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”.

Classical Chinese Poems in English


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