05 April 2013

岑參 Cen Shen: 逢入京使 On Meeting an Official Courier to the Capital

First, yesterday was the day of the traditional Chinese festival of 清明 Qingming.  This year it happens to fall on the 4th (rather than the usual 5th) day of April.  This has prompted me to make some revisions to my rendition of a 杜牧 Du Mu poem entitled 清明 "Qingming" which I posted here 3 years ago in April 2010.  The most significant change is in the title and the first line.  The title now reads "Qingming, Early April" instead of "Qingming, the Fifth of April" and line 1, therefore, reads "It is Qingming, early April, a season of mizzles and gloom".  I have now taken away reference to 5th day but have retained the solar month of April.  Please visit:  http://chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.hk/2010_04_01_archive.html

Now, for this month, I am posting my latest translation completed only a week ago.  This is a beautiful quatrain by Tang dynasty poet 岑参 Cen Shen (7 poems collected in the classic anthology "300 Tang Poems"), particularly famous for his frontier poems.  

This is a very simple poem about a man going to the frontier (to war?), meeting on his way a courier returning from the frontier and asking this courier to tell his family that he is safe.  It is, therefore, important that the words 龍鍾 should not be taken as "old" or "senile" which is the definition in (I think) all Chinese-English dictionaries (this being the prime and usual meaning), but should be understood in the context of the whole poem and particularly of line 2 itself.  The 雙袖 "pair of sleeves" in 雙袖龍鍾 should be understood literally and not be taken as a metonymy for the pair of arms as soon as we know 龍鍾 can also and should, in this context, mean "wet/dampened".  I am afraid the great Chinese translator 許淵沖 Prof. Xu Yuanzhong (XYZ) might have slipped in translating line 2 as "My old arms tremble and my sleeves are wet with tears" (on p. 202 of Xu, Loh, Wu (eds) "300 Tang Poems: A New Translation" Commercial Press 1987) in which he has covered "sleeves" but has, in addition, probably used it to stand for "arms".   

I will leave it to you readers of this poem to share with Cen Shen his "tears" on "sleeves" (with no handkerchief in hand) which I hope I have kept within limits with the words "sleeves all dampened" and "tears still rolling away".   I had originally penned "My pair of sleeves all dampened" as "My sleeves are all but dampened", but have now found this too controlled, too dry, thanks to the views of my pub friend Mr. Barry Allan Dalton, English Language and Literature master of the St. Rose of Lima's College, Sha Tin, Hong Kong.  Cen Shen, here we go.

Cen Shen (715-770):  On Meeting an Official Courier to the Capital

1        East I look to my homestead, O long, long is the way; 
2        My pair of sleeves all dampened, my tears still rolling away.
3        Here we meet on horseback, no paper nor pen in hand,     
4        So I say: I’m safe and well, sir--- O, tell them this, I pray.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
21st March 2013 (revised 22.3.13; 24.3.13; 25.3.13; 26.3.13; 27.3.13)
Translated from the original - 岑參:  逢入京使

1        故園東望路漫漫
2        雙袖龍鍾淚不乾
3        馬上相逢無纸筆
4        憑君傳語報平安

*    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.
*    Line 1:  For 故園 which is literally “old fields” but meaning “home”, I have come to consider “homestead” to be most appropriate as this word means “the place of one’s home; the town/village where one’s dwelling is; a dwelling; a house with its dependent buildings … esp(ecially) a farm-stead”.  (Shorter Oxford)  I can of course change it to the more literal “home fields” but would rather not as it is a bit too pompous.  For in 東望, I had considered variously “Eastwards”, “Back east”, “Due east” and have now decided for the simple “East”, hence “East I look”.   I had considered using “road” to translate but have decided for “way”  in order to make the “way, away, pray” rhyme possible.  It appears “O long, long is the way is preferable to “long, O long is the way” as the former sounds a bit longer.
*    Line 2:  龍鍾 should not be taken to mean “old” or “senile”.  The poem is about a man sent and on his way to the western frontier, and this context dictates that he cannot be too old.  I have, therefore, adopted the meaning of 沾濡濕潤 “wet” (definition “1-3” in the Chinese dictionary 辭源) and have rendered it as “all dampened”.  I had considered but rejected other formulations such as “soaked and drenched” and “drenched and dripping”.  For 雙袖 I had considered variously “My sleeves”, “My two sleeves”, “Both my sleeves” and “My sleeves both” but have now decided for the most literal “My pair of sleeves”.  I beg to invoke poetic licence for omitting, in the interest of brevity, the 2 verbs “sleeves [are] all dampened” and “tears still [keep] rolling” in the first and second halves of the line respectively.  
*    Line 3:  I had considered the addition of the 2 ideas of “happen or chance to (meet)” and “(meet) here” which are logically implied in the words 相逢 of the original , i.e. “We chance to meet here (on horseback)”, but have decided to keep it simple and have dropped the “chance” idea, hence, simply “Here we meet on horseback”.  For 纸筆 I had considered “no paper nor brush” as the Chinese pen is technically a “brush”, but have chosen “no paper nor pen” as I take “pen” to be generic of “brush” and for the rather poetic “p” alliteration          
*    Line 4: 平安, being the message to be conveyed, is rendered as “safe and well” (over “safe and sound”) and is advanced to the forefront.  憑君傳語, being the request for the spoken message to be conveyed, is rendered as “So I say … sir” and “O, tell them this, I pray”.  I had originally penned the line as “Sir, I’m safe, I’m sound, I say, please tell them this, I pray”, but have now, after a couple of revisions, decided for “So I say: I’m safe and well, sir--- O, tell them this, I pray”.

Classical Chinese Poems in English


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