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


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