; 3.10.13; 4.10.13; 5.10.13; 21.10.13; 22.10.13; 28.10.13; 26.4.2018)
Translated from the original - 王維送別 (山中相送罷)

1  山中相送罷
2  日暮掩柴扉
3  春草明年綠
4  王孫歸不歸

*Meter & Rhyme:  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.
*Lines 1 and 4:  I had given much thought to whether the visitor the poet bade farewell to should be rendered in the second person (“bade you farewell” and “my lord”) with the poet thinking to himself as if he were addressing the visitor, or the third (“bade him farewell” and “his lordship”) with the poet simply thinking to himself.  I had originally penned the lines in the second person but then changed them to the third.  I now consider the third person too impersonal to truly reflect the poet’s feelings and have decided to revert to the second person.
*Line 1:  I have added the word “Here” as I take 山中 “in the hills” to mean the hills where the poet lives, so “In the hills where I live”.   I had also considered adding the word “my”, e.g. “In these my hills” and “Here in my hills”, but have now decided for the simple “Here in the hills”.  For the word (相送) “finished (bidding farewell)”, I have rendered it simply in the past tense.  This inadequacy is made up by my adding the word “by” before “dusk” in line 2 to denote the passage of time.
*Line 2:  I had, for the reason stated in the note above, considered and rejected “at dusk” after which,  I considered “now/come dusk” and have now decided for “by dusk”.  I take 柴扉 “faggots--door” to be equivalent to 蓬門 “reeds/grass--door”, both terms mean a “door made of plaited cheap materials such as faggots, twigs, brushwood, reeds, grass and bamboo” and both used to connote a “humble dwelling” (but not exactly equivalent to 竹門 “bamboo--door” which term is usually used figuratively to refer to a family of a lowly status).  I had therefore considered “humble” and “shabby” but had decided to stay close the word “door” in the original.  I then considered but dropped “wicker” and “wickerwork”; and of the two most appropriate words “brushwood” and “twiggen”, I have chosen the latter primarily because it sounds better (Twiggen:  a/Made of twigs or wickerwork; also, having a wickerwork covering  b/Arising from burning twigs or brushwood  O.E.D.) although “brushwood” is equally acceptable in terms of meaning.
*Line 3:  I had considered rendering the line closer to the original as “Spring grass will (again) be green next year” but have found both “Spring grass” and “next year” rather clumsy, hence, “O grass will again be green next spring!!”   Please note I have added “again” which is implied in the original.

*Line 4:  Instead of “prince”, I have rendered 王孫 “a nobleman’s offspring” as “lord/lordship” for assonance with “more”.  I had originally translated as “return”, then considered “come back” as an alternative, then “be here” to echo both the “Here” in line 1 and the “be green” in line 3, but have now decided for “be back”.  As for 歸不歸 “return or not return”, I had considered (a) “Will you or won’t you be back once more” with 王孫  “my lord” moved to line 1 to read “In the hills my lord …”,  (b) “Won’t you my lord be back once more”, and (c) “Will you my lord be back once more”, but have now decided for “Might you, my lord, be back once more”, the “might you” formulation being a question asked in deference couching the poet’s wish that his noble friend will return.       

03 October 2013

李煜 Li Yu: 虞美人 Yu Meiren (Lady Yu, the Royal Beauty/Concubine)

Li Yu (937-978):  Yu Meiren (Lady Yu, the Royal Beauty/Concubine)  

1  Spring flowers and autumn moon, O when will all these end?
2  How much of my past I comprehend?
3  Last night, to my loft once more, the vernal east wind came;
4  In moonlight, I could not bear to look back towards my  
         homeland rid of my name.

5  Jade steps and carved railings may still as ever be there,
6  Though changed are the faces fair.
7  O how great, how grave, I ask, can my woe and sorrow be?
8  Just like the River’s swelling spring-tide waters
         rolling east to the sea.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
10th May 2012 (revised 15.5.12; 16.5.12; polished 14.5.13; 15.5.13)
Translated from the original - 李煜虞美人

1  春花秋月()何時了
2  往事知多少
3  小樓昨夜又東風
故國不堪回首  月明中

5  雕欄玉砌應猶在
6  只是朱颜改
7  問君能有幾多愁
8  恰似一江春水  向東流

*    The original poem is in two 4-line stanzas each made up of 2 rhyming couplets of different line-lengths in a  7-5-7-9 (characters/words) pattern.  The length pattern and rhyme scheme of the whole poem can be diagrammatically represented as 7A/ 5A/ 7B/ 9B// 7C/ 5C/ 7D/ 9D//.  In my English rendition, I have adhered to the AABB/CCDD rhyme scheme.  For line-length, I have used hexameter (6 beats) for the four 7-character lines, tetrameter (4 beats) for the two 5-character lines, and octameter (8 beats) for the two 9-character lines.  Here, the octameter (rare in English poetry) is made less breathless by breaking it up into a pentameter (5-beat) line followed by a trimester (3-beat) line.  This, in essence, accords with the natural reading of the original poem’s 9-character line as a line of 6 plus 3 characters.
*    Line 1:  I had originally rendered it as “Spring flow’rs then autumn moon: O when will the cycle end?” which lays bare (with the addition of the word “cycle”) an interpretation akin to Hawkes’ “seasons still roll on” (David Hawkes, p. 30 in  Alice W. Cheang ed. “A Silver Treasury of Chinese Lyrics”, Hong Kong: Renditions of The Chinese University Press, 2003) and also similar to Msckintosh and Ayling’s “cease their come and go” (Alan Ayling and Duncan Mackintosh, p. 63 in their “A Collection of Chinese Lyrics”, London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1965), but have now decided to retain all the ambiguities of the original poem, thus “Spring flowers and autumn moon, O when will all these end?”
*    Line 2:  I had originally penned “Of my past, how much I comprehend?” but have decided that “How much of my past I comprehend?” sounds much better.  For the word “comprehend”, both “com-” and “-hend” should be read stressed.
*    Lines 1 and 2:  I have faithfully translated both lines as rhetorical questions.
*    Line 3:  I had considered adding “from home” and make the second half of the line to read “from home the east wind came”, but have decided for “the vernal east wind came” to make clear that the “east wind” 東風 in the line refers to “spring wind”.
*    Line 4:  I have taken 月明中 to mean “in moonlight there and then” (where the poet was supposed to be).  I have, therefore, rejected interpreting 故國月明中 as “moonlit homeland” and have reversed the order of 月明中 “In moonlight” (from the end to the front to begin the line) and 故國 “my homeland rid of my name” (from the front to the end to end the line).  I had considered “a homeland stripped of my name”, “a homeland now rid of my name” and “my homeland I lost in shame”, and have now decided for “my homeland rid of my name”.  I had considered turning the line into a rhetorical question by translating 不堪 “I could not bear” as if it were 何堪 “how could I bear” but have decided to be faithful to the original line 4 which concludes the first stanza of the poem.
*    Line 5:  I had originally penned “Carved railings and jade steps” following the original order, but have new decided for “Jade steps and carved railings”.  I have taken 應猶在 to mean “I think must still be there” and have therefore used “may” instead of “must” or “should”.  I have added “as ever” primarily to complete the hexameter (6-beat) line, which fortuitously adds weight to the idea that “steps and railings” do not change in contrast to “the faces fair” in line 6.
*    Line 6:  The 2 words “changed” and “are” should be read stressed to make the line tetrametric (4-beat).  The word “changed” can be read in 2 syllables as “chan-ged” or at least elongated.
*    Line 7:  I had originally used the far from literal “how far, how wide” to translate 幾多 (how many/much) but have now decided for “how great, how grave” which is closer to, though still not, the literal meaning. 
*    Line 8:  I had considered “’Tis just like” and “’Tis like”, but have decided for “Just like”.  I had originally penned “a river of swollen spring flood waters”, but have now decided for “the River’s swelling spring-tide waters” (with “swelling” chosen over “swollen” for the sound, and “spring-tide” chosen over “spring flood” to suggest a lot of water but not to the extent of flooding)..  I have interpreted 一江 not as “a river” or “one river” but as “the whole River”.  “R” is capitalized because it refers to the mighty 長江 (Long/Grand River) or 揚子江 (Yangtse River) on whose south bank stands the poet’s former imperial capital.  At the end of the line and the poem, I have added “to the sea” (not in the original) to complete the “be (7), sea (8)” rhyme..
*    Lines 7 and 8:  If, after all, “how far, how wide” is considered more appropriate, the lines may read:
7    O how far, how wide, I ask, do my woes and sorrows go?
8a   Just like the River’s swelling springtide waters

8b      forever eastwards flow.


02 September 2013

崔顥 Cui Hao: 長干曲 4首 其1 其2 Song of Chang'gan 1 and 2 of 4

Following my August post of a Chinese love poem of the 13th century, I am posting today 2 more Chinese love poems of the 8th century by the Tang dynasty poet Cui Hao, which I have recently translated.  Cui Hao had written a total of 4 poems of the same title.  These 2 are the more popular ones and are complete in telling the story of the beginnings of a courtship with the woman of Hengtang (part of Changgan) taking the initiative in Song I and the man, in Song II, responding gingerly (but not unfavourably) as he, though born in Changgan, now lives in Jiujiang some distance away.  I now give you my rendition of Cui Hao's originals:- 

I. Cui Hao (704?-754): Song of Chang'gan 1 of 4 (The Woman's Song) 

1  (Yourself and folks, sir, where do you live?)
   Your folks, yourself, sir, where do you live?  (revised 3.9.13)
2  Myself I live, sir, in embanked Hengtang.
3  I’m staying my boat to ask you this, we
4  May well belong to the same home town.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
24th June 2013 (revised 25.6.13; 26.6.13; 27.6.13; 28.6.13; 29.6.13; touched up 28.8.13)
Translated from the original - 崔顥長干曲(行) 4首 其1

1   君家何處住
2   妾住在橫塘
3   停船暫借問
4   或恐是同鄉

Notes on Song 1 (The Woman's Song):-

*    This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original. 
*    Title:  Changgan 長干 is the district along the Qinhuai River 秦淮河 (in present day Nanjing 南京, Jiangxu Province 江蘇省).   or  means “song”.  The title of the poem “Song of Changgan” refers to a verse (words or lyrics) written to the music or tune of the song.  The poet had written 4 poems of the same title, this being the first which is supposed to be the song of a woman.  I have, for clarity, added to the title “The Woman’s Song” in brackets.
*    Line 1:  I have rendered  not as “home” but as “folks”.  I have translated  simply and literally as “live”. The word “sir” translates  more or less perfectly.  Both the original  and the translation as “sir” are masculine and serve to hint at but not really revealing the feminine identity of the person speaking. 
*    Line 2:  The word  (together with the word  in line 1) in the Chinese original fully reveals the speaker’s feminine identity.  As I am unable to find an equivalent for  in English, I had considered “I’m a girl who lives, sir,” but found it inadequate as the female concerned could be a “spinster”, “widow” or any sort of “woman”.  I have, therefore, decided for “Myself I live, sir” hoping that the mere repetition of the word “sir” will work the magic of further strengthening the hint suggested in line 1, if not completing it.  As for 橫塘 “Hengtang”, it was the name of a place in Changgan (in present day Nanjing) along the Qinhuai River where embankments had been built and so named.  I had originally penned “in Hengtang renown” so as to complete the “renown-home town” rhyme.  I have now decided for “in embanked Hengtang” with the word “embanked” added to explain in the English rendition the meaning of 橫塘  despite the less than perfect rhyme of “Hengtang-home town”.
*    Line 3:  I had originally penned “I stay my boat just to ask you this” but have now revised it to “I’m staying my boat to ask you this,” with the word “we” moved up from line 4 to create an enjambment instead of end-lining it. .
*    Line 4:  I have translated 同鄉  as “the same home town”.  To make up the whole line, I had considered various combinations of “perhaps, maybe, may, may well” and “are from, have come from, belong to” and have decided for “(we) May well belong to the same home town” with the word “belong” suggesting a closer affinity.

II. Cui Hao (704?-754): Song of Chang'gan 2 of 4 (The Man's Song)

1  I live in Jiujiang, or Rivers Nine; 
2  To it and through it, a sailboat I ply.
3  From birth to youth we never met, yet
4  Natives of Changgan, both you and I.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者黃宏發
9th July 2013 (revised 10.7.13; 16.8.13; touched up 28.8.13)
Translated from the original - 崔顥長干曲() 4首 其2

1  家臨九江水
2  來去九江側
3  同是長干人
4  生小不相識

Notes on Song 2 (The Man's Song):-
*    This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.
*    Title:  Please see my note on the Title in my rendition of Cui Hao’s “Song of Changgan I (The Woman’s Song), this being “II (The Man’s Song)”.
*    Line 1:  Jiujiang 九江 is in present day Jiangxi Province 江西省 on the south-west border of the Jiangxu Provinve 江蘇省 where Nanjing 南京 and Changgan長干 are located.  Literally, the line should be “My home is by the waters of (a place called) Jiujiang (nine rivers)” which effectively means “My home is in Jiujiang” or simply “I live in Jiujiang”.    I have, therefore, rendered it as “I live in Jiujiang, or Rivers Nine)” with “I live” instead of “My home is” to translate and with “or Rivers Nine” added to explain the name of Jiujiang which also helps to compensate for the omission of “the waters of” in my rendition.  I had considered adding “now” to “I live … in Jiujiang …” to make clear that the man no longer lives in Changgan, but have decided against it.
*    Line 2:  I have again taken Jiujiang 九江 to be a place and not, literally, nine rivers, and have refrained from repeating it but have translated it simply as “it”.  來去 is effectively translated by “ply” together with “To it and through it”.  I had considered “To it and from it” but have decided for “through it” hoping this will somehow cover the word “by the side of”.  I have added “a sailboat” which, though not present in the original, is implied in the context and is required to complete the 4-beat meter.
*    Lines 3 and 4:  I have reversed the order of these 2 lines primarily to complete the “ply-I” rhyme, but       also to strengthen my optimistic interpretation of lines 3 and 4. These 2 songs (the woman’s Song I and this, the man’s Song II) are clearly courting love songs.  To further strengthen this interpretation, I have added the open-ended word “yet” instead of the rather neutral if not pessimistic “though” to link up the 2 lines.  生小 is rendered as “from birth to youth” and 不相識, simply as “we never met” instead of the literal “never knew each other/one another” which will make it sound  impersonal and aloof..        

07 August 2013

管道昇 Guan Daosheng: 我儂詞 Song of Me and You/ Clay Figures

This is a love poem purportedly written by a lady painter named 管道昇 Guan Daosheng (Kuan Tao-Sheng) wife of the famed calligraphist 趙孟頫 Zhao Menghu in the early years of the 元 Yuan (Mongols) dynasty (1271-1368).

Legend has it that Zhao was considering marrying a second wife (a concubine) which was a commonplace practice in China in those days particularly among the rich and powerful and Zhao was a very high-ranking government official.  Though Guan was unhappy, she did not create a row but simply wrote this little love poem.  Zhao found the poem and was so moved that he at once dropped all such thoughts.  After Guan passed away, Zhao never re-married and chose to be buried with Guan.

The famed American poet and translator of Chinese poetry Kenneth Rexroth did a superb translation of this poem which he has entitled "Married Love" from which I have borrowed, specifically the idea of "figure".  I will reproduce here his rendition at the end of my notes below.  www.bopsecrets.org/rexroth/translations/chinese.htm 

Here is my rendition:-      

Guan Daosheng (1262-1319): Song of Me and You/ Clay Figures)

1  (You and I, O I and you, so much in love are we;)
    You and me, and me and you, so much in love are we;
    (revised 27.8.13)
2  So much in love, like bathing in fire are we.

3  We knead and shape a clod of clay into figures of you and me:
4  We smash, trash our two figures, add water to admix the debris
5  To again knead and shape fresh figures of you and me;
6  In my clay then, you'll abide, and in yours, there I'll be.

7  (O you and I, in life, one single quilt we share,)
    O me and you, in life, one single quilt we share,
    (revised 27.8.13)
8  In death, in the same coffin, please bury me.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
15th July 2009 (revised 16.7.09; 17.7.09; 23.9.09; touched up 7.8.13; 27.8.13)
Translated from the original - 管道昇我儂詞

1  你儂我儂 忒煞情多
2   情多處 熱似火

3   把一塊泥 捻一個你 塑一個我
4   將咱兩個 一齊打破 用水調和
5   再捻一個你 再塑一個我
6   我泥中有你 你泥中有我

7   我與你 生同一個衾

*  I have arranged the original 17 lines (of varying lengths) into 8 lines (also of varying lengths) grouped in 3 stanzas to make easier reading.  The English rendition follows this arrangement.  The rhyme scheme is AA-AAAA-BA which follows the original under this arrangement.
*  Title and line 1:  The word 儂 usually means “you你/妳” but can also mean “I/me我” or even “he/she 他/她” depending on the context.  I have taken the first 儂 in line 1 to mean “I/me” hence你儂 means “You and I”.  As for the 儂 in the title and the second 儂 in line 1, the usual “you” meaning should be followed since the order of words is 我儂 which must mean “me and you”.
*    Line 2:  For 熱似火 I had considered the literal “as hot as fire are we” but have decided for the more poetic (I hope) “like bathing in fire are we”.
*    Line 3:  For 一塊泥 I had considered “a piece of clay” but have decided for “a clod of clay” for the alliteration. 
*    Lines 3 and 5:  Instead of putting 捻 ”knead” and 塑 “shape”( and 你 “you” and 我 “me”) in two segments of the line as separate segments, I have collapsed the two and have rendered them conjointly as “knead and shape… figures of you and me”.  In the context of “knead and shape”, “you and me” must mean “figures of you and me”.
*    Line 4:  Similar to “you and me” above, I have rendered 咱兩個 as “our two figures” and not literally as “the two of us”.  In the context of 打破 “smash, trash”, the expression must mean the two figures.  I have added the word “debris” (which is not in the original) for the rhyme.
*    Line 5:  To translate 再 I have used “again” and “fresh”.  I had considered “new” but have decided for “fresh” for the alliteration in “fresh figures”.

Kenneth Rexroth's translation of the poem:=
Kuan Tao-Sheng:  Married Love

You and I
Have so much love,
That it
Burns like a fire,
In which we bake a lump of clay
Molded into a figure of you 
And a figure of me.
Then we take both of them,
And break them into pieces, 
And mix the pieces with water,
And mold again a figure of you,
And a figure of me.
I am in your clay.
Your are in my clay.
In life we share a single quilt.
In death we will share one coffin.

Postscript 1 (dated 13.8.2013):  I have now changed the title from "I and You Song" to "Song of Me and You".  The poem was turned into a real song by 李抱忱 (1907-1979) who wrote the music and adapted the words of the poem to the music.  It became very popular in the 1970's and was sung by one and many song stars including 姚蘇蓉 which can be easily accessed, say on the "youtube".  I enjoy in particular the rendition by 包娜娜.  Link:: http://mojim.com/tw_search_u2_hBqzAyjif1U.html.  Hope you like it too.
I have learned from the web that 李抱忱 entitled this song 請相信我 subtitled 你儂我儂 which was first sung by 陳明律 and here is the link:  http://mojim.com/tw_search_u2_Z0wLiMQuEds.html?h=%E5%8C%85%E5%A8%9C%E5%A8%9C%2B%E4%BD%A0%E5%84%82%E6%88%91%E5%84%82.
I have further learned from the web that 李抱忱 also wrote the English lyrics of this song under the title of "Believe Me Dear", but have been unable to find the words.  Will anyone help, please? .

Postscript 2 (dated 27.8.2013):  Following my revision of the title in the last postscript, I have now also revised (a) line 1 to read "You and me, O me and you, so much in love are we" and (b) line 7 to read "O me and you, in life".  These revisions are effected in the post.  

02 July 2013

王之渙 Wang Zhihuan: 涼州詞/ 出塞 Song of Liangzhou/ Out to the Frontier

Looking through my old files, I found this 7-character quatrain by Wang Zhihuan which I translated in early 2009 and which I now wish to share with you.  I hope you will read the bleakness and desolateness of the landscape into the heart of the soldier stationed at the frontier.  The word 春 (spring) which metaphorically stands for "youth", "health" and "life" as in 回春 (return to health) is most telling which subtly suggests that line 4 means "there is no life beyond Yumen Pass" 

You may remember I posted here my rendition of another 7-character quatrain of the same title "Song of Liangzhou" by Wang Han.  It was in October 2009.  In this other poem, the imminence of battle and the approach of death are much more obvious in 醉卧沙場 "in battle drunk I lie" and 幾人回 "how many ... ever came home alright".  回 which should be "came home alive" had been rendered as "came home alright" just for the rhyme.  Could this be a perfect example of sacrificing (or, at least, jeopardizing) the meaning for the rhyme?  Mea culpa!   

Wang Zhihuan (688-742): Song of Liangzhou/ Out to the Frontier

1  Ascends the Yellow River, to afar where white clouds amass;
2  Forlorn, here lies a fortress, by the towering mountain mass.
3  O why, to the Tune of the Willow, must pipers ever bemoan?
4  Ah the genial winds of springtime cross not the Yumen Pass.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黃宏發
16th January 2009 (revised 19.1.09; 18.2.09; 4.7.11; polished 2.7.13)
Translated from the original - 王之渙:  涼州詞/ 出塞

1  黃河()遠上白雲間
2  一片孤城萬仞山
3  羌笛何須怨楊柳
4  春風不度玉門關

*  The original is in 7-character lines.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet).  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*  Line 1:  I have adopted the 黃河 (river) version instead of the 黃沙 (sand) one, and had originally penned the opening as “Hails the Yellow River, from afar” as I thought it more natural to speak of a river coming down than going up.  I have now decided for “Ascends the Yellow River, to afar” to literally correspond with 黃河遠上.  I had originally used “cumulus” to translate 白雲 but have now decided for “white clouds” for being more literal.  For “in the middle of”, I have used “where … amass” which opens the rhyme. 
*  Line 2:  I had considered “Here lies a city solitary/a solitary citadel” and “Here lies a forlorn fortress”, but have decided for “Forlorn, here lies a fortress”.  I have simply used “towering” to describe how tall the mountains are instead of the unrealistic hyperbole of 萬仞 10,000 “yin” (a Chinese unit of measurement of about 2 metres).  I had considered “massif” to translate , but have decided for “mountain mass” to continue the rhyme.
*  Line 3:  楊柳 “willow” here means both the lack (or a scarcity) of willows and a tune entitled “The Willow”, and I have chosen the latter which would (together with the lack of genial spring winds in the next line) also include the former meaning (of bemoaning the lack of willows).  羌笛 means the pipe (more appropriate than flute) of the Qiang tribe (a north-western people), known for the melancholic quality of its sound.  I had originally used “the tribal pipes/pipers”, then considered the literal “Qiang tribe pipe/pipers” and the explanatory “sad/woeful pipes/pipers”, but have decided to drop them altogether in favour of the formulation “must pipers ever bemoan”.
*  Line 4:  I have added the word “genial” to highlight the geniality of spring and the harshness of the frontier.  “Ah, the genial winds of springtime cross not the Yumen Pass” is obviously an exaggeration but is, in fact, the hyperbole of the original. 


01 June 2013

張旭 Zhang Xu: 桃花谿 The Peach-Blossom Brook

The anthology "300 Tang Poems" features only one single poem by Zhang Xu who was more famous for his cursive (草書, characters executed swiftly and with strokes flowing together) calligraphy than his poetry.  But the subject matter referred to in the poem is of great interest.  It is the story of a fisherman who found and lost his paradise of peach blossoms as told by the Jin 晉 dynasty poet Tao Qian 陶潛 or Tao Yuanming 陶淵明 (365-427) in his "The Peach-Blossom Springs: Poem and Chronicle" 桃花源:詩並記.  Please find the story in my Note on the Title.  Here goes my rendition of the poem:-

Zhang Xu (circa 711):  The Peach-Blossom Brook

1 In haze there hangs a beam bridge, the wilderness fog here ends;
2   By the west of a boulder, a fisher, to my query his ear he lends---
3   Down this clear brook from paradise, peach petals drift all day, but
4  Where is that cave, its gateway, ‘long the brook’s braes and bends?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
17th April 2013 (revised 23.4.13; 25.4.13; 29.4.13; 29.5.13)
Translated from the original - 張旭:  桃花谿

1  隱隱飛橋隔野烟
2  石璣西畔問漁船
3  桃花盡日隨流水
4  洞在清溪何處邊

*    This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*    Title:  桃花 rendered as “peach-blossom” (in the title) and as “peach petals” (in line 3) and the word “cave” in line 4 of the poem clearly indicate this poem follows from a much earlier poem and, particularly, its chronicle, i.e. the 桃花源:詩並記 “The Peach-Blossom Springs: Poem and Chronicle” by 陶淵明 Tao Yuanming (365-427) of the Jin dynasty.  Tao’s chronicle tells of a fisherman who followed through a “peach- blossom” grove to the source springs of the brook or stream, found a “cave” and went through it to discover a “paradise” of a land whose people had been living there happily since 5 centuries ago completely cut off from the outside world.  After enjoying their warm hospitality for a few days, he left, marking his way out, thinking he could always return, but was never able to find his way again.  The poem is about the people and their life in that heaven on earth.  I had originally rendered 谿 (in the title) and (in line 4) as “stream” but have now decided for “brook”
*    Line 1:  (a) 隱隱飛橋:  I had considered “half-hidden” or “haze-hidden” (for the “h” alliteration) and “haze-veiled” or “veiled in haze” (for the “ei” assonance) to translate 隱隱 but have now decided for the simple “in haze”.  I have taken , literally “fly”, to figuratively mean “high/tall” but have, instead of using any such words, rendered the idea of as “hangs”.  I take this “high” bridge to be a beam bridge spanning from one side of the brook or stream (probably a ravine) to the other, hence, “there hangs a beam bridge”.  I hope the “h” alliteration in “haze” and “hangs” proves adequate to represent the beauty of the reiterative .  (b) 隔野煙:  I have taken to primarily mean 阻隔 “cut off’ and not 分隔 “divide”.  The latter gives a visually impossible picture of a hazy bridge “dividing” the fog/mist/haze in the wilderness into 2 halves, to the left and right.  The former, on the other hand, gives a clear foreground of a stream, a hazy bridge in the middle, and a background of a blurred, misty, foggy wilderness.  I had considered translating 野煙 as “foggy wilderness” but have decided to stick to the literal “wilderness fog”..
*    Line 2:  I had considered interpreting 石磯西畔 as “boulder on the west bank (of the stream)” but have decided for “west of a boulder (whether on the east bank or mid-stream)”.  I have turned “I ask a question” to “he listens to my question”, hence, “to my query his ear he lends”.  I could have followed Shakespeare’s “lend me your ears” (Mark Antony’s famous speech in “Julius Caesar”) and used the plural “ears” but have decided to follow my friend Barry Dalton’s advice to stick to the proverbial “lend an ear” in the singular.  漁船 is rendered as “fisher” which, though means “fisherman”, can also mean “fishing boat”. 
*    Line 3:  In order to make clear the meaning of the poem, I have added the word “paradise” (not in the original), which idea (of a “heaven on earth”) is the essence of the poem,  I have, therefore, rendered as “drift” and 流水 as “down this (clear) brook” with “from paradise” added and have translated 桃花盡日 literally as “peach petals” and “all day”.  The word “clear” (shown in parenthesis above) is moved up from line 4 where I can find no space for it, as explained in the note below.
*    Line 4:  As the poem is about a man on the same quest as the Jin dynasty fisherman   in Tao’s chronicle, I find it necessary to build  into the line the idea that the “cave”  is the “way in” 入口  for which  I had considered variously “entrance”, “entry”, “passage”, “portal”, etc. and have now decided for “gateway” and have rendered the word as “that cave, its gateway”.  In order to complete the “ends-lends” rhyme,  After considering adding either “ascends” or “bends” (neither word in the original) and penned the second half of the line as “as my boat on the clear brook ascends” (with “boat” and “ascends” added) or “’long the clear brook’s banks and bends” (with only “bends” added) so as to cover 清溪  “clear brook”, I have decided to move the idea of “clear” to line 3 to read “Down this clear brook”.  Hence, for this second half of line 4, I have decided for “’long(=along) the brook’s braes(=banks) and bends”.   For 何處邊 I had originally leaned toward 何邊 “which bank/side” as the primary meaning but have now decided for 何處 “where” which, in colloquial Cantonese, is 邊處.  Although I suspect the poet might have added just to complete his rhyme, I have retained the “bank/side” idea in “braes and bends”.  My rendering the “where” idea as “… but (line 3)/ Where is … (line 4)” makes it possible for “Where” to be read accented to represent a plain question but also for “is” to be accented, instead, to show frustration or scepticism.  This retains the ambiguity of the original.    

Classical Chinese Poems in English


Search This Blog