02 May 2013

李白 Li Bai: 望天門山 View of Tianmen Mountain

We are back to Li Bai again.  This is a beautiful little poem I translated some 3 years ago, which has never seen the light of day.  Here we go.  Let us enjoy it.  And share with me your views kind or otherwise.

Li Bai (701-762): View of Tianmen Mountain

1  Through Tianmen’s twin-peak portal, the mighty River churns;
2  East rolls its water all turquoise, till here, its course it turns.
3  Why, green cliffs burst into sight, on banks both left and right;
4  From afar where the sun adjourns, O my solitary sail returns.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者:黃宏發
4th June 2010 (revised 11.6.10; polished 2.5.13)
Translated from the original - 李白:  望天門山

1  天門中斷楚江開
2  碧水東流至此回
3  兩岸青山相對出
4  孤帆一片日邊來

*    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 and line 1:  天門, literally “Heavenly/Heaven’s Portal” is  the name of a “Mountain”, hence “Tianmen Mountain” in the title.  In line 1, it is simply rendered as “Tianmen(‘s)” with the ideas of “heaven” and “mountain” covered in my rendering 中斷 as “twin-peak portal”.  The said mountain, in present day Anhui 安徽 Province, assumes the appearance of being “cut” in the “middle” into two peaks by the “Long” (or “Yangzi” 揚子) “River” .  The 楚江 “Chu River” referred to in the poem was the name of this section of the Long River.  I have translated (meaning open/break open) as “through” and have picked “churns” both for the meaning of agitated water movement and for the rhyme.
*    Line 2:  For 碧 I had considered variously “aquamarine”, “aqua”, “bluish”, “aqua-blue”, "of turquoise" and "a-turquoise" but have now decided  for “all turquoise”.  here does not mean “return” but should be taken as which means “turn/twist/meander”.  I had considered “the river-course turns”, “it meanders, it turns”, “it meanders and turns”, “meandering, it turns” and “due north it turns”, but have now decided for “its course it turns”.
*    Line 3:  This is a motion picture of sailing downstream (generally eastwards) on the Long River through Tianmen Mountain passing cliff after cliff.  相對 (facing) (appear/emerge) should be visualized not as cliffs facing each other but as facing the sailboat and its passenger and is, therefore, rendered as “burst (or thrust/rush) into sight”.
*    Line 4:  日邊 is open to interpretation.  Although I do not believe it means where the sun rises or sets, but simply “far/afar/faraway” and is equivalent to 天邊/ (literally the fringe/edge of the sky/heaven), I have nonetheless added “where the sun adjourns” (to stand for the west from where the poet sailed) for the internal rhyme of “adjourns-returns” to parallel the internal rhyme of “sight-right” in line 3.  which means "come/arrive" is narrowed down to mean 回來 "returns" both for the rhyme and for the mood of returning to a land of the poet's pleasant memories.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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