04 December 2014

孟郊 Meng Jiao: 遊子吟 [*慈母手中線] Song of the Travelling Son [*Sewing thread in hand...]

Today I am posting my latest translation----"Song of the Travelling Son" by Mid Tang poet Meng Jiao.  Because of its subject matter, mother's love, it is most famous and popular and is known to practically all literate Chinese. As this is also a much translated poem, I must record my disagreement with all translators who have rendered 遊子 in the title (and line 2) in a less than neutral way, e.g. “wayward”, “wanderer”, “wandering son”, “roving son”, “son out to roam the land”, “rover”, “roaming/wanderlust son", etc.

This is simply a poem about a son who is about to travel, his mother’s love for him, and his feelings of filial piety towards his mother.  The reason for his travel is not given, nor is the character of the son known.  It is, therefore, imperative to be neutral and to speak of the son as "wayfaring" or "journeying", and I have picked “travelling” for both the title and line 2.

I have also done a shorter version which appears at the end of my notes. Please let me know which version you like better.  Here is the original version of my rendition:-

Meng Jiao (751-814): Song of the Travelling Son, Written at Liyang on Mother's Arrival (sub-title added 13.12.14) [*Sewing thread in hand...] 

1  Sewing-thread in hand, the loving mother;
2  Clothes for the son to wear, her travelling son.
3  On and on she sews, his leaving now nears;
4  Stitch on stitch, she fears -- a delayed reunion.
5  (Oh! How shall the heart of a mere grass seedling)
    (Oh! How shall my heart of a mere grass seedling) (revised 10.12.14)
    How shall my heart of a mere grass seedling, ever (revised 9.11.17) 
(Ever repay the embrace of spring’s warm sun!)
    (Repay the embracing rays of her springtime sun!) (revised 9.11.17) 
    Repay the embracing rays of her ever spring sun! (revised 14.11. 17)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者黃宏發
25th November 2014 (revised 26.11.14; 28.11.14; 1.12.14; 2.12.14; 4.12.14)
Translated from the original - 孟郊: 遊子吟  迎母溧上作 (sub-title added 13.12.14) [*慈母手中線]    



*Meter and rhyme:  This English rendition is in iambic pentameter (5 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The original rhyme scheme is XAXAXA.  This rendition can only claim to have achieved it in a loose sense as “reunion” in line 4 does not perfectly rhyme with “son” and “sun” in lines 2 and 6 respectively, and the latter two are not rhymes at all since they sound the same. I said the meter is iambic (a weaker syllable followed by a stronger one: daDUM) for scansion purposes.  In this connection, please note all 6 lines are “beheaded” (initial truncation/catalexis, i.e. weaker syllable(s) in the beginning omitted) in that they all begin with a stronger syllable (DUM) which alone constitute one foot with the weaker (da) regarded as omitted on purpose.  I will stop here without going into other substitutions and variations.
*Line 1:  “Sewing” is added to make clear the meaning of “thread” and to, so to speak, sew into “she sews” in line 3.  I had considered “Threaded needle” but decided against it.

*Line 2:  I had considered “Clothes to keep him warm” but decided “Clothes … to wear” is closer to 身上衣 “clothes on his body/back”.  I had originally penned “Clothes for him to wear, the travelling son” but have decided for “Clothes for the son to wear, her travelling son” to heighten the sense of the mother’s love for the son.

*Line 3:  I have taken 密密縫 not to mean “sewing closer and closer stitches” but to mean “more and more frequently she sews” on the basis that means, inter alia, 不疏 which can mean “not infrequent, i.e. frequent” in addition to “not far apart, i.e. closer”.  I could have penned “More and more she sews” with the repetition of “more” to translate the repetition of but have decided that “On and on she sews” serves the meaning better.

*Line 4:  遲遲 “late, late” is translated as “delayed” to make clear that the son is just a “traveler” and is no “wanderer/rover/roamer”.  The repetition of , in parallel with in line 3,  is represented by the repetition of an added word “stitch” in “Stitch on stitch” which, so to speak, sews into “Sewing” in line 1, “Clothes” in line 2, and “she sews” in line 3.  I have dropped the most natural and proper translation of as “return” and chosen “reunion” not because of rhyme (in any case, not a satisfactory rhyme as pointed out above).  It is because the word “to sew/stitch” in line 3 is a case of double entendre in Chinese as it sounds the same as “to meet”, hence “be together”, which meaning cannot be covered in line 3.  I have, therefore, decided for “reunion” over “return”.  I had originally penned: “Every stitch a wish, of a sooner reunion” but have decided to stay closer to the original, hence “Stitch on stitch, she fears----a delayed reunion.”

*Lines 5 and 6:  These 2 lines are a metaphor of the magnanimity of mother’s love (in line 6: 三春暉 “embrace of spring’s warm sun” and the incapacity of the son with a pious heart (in line 5: 寸草心 “heart of a mere grass seedling”).  The formulation of 誰言 “Who says” in line 5 and 報得 “Can repay in full/Can ever repay” in line 6 make up a question, in my view, a rhetorical one, hopefully, not leading to the bland, though cynical, yet true statement that “the son/seedling can never repay the mother/sun”, but to an exhortation to repay, requite mother's love.

*Line 5:  For the reason I have given in the note above, I have chosen to use “Oh!” and “How shall” to begin the line and translate 誰知 instead of “Who knows”.  For 寸草, I had considered variously: an inch of grass, a blade of grass, the sprouting grass, the budding grass, the inch-long grass, the inch-tall grass, a grass inch-ling, a grass seedling, etc. and have decided for “a mere grass seedling”.  For “heart”, I had considered qualifying “heart” with grateful, ardent, fervent, pious, etc. but have decided that “heart” alone suffices.  I had considered amending “the heart” to read “my heart” but have decided to stay with the third person.

*Line 6:  三春 can mean (a) 3 springs, i.e. 3 years, (b) the 3 months of spring, and (c) the third month of spring.  It is obvious (a) is out of the question.  It is, however, not certain whether (b) or (c) was meant by the poet.  I have, therefore, decided to blur over it and rendered it, together with “rays/warmth” as “the embrace of spring’s warm sun”.

*Shorter alternative version:  An alternative version of my rendition is set out below:-
Meng Jiao (751-814):  Song of the Travelling Son
1  Thread in hand, the loving mother;
2  Clothes on his back, her travelling son.
3  She sews and sews, his leaving nears;
4  She fears and fears, a delayed reunion.
5  Who says my heart of a grass seedling,
6  Can ever repay her warm spring sun?

12 November 2014

王勃 Wang Bo: 山中 In the Mountains

Here is my translation of a quatrain by early Tang dynasty poet 王勃 Wang Bo who is better known for having written one masterpiece of Chinese prose and poetry 滕王閣序 or 滕王閣詩序 "On Prince Teng's Tower: A Tribute with a Poem".  To find out more about this, you may wish to visit my friend Frank Yue's blog "Chinese Poetry in English Verse":- http://chinesepoetryinenglishverse.blogspot.hk/2013/03/by-bank-of-river-gan-king-tengs-grand.html.

Wang Bo is regarded as one of the Four Greats of Early Tang 初唐四傑 (together with 楊烱 Yang Jiong, 盧照鄰 Lu Zhaolin and 駱賓王 Luo Binwang). Unfortunately, he died young at the age of 26 (or 28 by Chinese reckoning which takes birth to be one year old and passage of the New Year to be two) in an accident at sea in the South China Sea while sailing north from 交趾 Jiaozhi (probably present day 榮市 Vinh city, 義安省 Nghe An province, 中北部 Middle-North region, Vietnam) where his father was posted to in relegation. It may be of interest to note that the American Cochin-China and the British Cochin China came from the French Cochinchina (or Cochinchine) which derived from the Portugese Cochim-China which borrowed from the Malay Kuchi which in turn derived from the Chinese Jiaozhi, pronounced Giao Chi in Vietnamese and Gao Tsi in Cantonese Chinese.  You may wish to search for "Cochinchina" in Wikipedia.

Without further ado, here goes this little poem:-  

Wang Bo (650-676): In the Mountains

1  As languid, long as the river, steeped in sorrow am I,
2  A myriad miles from home----to return, but when? I sigh.
3  (O now as day demises, so high are the autumn winds that)
And now as darkness nears, high are the autumn winds that
(revised 17.11.14)
4  On each and every mountain, how the yellow leaves fly!
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
24 July 2008 (revised 25.7.08; 18.9.08; 20.9.08; 22.9.08; 7.11.2014)
Translated from the original - 王勃: 山中

1  長江悲已滯
2  萬里念將歸
3 况屬高風晚
4  山山黃葉飛

*The original is in 5-character lines.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats) as I have been unable to render it in pentameter (5 beats).  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*Line 1:  I had originally penned “Like the long and languid river” but have now decided for “As languid, long as the river”.
*Line 2:  I had originally penned “Myriads of miles from home” but have now decided for “A myriad miles from home”.
*Line 3:  For the word “late in the day”, I had originally penned “Oh, as daylight wanes” but have now decided for “O now as day demises” (amended as "And now as darkness falls" 17.11.14).  高風 here means “autumn winds” which are high or strong.  This translation covers both “autumn” and “high”.  (I have deleted "so" from "so high are the". 17.11.14)
*Line 4:  For the repetition of the word in the line, I have used the less than perfect repetition of the letter “e” in “each and every”.  For 黃葉 “yellow leaves”, I had considered “falling leaves” but have decided for the literal translation.

06 October 2014

白居易 Bai Juyi: 花非花 Flower No Flower

This is a beautiful little love poem by the famed Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi.  Inspired and encouraged by my friend Charles Huang Yong 黄用, I have rendered it into "sing-able" English.  As this is the first time I have ever attempted and posted any "sing-able" translation, I shall be most grateful for your comments kind or otherwise.


Bai Juyi (772-846):  Flower No Flower

1    Flower? No! No flower.  Mist? No! No mist.
2    (Mid of night, you come; daylight, away you go.)
      Mid of night, you come; daybreak, away you go. 
      (revised 14.10.14)
3    (You come like a dream of spring, brief, so brief;)
      (You come like a dream of spring, oh, so brief;)  
      (revised 13.10.14)
      You come like a dream of spring, O brief, so brief;
      (revised 10.1.2018)
4    (Gone as the clouds at dawn to where I'll never know.)
      Gone as the morning clouds to where I'll never know.  
      (revised 14.10.14) 
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)           譯者: 黃宏發
16th September 2014 (revised 20.9.14; 23.9.14; 26.9.14; 28.9.14)
Translated from the original - 白居易花非花

1    花非花    霧非霧
2    夜半來    天明去
3    來如春夢不(/)多時
4    去似朝雲無覓處


*Form, Meter and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in the form of a quatrain and is in hexameter (6 metrical feet).  The original is a 6-line poem: the first 4 being 3-character lines and the last 2, each with 7 characters.  I have re-arranged it as a 4-line poem by treating each 3-character line as a half line to go with the other as if they were linked by the addition of the word  which roughly means “oh” or “ah”, but provides a pause or caesura much longer than either word.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

 *Title and Meaning:  The title is simply the first 3 words of the poem itself which is close to being entitled “Untitled”.  I have translated these 3 words 花非花 literally as “Flower No Flower”.  On the face of it, the poem is a riddle, and the answer clearly is “dew” which is: like but not flower, like but not mist, comes at night, leaves in the morning, stays but briefly, and cannot be found when gone.  The ambiguity lies not in the riddle itself but in the rich imagery of the poem (“flower”, “mist”, “dream of spring”, “clouds”) and the answer to the riddle (“dew”), all subtly suggestive of sensual and sexual love.  It is, therefore, safe to say this is a love poem in which the poet expresses his yearning for a lady he loves and misses.  And from line 2 (come at midnight and gone by daylight), it is perhaps also safe to say that the lady concerned is a courtesan for officials 官妓 (one class lower than courtesans in the palace 宮女 and one class higher than the "comfort ladies" for soldiers 營妓, all in the employ of the government in the Tang dynasty), the poet being an official. Courtesans for officials were assigned to perform or accompany officials at banquets and/or to serve them at night.

*Line 1:  I had originally penned “Flower? No, you’re no flower”, then considered “Flower? No, not real flower”, “Flower? No flower” and “Flower? No, not flower”, and have decided for “Flower?  No! No flower” (meaning, and is a contracted form of, “you’re no flower”).  The same goes for “Mist”.

*Line 2:  I had originally penned “Midnight, you come (2 beats); by dawn, you’re gone (2 beats)”.  Unable to sustain the “gone” rhyme, I have re-written the second half of the line as “Daylight, away you go (3 beats)”.  For the first half, I had considered adding “here” after “Midnight” to turn the line into 6 beats but have now decided to re-write Midnight” as “Mid of night” instead, bearing in mind in Chinese 夜半 “night half” is not precisely “midnight” but may just mean “late at night”.

*Line 3:  I have translated 春夢   in 3 words as “dream of spring” rather than in 2 words as “spring dream” which can mean both “a dream in springtime” and “dreaming of the beautiful yet brief springtime”, and I have taken the latter to be the correct interpretation.

*Music:  Although this poem by 白居易 Bai Juyi could have been written to music, that music either never existed or at least no longer exists.  The current music is the work of 黃自 Huang Zhi (1904-1938), a famous Chinese composer in the Nationalist period (1911-1949).  The musical score in “numbered musical notation” (簡譜 jianpu) and the song lyrics (the poem) in both English and Chinese are given below after these notes.  Please note that I have only put down the numbered musical notes with “^” or “\” added to the number to stand for a higher or lower octave, bar lines, and the key and time signatures (in this case, 1=D and 4/4).  Other information such as note lengths and slurs, etc. are omitted as I do not have the software to effect them.  Here is the song.

Flower No Flower 花非花    
 Lyrics 詞:  Bai Juyi (772-846) 白居易    
Music 曲:  Huang Zhi (1904-1938) 黄自

1=D    4/4

Flower? No! No flower.  Mist? No! No mist.
5             65    5     3  |          1^   2^1^ 1^   6  |

Mid of night, you come; daybreak, away you go.
5       5   5        1^     65    |   3    3         3  2   1     2 -- |

You come like my dream of spring, O brief, so brief;
2       2         3   5      6         6    5     |    5    5    2^1^  6 -- |

Gone as the morning clouds to where I'll never know.
1^       6   1^     5    5      3 5   |  6\    6\      6\   2 3      1 -- ||                         

06 September 2014

李白 Li Bai: 夏日山中 A Summer Day in the Mountains

Was Li Bai a "nudist"?  Was he, the greatest of all lyrical poets (I believe) not only a drunkard but also a "nudist"?  I really have no idea.  But this question of mine may be the best answer to the question (raised by my friends, resulting in this my translation): Why is this beautiful poem so well known among translators in the West, yet so unfamiliar to the Chinese?  The answer may well be because it is not included in the popular anthologies such as "300 Tang Poems"; but this, again, begs the question. Why is it not in the popular anthologies?  Anathema, I suppose.

In the poem, Li Bai nowhere advocates "nudism"; he simply wishes to relax in a cool place and in a cool, not necessarily conventional, manner----undressed.  Nowadays, although we have air-conditioning to counter the summer heat, we still need to relax, to be free, easy and unrestrained in the first place. This, I believe, is Li Bai's message.  I have used the word "idle/idling".  Can you think of a better word?  Now just relax, and enjoy being idle!   

 Li Bai (701-762):  A Summer Day in the Mountains

1  Too lazy to wave my fan of white plumes;
2  Rather, go naked, ‘neath the greenwood trees,
3  (With my headcloth undone, on a stone wall hung,)
    My headcloth undone, on a stone wall hung,
    (revised 30.9.16)
4  Idling, bare-headed, in the pine-filled breeze.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)          譯者: 黄宏發
20th August 2014 (revised 21.8.14; 22.8.14)
Translated from the original - 李白: 夏日山中

1  懶搖白羽扇
2  裸體()青林中
3  脫巾掛石壁
4  露頂灑松風

*Meter and rhyme:  This English rendition is in tetrameter while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.  Although the “trees-breeze” rhyme is more than over-used, I still find it fits the poem rather perfectly.
*Line 1: “lazy” in 懶搖 must mean “not to” and is most aptly translated as “too lazy to”.  I happen to have read on the web (I was travelling and had no access to my books) the renditions of the poem by 3 great translators of Chinese poetry; only Burton Watson has it right with his “too lazy to” while Arthur Waley has it as “gently I stir” and Stephen Owen, “lazily waving”. For the word , thanks to a friend Flavia Cheng, I have chosen “wave” which is in agreement with Watson (wave) and Owen (waving).  For  in 羽扇, as  plumes are larger than feathers and more suited to the making of fans, I have, like Watson, chosen “plume(s)” to translate while both Waley and Owen have chosen “feather(s)”. 
*Line 2:  For 裸體 or 裸袒 I had originally penned “bare-backed” but have decided to borrow “go naked” from Flavia Cheng.  I had then penned "Go naked instead", but have now decided for "Rather, go naked".  For 青林中 I had originally penned “in the grove of green trees”, then revised “in the green grove of trees”.  I consider it necessary to add the word “trees” to make the “trees-breeze” rhyme, as there is no better word than “breeze” for line 4.  I have, therefore, decided to change the “in the . . . grove” formulation to that of “’neath . . . trees”, thus, “’neath the greenwood trees”. .”  “Greenwood” is defined, in the Oxford Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, as “woodland, esp. in summer” and is, thus, perfect for 青林, although also defined as “forest in full leaf, esp. as the home of outlaws in olden times”.  This reminds me of a few lines in an old English ballad: “As Robin Hood in the forest strayed,/ All under the greenwood tree,/ He was aware of a brave young man,/ As fine as fine might be.”  I must have borrowed from it.
*Line 3:  For “towel” or cloth” which refers to 頭巾 “cloth for the head”, I had originally written “headband”, but have now decided to borrow from Burton Watson his “headcloth” which should be acceptable as the loincloth’s counterpart for the head.
*Line 4: For 露頂 “bare top/head”, I had considered “hair down” but have decided for “bare-headed”.  I believe the word (sprinkle, spray, spill, shed, etc.) must be understood in terms of 灑脫 (free and easy) and/or 瀟灑 (natural and unrestrained), both adjectives while the word in question is clearly a verb.  I had originally considered but rejected “basking . . . in the . . . breeze” (as one can only bask in the sun); I had also considered and rejected “bathing . . . in the . . .  breeze” (as this may be taken to mean actually bathing).  I then translated 灑松風 into modern Mandarin Chinese as 在松風裡,悠然自得 or colloquially as 在松風裡,閑着 and have come to the conclusion that 閑着 (idle) best conveys the message of “free, easy, natural, unrestrained”, thus, “Idling, bare-headed, in the pine-filled breeze”.

08 August 2014

盧綸 Lu Lun: 塞下曲 6首 其1 Border Song, 1 of 6

I am saddened to have to inform you that the lady protagonist of my dear friend Chen Tien Chi's love poem (Ru Meng Ling or As If Dreaming 如夢令 in my July 2014 post), his wife Mrs. Pearl Kong Chen 江獻珠, passed away in peace on 21 July 2014.  I will always remember the dinners Pearl cooked for us or took us to, not just because she was an expert gourmet and expert chef, but more for the love and care she put into her cooking and her selections.  May the good Lord bless and keep her.  May she rest in eternal peace.

Mrs. Pearl Kong Chen's Memorial Service will be held on Sunday, 10 August 2014 at the Chung Chi College Chapel, The Chinese University of Hong Kong at 3 p.m.  A Celebration of Life Dinner will also be held that evening.

Today, I am posting No. I of the six Border Songs written by Tang dynasty poet Lu Lun.  The rendition has not been easy; every line poses at least one problem as will be seen in my explanatory notes.  I hope I have done a fair job, and do hope you will enjoy it.  Here we go:-
Lu Lun (748-800?):  Border Song, 1 of 6

1    (Bedecked with vulture feathers, of gold, his arrow;)
      Bedecked with vulture feathers, his golden arrow;  
      (revised 24.8.14)
2    Swallow-tailed, embroidered, his banners flow.
3    Alone he stands, proclaims his new command, to
4    His thousand warriors' battle cry----Onward go!

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者黃宏發
13th June 2013 (revised 14.6.13; 17.6.13; 19.6.13; 20.6.13; 8.8.2014)
Translated from the Chinese original - 盧綸塞下曲 6首 其1

1        鷲翎金僕姑
2        燕尾繡蝥弧
3        獨立揚新令
4        千營共一呼

*    This English rendition is in pentameter (5 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*    Line 1:  僕姑 is the name of an arrow mentioned in the ancient Chinese classic 左傳 (莊十一年) and is rendered simply as “arrow.”  It is rendered in the singular primarily because I have interpreted the arrow in this context to be a 令箭 “arrow shaped (or arrow used as) token of authority over the army” akin to 兵符 “commander’s tally used for deploying and commanding armed forces.”  Based on this interpretation, I have used the noble word “gold” (instead of “metal”) to translate and have rendered it as “of gold” over “golden” or “gold-tipped.”  For the same reason, I have used the ornamental “bedecked” instead of the technically correct “fletched” (fletchings being feathers attached to arrows) to refer to the vulture feathers.
*    Line 2:  蝥弧 is the name of a flag mentioned in the ancient Chinese classic 左傳 (隱十一年) and is rendered as “banners” with the implied word “flow” added.  I had considered but dropped the alternative of “his colours/banners fly so.”
*    Line 3:  I had originally penned “By none he stands” but have now decided for “Alone he stands”.  Unlike most commentators and translators, I have interpreted the poem as describing the scene of a general assuming command.  揚新令 is, therefore, rendered as “to proclaim his new command” rather than “gives a new order" (Witter Bynner), “to issue a new edict" (Innes Herdan), “gives an order out" (Xu Yuan-Zhong), or “gives new commands" (Waters, Farman, Lunde).

*    Line 4:  Although most commentators and translators have variously taken 營 (thousand/tent) to mean “a thousand tents" (Witter Bynner), “a thousand companies" (Innes Herdan), “a thousand battalions" (Xu Yuan-Zhong), or “a thousand campfires" (Waters, Farman, Lunde), I am inclined to interpret it as “a battalion of a thousand men” which fits the scene of a general standing alone on a platform addressing his men (irrespective of whether he is assuming new command or just issuing new orders) who respond in unison with a battle cry, and have rendered it as “thousand warriors.”  For the word , I have used “battle cry” together with a slogan to be coined with a word to end-rhyme with “arrow" (1) and "flow" (2).  I had first considered the cry “Westward ho” and its variants “Northward ho,” “Forward ho,” “Onward ho” (which I like), “Rally ho” (unfortunately, the battle cry of a group of 3 silly Hanna-Barbara cartoon figures The Impossibles and also the greeting used by the dwarfs in the Final Fantasy video game series), “Battle ho,” or “To battle ho” (which I also like).  I then considered another rhyme word “foe” in: “Defeat the foe,” “Beat the foe” and “Crush the foe," and then yet another rhyme word “go” in: “Go go go,” “To battle go,” “To battle we go” (which I like) and “Onward we go," and have finally decided for “Onward go!”. The words 共 (together) and 一 (one) have not been literally translated as they are adequately covered or implied in my formulating the line as “to/ His thousand warriors’ battle cry----Onward go!”.           

04 July 2014

陳天機 Chen Tien Chi: 如夢令 Ru Meng Ling (As If Dreaming)

This month, I am posting a classical long-short-line verse (ci or 詞) written by a contemporary and my rendition of it in English.

This beautiful little poem of 6 lines is by Tien Chi Chen or Chen Tien Chi (陳天機  in Chinese Putonghua pinyin Chen Tienji), Emeritus Professor in Computer Science and Engineering at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.  He first joined the University in 1979 (from IBM where he had served for over 2 decades), was concurrently Head of United College of the University 1980-88 and retired from the University in 1992, but has returned as Visiting Professor of General Education since 1998.  Now that he is nearing his 2nd retirement (or 3rd, if one takes his leaving IBM also as retirement) at the age of 86, it is time opportune that I pay tribute to this extraordinary man and show the world his hidden literary prowess by posting this beautiful poem of his.

I have secured Tien Chi's permission to post this poem which he dated 16th February 2007 and which he sent me shortly by email.  I volunteered to translate it into English which I completed on 20th May of the same year.  Tien Chi has not said as much, but I have always taken it to be a love poem dedicated to his beloved wife Pearl (江獻珠).

I now offer to you Chen Tien Chi's love poem and my English rendition.  Kindly share it with all friends of Tien Chi and Pearl and with all lovers of love poetry. 

Chen Tien Chi (1928-) 
Tune of Ru Meng Ling (As If Dreaming):
The End of the Lunar Year, Drizzling Softly at the Scenic Egrets Pond

1  (O how I love the waters aqua, the mountains green,)
    O how we love the waters aqua, the mountains green,  (revised 15.8.14)
2  On twigs and sprigs, softly, drizzle-drops first sheen;
3  Hand in hand, on the railing we lean,
4  (Envy not the plumes and wings of the phoenix serene.)
    Envy not the plumes and wings of the phoenix queen.  (revised 15.8.14)
5  Drip drop, drip drop:
6  Tit-bits of spring-time's tidings of a brand new scene.

16th February 2007

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)         譯者: 黃宏發
20th May 2007 (revised 4.6.2007; 7.6.2007; 16.7.2007; touched up 16.9.2013; 23.6.2014; 4.7.2014)
Translated from the original Chinese - 陳天機 調寄 如夢令: 年晚小白鷺勝地微雨 



*  This English rendition follows the long-short line pattern of the original with
   hexameter (6 feet) for the 6-character lines (lines 1, 2, 4 and 6), tetrameter (4
   feet) for the 5-character line (line 3), and dimeter (2 feet) for the4-character line
   (line 5).  The rhyme scheme is AAAAXA compared to the original AAXAAA.
*  Line 1:  I had considered “waters blue” but have decided for “waters aqua”.
*  Line 2: “On sprigs and twigs” now revised as “On twigs and sprigs”.  The
   word “sheen” here is a verb.
*  Line 3:  For 闌干 the word “balustrade” now revised as “railing”.  For , I                      
   had considered “recline” to make it possible to achieve the unrhymed X for line 3
   (please see note above), but have decided for the more natural word “lean” which
   makes this rendition deviate from the original rhyme scheme. 
*  Line 4: “Envious not of” now revised as “Envy not,” and “phoenixes,"
   revised as “phoenix”.  The word “serene” is added for the rhyme.  (Added 15.8.14:)  "Serene" is now revised to read "queen" as in 鳳凰 "phoenix", 鳳 is male while 凰 is female.
*  Line 5:  I had considered “A drib and a drab” , then penned it as “Drib-drab,  drib-drab" and have now decided simply for “Drip drop, drip drop."
*  Line 6:  I had considered “Tit-bits of spring-time’s good/glad tidings of a brand new scene” to        somehow make up the 6-beat count for the line , but have now decided to drop the word “good/glad” and venture to suggest that the word “of” should be read stressed.

06 June 2014

白居易 Bai Juyi: 讀老子 On Reading the "Lao Zi"

During the last year and a half, I have posted here my translation of 4 chapters of Lao Zi's "Dao De Jing". This has taken me a great deal of time and effort and I now wish to put it aside for the time being and return to my main interest: poetry translation.  For those who are interested in the Dao De Jing, there is an abundance of ready translations.  For books, I commend Arthur Waley's "The Way" and D.C. Lau's Penguin "Tao Te Ching".  On the net, I have seen a complete translation by A.S. Kline - "Tao Te Ching: The Book of The Way and Its Virtues" and another by a friend of mine Lok Sang HO of Lingnan University, Hong Kong - "The Living Dao: The Art and Way of Living a Rich and Truthful Life".  The 2 links are:  -http://www.taoteching.cn/index.php/tao-te-ching-translated-by-a-s-kline/   http://www.ln.edu.hk/econ/staff/daodejing(22%20August%202002).pdf 

Today's poem is about Lao Zi and the philosophy (not religion) called "Daoism" or "Taoism".  The poet Bai Juyi was himself a follower of that philosophy, yet in the poem he appears to be mocking Lao Zi,, or did he not also mock himself, he being a most prolific poet?  Life is full of paradoxes, and self-mockery seems to work wonders.  Let us just appreciate Bai Juyi's sense of humour in what follows:- 

Bai Juyi (772-846):  On Reading the “Lao Zi”

1       He who preaches knows not, he who knows is mute.
2   (These I’m told are the words, of Lao Zi the master of old.)
These are the words, I'm told, of Laozi the master of old. 
(revised 10.6.2014)
3       But if, it be said, the master, was one who truly knew,
4       O why did he pen a treatise, a thousand words five-fold?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者黃宏發
21st February 2013 (revised 22.2.13; 6.6.14)
Translated from the original - 白居易讀老子

1       言者不知知者默
2       此語吾聞於老君
3       若道老君是知者
4       缘何自著五千文

*    This English rendition is in hexameter (6 feet) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.
*    Title:  老子 (Lao Zi, Laozi or Lao Tzu) in the title of the poem refers to the book of 5,000 words known as the 道德經 (Dao De Jing, Daodejing or Dao Te Ching) or simply the 老子) authorship of which is attributed to 老子 whose real name was 李耳 (Li Er) who lived circa 500 BCE.  I have, therefore, added the article the and put Lao Zi in quotes in the English title.
*    Line 1:  For “speech”, I had considered “speaks", "professes", "teaches", "declaims”, etc. but have now decided for “preaches”.  There is an alternative version of the original line which has the word in the place of the first which I do not favour as the line is from Chapter 56 of the 道德經 Dao De Jing and is a poetic paraphrase of the opening 2 fragments of the chapter.  The first fragment 知者不言 is rendered by Bai Juyi as 知者默(不言) used to end the line.  The second fragment 言者不知 should, therefore, be a direct quote (and not言者不如) used to begin the poem, particularly in view of what the poet says in line 2.  For “silent”, I had considered “stays mute” but have now decided for “is mute”.
*    Line 2:  I have not rendered 吾聞於 “I hear from” as “… I have heard from …” because it makes no logical sense to take to mean “directly (personally) from”.  I have, instead, taken 吾聞 to be “I’m told” in the sense of  我聽說 “I heard it said” and to mean 出於 “of/spoken by/from the book of”, and have, therefore, rendered 吾聞於 as “These I’m told are the words, of …”  The word is an honorific and 老君 is a grander honorific with the word Lao also referring specifically to Lao Zi.  I have, therefore, rendered 老君 as “Lao Zi” plus “the master of old”.
*    Lines 3 and 4:  The words “But” (line 3) and “O” (line 4), which are not in the original, are added so as to make sure the words that follow, “if” (line 3) and “why” (line 4) are read stressed.  The word “truly” (not in the original) is added to line 3 to complete the 6-foot meter.  These additions help make the paradox, if not also irony, of the poem even more apparent. 

*    Line 4:  I had considered translating 自著 “himself authoring” as “pen his treatise” but have decided for “pen a treatise”.  The word “pen” may not be the correct writing instrument, but is considered a better word than “write” to convey the meaning of self authorship.  五千文 is rendered as “a thousand words fivefold” in order to make the rhyme of “old” (line 2) “five-fold” (line 4).           

Classical Chinese Poems in English


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