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.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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