04 February 2014

孟浩然 Meng Haoran: 宿建德江 Sojourn on the River at Jiande

This is a 20-character quatrain (four 5-character lines) by the Tang dynasty poet Meng Haoran.  I have been unable to compress my English rendition into lines of 5 or less beats (e.g. 4) as I have for nearly all my other renditions of 5-character quatrains.  This is probably due to my insistence on following the original rhyme scheme (mea culpa?) and my crude attempt to reproduce in English the peculiarly Chinese couplet form (unrhymed, but perfect parallel diction) in lines 3 and 4 (bravo?).  In addition, I have also failed to provide in my rather breathless 6-beat (hexameter) lines a mid-line pause (caesura), say after 3 beats, which has made most of my other 6-beat renditions sound pleasurable.

To make my rendition sound poetic, may I suggest that my lines be read with a pause after the first 2 beats, another pause (albeit shorter) after the next 2 beats followed by 2 beats with a long end-rhyme.  Care for a go?.

Meng Haoran (689-740):  Sojourn on the River at Jiande

1  My boat is steered to moor by an isle in a misty chemise;
2  The day now done, my sorrows, in sojourn, well up again.
3  So open the country, there hangs the sky below the trees;
4  So limpid the river, here lies the moon to befriend us men.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發    
3rd June 2008 (revised 12.6008; 13.6.08; 23.6.08; 19.7.08; 24.2.2009; 29.1.2014)
Translated from the original - 孟浩然: 宿建德江

1 移舟泊煙渚
2 日暮客愁新
3 野曠天低樹
4 江清月近人

* Meter and rhyme: I have been unable to render the poem in pentameter (5 metrical feet) to emulate the original 5-character lines. This rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet). The rhyme scheme is ABAB as in the original if 渚 and 樹 are taken to rhyme. . 
* Line 1: The word “chemise” (not in the original poem) is used primarily to rhyme with “trees” in line 3. It does, however, produce the image of the island wearing a white garment, somewhat akin to Herbert Giles’ use of “mist-clad”. I am also grateful to Giles for his choice of the word “steer” for 移 in “I steer my boat 
to anchor” which I have turned into “My boat is steered to moor” to obviate the active first person “I” which might suggest that the poet is steering.
* Line 2: 客 “traveller/sojourner” refers to the poet himself, hence, 客愁 is rendered as “my sorrows, in sojourn”. 新 “new” should be taken to mean “anew/renew/afresh” and is, hence, rendered as “well up again”. My use of the word “sorrows” in the plural makes it possible to read the line to include “old” sorrows in addition to “new” ones.
* Lines 3 and 4: This is a rare couplet in a Tang quatrain. My rendition is an attempt to reproduce in English this peculiarly Chinese form of the couplet (parallel diction and, invariably, unrhymed).  I have added "there hangs" and "here lies" to strengthen the symmetry.  I had originally penned "The country so open" and The river so limpid" to follow the order of the words in the original, but have now decided to inverse the order.
* Line 3: 天低樹 “sky” “low/dwarf/below/beneath” “tree” can be understood as either “the trees are dwarfed by the sky” or “the sky is dwarfed by the trees”. I have adopted the latter which, I am sure you will agree, is the picture one would see at dusk, sitting in a small boat off an isle with mature trees, looking at the vast open country beyond.  I had used "there sits the sky beneath", but have now decided for "there hangs the sky below".   
* Line 4: 近人 literally “near men” has the additional meaning of “approachable/friendly".  I had originally used “to be close to men” to cover both meanings, but have now decided for "to befriend us men".


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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