02 December 2015

王梵志 Wang Fanzhi: 無題四言絕句 4首 其3 (山雲當幕) Untitled 4-Character Quatrain, 3 of 4 (1- The mountain clouds, by night, my curtain)

Four-character quatrains of the Tang dynasty are rare.  Following my October 2015 post of Wang Fanzhi's untitled 4-character quatrain #2 "Worldly matters, we worry, weary (1st line)", I am here posting another, being #3 of his 4 such quatrains "The mountain clouds, by night, my curtain (1st line)".

This poem reminds me of a poem I posted here in January 2014, a 5-character quatrain entitled "In Reply to Someone" 答人, by an anonymous Tang dynasty poet who chose to call himself (or be called) the Supreme Hermit 太上隱者 (Taishang Yinzhe), which poem is reproduced below for ease of reference:-
*By chance to have come beneath the pines,
*With a boulder for pillow, I sleep care free.
*Blind, in these mountains, to calendared days,
*Care not, as the cold wanes, what year it be!

What a beautiful little poem by the Hermit!  Equally beautiful are these two 4-character quatrains (this and #2 posted in October 2015) by Wang Fanzhi.  But the knowledge that there are only 4 such 4-character quatrains under Wang's name and that these quatrains are markedly superior, in quality, to the other poems under his name, makes one wonder if these were not the works of some other poet who chose to be anonymous (like the Supreme Hermit) and somehow mistakenly attributed to Wang. What ever, I think it best not to pursue the matter.  Just sit back and enjoy it.  

Wang Fanzhi (592?-670?): Untitled Four-Character Quatrain, 3 of 4 (The mountain clouds, by night, my curtain)

1    (Mountain clouds, by night, a canopy,)
The mountain clouds, by night, my curtain,
(revised 5.12.15)
2       Hooked to the crescent moon, a-spread.
3       I lie, I sleep 'neath vines and climbers,
4       With a slab of stone to pillow my head.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)
18 April 2015 (revised 30.11.15)
Translated from the original – 王梵志: 無題四言絕句 4 其3 (山雲當幕)

1    山雲當幕
2    夜月為鉤
3    臥藤蘿下
4    塊石枕頭


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is, in my view, #3 of four 4-character quatrains.  Some prefer to refer to it as stanza #3 of a poem of four quatrain stanzas.  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 feet or beats) while the original is in 4-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.  (Please note Wang’s quatrain #2 rhymes AAXA.)

*Lines 1 and 2:  In line 1, 山雲 is translated literally as "The mountain clouds", and although  “veil, screen, or curtain” should be understood as 天幕 "canopy",  it is also translated literally as "curtain" to avoid the tri-syllabic "canopy",   I had originally used "a" canopy (now curtain) which does not translate  當 "taken to be" at all.    I have now decided to revise it to read "my"  which conveys the meaning  of "I  take the clouds to be".  *The above from the beginning of this note re-written 5.12.15 to replace [[ In line 1, “veil, screen, or curtain” should, in this context, be understood as 天幕 and is translated as “canopy” and hence, although 山雲 can mean “mountains and clouds”, here it can only mean “Mountain clouds".]]  The idea of “night” has been moved from line 2 to line 1 as “by night” so as to allow me space in line 2 to add the word “crescent” to the word “moon” to make sense of the idea of “Hooked” in line 2.  To end line 2, I have also added the word “a-spread” (which, though not spelt out, is implied in the original in line 1 whether it is translated as “curtain” or “canopy”) to create a rhyme for “head” in line 4.

*Line 3:  臥 "lie" is translated as "I lie, I sleep" to indicate that he is lying down to sleep".  For 藤蘿 I had considered but rejected “wistarias or wisterias” (which is 紫藤) for being too specific and too beautiful a word and have, instead, decided for “vines and climbers”.

*Line 4:  For 塊石 I had originally penned “a piece of rock” but have now decided for “a slab of stone”.  Instead of taking 枕頭 or 頭枕 as a compound noun meaning “pillow (for the head)”, the word should be taken as a verb and it is most appropriate to translate 枕頭 as “to pillow my head”.

01 November 2015

李忱 Li Chen (810-859): 瀑布聯句 The Cascade, Lines Jointly Written with Zen Master Xiang'yan Xian

Brian Ross Melchior, my son in law, passed away peacefully in bed on Saturday 7.45 a.m., 24 October 2015 at the young age of 35.  This English rendition of a 9th century Chinese poem "The Cascade" was written at Brian's death bed at home on Wednesday after he said to me, "I am ready!  I am ready!"  I revised it the next day and further on Friday the eve.  And it was read out (together with Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Crossing the Bar") at Brian's Celebration of Life service yesterday (31 October) held at the Woodwind Farm (home of a friend Alice Altstatt), Finksburg, Maryland.

In celebrating Brian's life, the first 3 lines of the poem clearly refer to his untiring spirit, his lofty ideals, his inexhaustible energy, and the successes they have brought.  The last line, which is usually interpreted as "making waves for greater things to come", can be understood as "returning to be one with the ocean" or "one with God".    

Li Chen (810-859) and Zen Master Xiangyan Xian (?): The Cascade, Lines Jointly Written

1    (Down a myriad of rocky rapids, untiring, undaunted it goes,)
      (Down a myriad of rocky rapids, undaunted, untiring it goes,)  (revised 11.11.15)
      (O down a myriad rocky rapids, undaunted, untiring he goes;) (revised 29.12.15)
      Down a myriad of rocky rapids, undaunted, untiring he goes(revised 7.1.16)
      Down myriads of rocky rapids, undaunted, untiring he goes;
      (revised 1.1.16)
2    (And only when far one sees, ‘tis from high its fountain flows.)
      (Viewed from afar one sees, 'tis from high his fountain flows.) (revised 29.12.15)
      (And only from afar one sees, 'tis from high his fountain flows.) ((revised 11.1.16)
      Viewed from afar one finds, 'tis from high his fountain flows.
      (revised 19.1.16)
3    (No brook, no creek could ever----contain, constrain its flush!)
      No brook, no creek could ever----contain, constrain his thrust!
      (revised 29.12.15)
4    (In turn, it returns to the ocean, to surge and roll in billows.)
      In turn, he'll return to the ocean, to surge and roll in billows.
      (revised 29.12.15)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黄宏發
21st October 2015 (revised 22.10.15; 23.10.15; 11.11.15; 29.12.15; 7.1.16; 19.1.16)

Translated from the original -  李忱--香嚴閒禪師: 瀑布聯句

1    千巖萬壑不辭勞
2    遠看方知出處高
3    溪澗豈能留得住
4    終歸大海作波濤

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 7-character lines. The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Author and Title:  禪師, an honorific for a Buddhist monk, is rendered as "Zen Master" and Xiangyan Xian is Zen Master Xian 閒 of the Xiang'yan Temple 香嚴寺.  It is believed he was 李忱 Li Chen's older contemporary.  Li Chen later reigned as Emperor Tang Xuanzhong 唐宣宗 (846-859).  聯句 in the title, which I have translated as “Lines Jointly Written”, was a practice among poets in the old days, with one poet offering a line or two inviting (an)other(s) to complete the poem.  In this case, the Zen Master offered the first 2 lines and the yet-to-be Emperor, the second 2 lines and completed the poem while they were visiting Mount Lushan.  For the title proper, I have translated 瀑布 as “Cascade” which, in this context, is more appropriate than “Waterfall” as it is not about a waterfall, but about “water”, about water cascading all the way to the ocean.  [Added 29.12.15: I have now personified this "water" as it is obviously a metaphor of a "man" of lofty ideals on his way to pursue and accomplish his ideals, and have revised "it" (line 1), "its" (lines 2 and 3) and "it returns" (line 4) to read "he", "his" and "he'll return" respectively.  

*Line 1:  “thousand” and  “ten thousand”, either and both are meant to be “numerous” or ‘innumerable”, are translated as “a myriad” in that very sense.  “rocks” or “boulders” and “rapids” or “ravines” are also combined to form “rocky rapids”.   “Down” and “it goes” (not in the original) are added to create an image of a cascade which word appears only in the title, never in the poem.
*Line 2:  I have used the word “see(s)” to cover both “view” and “know” in order to avoid having 4 beats (feet) in the first half of the line.  [Added 29.12.15:  I have now revised "And only when far one sees" to "Viewed from afar one sees".]  [Added 11.1.16: I have now decided to revise it to "And only from afar one sees".]  [Added 19.1.16:  I now consider only" rather misleading and, in any case, too strong a word to translate 方 and have decided to translate the first half to :Viewed from afar one finds" which can cover both 看 and 知 and which adequately conveys the meaning of 方.  For the second half,] I had originally penned “from high, its source, it flows”, but have found “fountain” (“fountainhead”, too long) a better choice, hence, “’tis from high its fountain flows”. 

*Line 3:  For 溪澗 “streams, etc.”, I have chosen “brook” and “creek” for their “k” consonant sound.  For “keep” or “withhold”, I had originally used 2 rhymed words “contain, detain” to cover both permanent and temporary withholding.  I have now found “contain, constrain” even more attractive.  The rhetorical question of 豈能 “how can” in the original is turned into an equivalent categorical statement of “No brook, no creek could ever …..”  I have decided to keep the last word in the line of this English rendition (not in the original) as “flush” as originally penned after considering “rush” (suggested by Dr. Jessica L. McCarty-Kern) and "gush".  [Added 29.12.15:  I have now decided for "thrust" instead.]

*Line 4:  Although 终歸 as an expression also means “in the end”, I have translated the 2 words separately with as “in turn” and as “returns” as the context requires a “return” to the” ocean”, the “great sea” 大海, in the original.  To end the poem, I had originally considered “as surging, rolling billows”, then penned “to roll and surge in billows”.  This change from “as” to “to” makes the line much, much more active.  I have now refined it to “to surge and roll in billows” to bring the 2 “ou” sounds closer to each other.


13 October 2015

王梵志 Wang Fanzhi: 無題四言絕句 4首 其2 (世事悠悠) Untitled 4-Character Quatrain, 2 of 4 (1- Worldly matters, we worry, weary)

I had cited this poem in Chinese on 14 April 2015 in reply to Ray Heaton's comments on my rendition of Chen Zi'ang's "Song on Ascending the Youzhou Tower" 陳子昂: 登幽州臺歌 (my April 2015 post on this blog) with reference to the meaning of the expression 悠悠.  I said there are more than 20 definitions to the expression and have decided for "going on for a long time" for Chen's poem.

However, in this poem, the meaning should in my view be "numerous" and "multifarious" and, hence, "bothersome" and "troublesome".  Here is my English rendition of this untitled 4-character quatrain.  Does it not remind one of similar sentiments in other poems such as:
(1) Li Bai "Why in the Mountains" - my June 2011 post: chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.hk/2011/06/li-bai-why-in-mountains.html;
(2) Li Bai "A Summer Day in the Mountains" - my September 2014 post: chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.hk/2014/09/li-bai-summer-day-in-mountains.html; and
(3) Taishang Yinzhe "In Reply to Someone" - my January 2014 post: chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.hk/2014_01_01_archive.html?  

Wang Fanzhi (592? - 670?): Untitled 4-Character Quatrain, 2 of 4 (Worldly matters, we worry, weary)

1       Worldly matters, we worry, weary;
2       Up in the mountains, we’d better be.
3       Green pines for shade, to filter the sun;
4       Blue streams, as ever, flow free and easy.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
16th April 2015 (revised 17.4.15; 18.4.15)
Translated from the original – 王梵志: 無題四言絕句 4 其2 (世事悠悠)

1    世事悠悠
2    不如山丘
3    青松敝日
4    碧澗長秋


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is untitled and is a quatrain (4 lines) in 4-character lines, a line length preferred in the very ancient poems of the 詩經 “Book of Songs”.  This is either quatrain #2 of four such quatrains, or stanza #2 of a poem of 4 such quatrain stanzas.  I have taken it to be a free standing 4-character quatrain and have rendered it into English in tetrameter (4 feet or beats).  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  In this context,    does not mean “vast" and/or “lasting”, “immense” and/or “infinite”, and certainly not “leisurely”, but should mean “numerous” and "multifarious", hence, "bothersome" and "troublesome" and hence, my “worry, weary” or, if you please, “worry, worry” both aimed at replicating the repetition.

*Line 2:  I had originally penned “we’d rather be” (with “’d” for “would”) but have now decided for “we’d better be” (with “’d” for “had”)..

*Line 3: I had originally penned “Green pines above/abound” to begin the line, but had decided for “Green pines for shade,” to be followed by a verb to complete the meaning of 蔽日. I had considered variously “cover”, “hide”, “hide from”, “block”, “block off”, “ward off”, “dim”, “dampen” “shelter from”, “shut out”, etc.  But they all seem very negative towards the “sun”.  I have, therefore, decided for “filter” or, alternatively, “soften”.

*Line 4:  cannot be translated literally as “autumn” without becoming incomprehensible.  In this context of “blue streams (waters)” it can only refer to the quality of “autumn waters” and mean either “clear/limpid, hence, beautiful” which I can adopt, or “plentiful/abundant, hence continuous flow” which I prefer.  This interpretation, resulting in my “flow free and easy”, is based on 莊子 Zhuang Zi 秋水 Autumn Waters: “秋水時至,百川灌河 ’Tis the time of autumn waters, hundreds of streams flow into the River.”  (My rough translation).

02 September 2015

王昌齢 Wang Changling: 出塞 2首 其1 (秦時明月...) To the Frontier, 1 of 2 (1- The same clear moon as in Qin times...)

Today, I am posting a poem which most would regard as a patriotic poem glorifying the Han (as an ethnic group) Chinese.  However, some would regard it as anti-war or, at least, desire for peace. What do you say?

Wang Changling (698 – 757): To the Frontier, I of Two (The same clear moon as in Qin times...)

1  The same clear moon as in Qin times, same passes as in Han;
2  Men came from thousands of miles, their return ne'er ever began.
3  If only that Flying General, of Longcheng fame, were here,
4  No hostile horses dare cross----the border of Mount Yinshan.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
19th July 2015
Translated from the original - 王昌齢: 出塞 2 其1 (秦時明月...)

1  秦時明月漢時關
3  但使龍城飛將在


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 7-chracter lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  Qin and Han are 2 consecutive dynasties (221 – 206 BCE; 206 BCE – 220 CE).  These are ancient days even to those, the poet included, who lived in the Tang dynasty (618 – 907 CE).  Qin was the time when the Great Wall長城 was built or completed.  At the time, passes must have also been built.  I had, therefore, considered rendering the line as “A clear moon over the passes, as in the days of Qin and Han” which is what the line means.  I have, however, decided to follow the original formulation and separated Qin and Han, but with word “same” added twice to link the 2 dynasties so as to convey the idea that war had been going on for centuries ever since antiquity, hence, “The same clear moon as in Qin times, same passes as in Han”.

*Line 2:  萬里 “ten thousand ‘li’ (a Chinese unit of length)” is rendered as “thousands of miles” on the basis that one ‘li’ equals half a kilometer, 10 thousand ‘li’, 5 thousand kilometers or, very roughly, 3 thousand miles.  長征 is not interpreted as a “long march/expedition” as the poem is not about an expedition in offence, but reinforcements in defence, and soldiers would have been enlisted throughout the country, hence, my “Men came from”.  人未還 is rendered as “their return ne'er ever began” to rhyme with “Han” in line 1 and “Yinshan” in line 4.

*Line 3:  I have rendered 但使 simply as “If only … were here” and have taken 龍城飛將 to refer to Li Guang 李廣 and not to Wei Qing 衛青, both generals of the Han dynasty.  While the exact location and nature of 龍城 ”Longcheng” are matters yet to be settled, 飛將 ”flying general” unequivocally points to Li Guang who was in command in 右北平郡 “West Beiping Province” (in present day 河北 Hebei Province) which included Longcheng, and according to司馬遷 史記 (“Shi Ji” or “Historical Records” by Sima Qian), the Huns (Xiung Nu匈奴) referred to Li Guang as 漢之飛將軍 “Han’s flying general” and 避之數嵗,不敢入右北平 “avoided him for some years, not daring to enter West Beiping”.  龍城 is simply rendered as “of Longcheng fame”.

*Line 4:  refers generally to non-Han nationalities living in the north and west of China and is rendered here as “hostile” as, in this context, the Huns and the Hans were at war.  is literally translated as “horses”.  It is in both languages a synecdoche for 馬兵 or 騎乓 “horsemen” or “cavalry” and this meaning is further clarified by my translating as “hostile”.  I had considered “No … can cross” for 不教 but have decided for “No … dare cross”.  I have added the word “border” to make clear the nature of Mount Yinshan. 

02 August 2015

李益 Li Yi: 江南曲 Jiang Nan Qu (Song of the Land South of the River)

This poem depicts the feelings of the wife of a merchant who time after time fails to return home as promised.  The word 潮 "tides" which appears in both lines 3 and 4 may mislead us to think that Qutang (which is the uppermost gorge of the Three Gorges of the Yangzi River) is by seaside.  I have, therefore, rendered it as "Qutang Gorge".  My note on line 3 explains 潮 not as 潮汐 "tides" but as 潮汎 "high/flood waters" which make the gorge navigable, hence my rendering 潮有信 in line 3 as "as ever floods on time" and 弄潮兒 in line 4 as "river-boat sailor".  Here we go!

Li Yi (748 – 829): Jiangnan Qu (Song of the Land South of the River)

1  I’m married to a merchant, we live in Qutang Gorge, yet
2  Time after time he fails me: to return by the day he’d said.        
3  O had I known this River, as ever, floods on time,  
4  I might have had married a river-boat sailor instead.  

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
18th June 2015 (revised 19.6.15; 26.6.15; 30.6.15; 3.7.15; 10.7.15; 15.7.15)
Translated from the original - 李益: 江南曲



*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  嫁得 is rendered as “I’m married to” after considering “Married am I/I am to”.  瞿塘 “Qutang” refers to 瞿塘峽 “Qutang Gorge” (the name of the first and uppermost of “The Three Gorges” 三峽 of the “Changjiang or Long River” 長江 or 大江 “Grand River” or simply “River”), and is translated as such to clearly identify the place.  Instead of translating 瞿塘賈 literally as “merchant of Qutang” which may mean “merchant from Qutang”, I have added the idea of “live” to better indicate that the merchant (who may well be from Qutang) indeed lives in Qutang, hence, “(since marriage) we live in Qutang Gorge”.

*Line 2:  朝朝 “every morning/day” or 每一朝 (pronounced “zhao”) is interpreted to mean 每一遭 (pronounced “zao”) “every time”, and is translated as “time after time” (rather than “time and again”) to replicate the repetition.  is a word used by a female to refer to herself (“me” or “my”) and does not mean “concubine”.  誤妾期 is, therefore, rendered as “he fails me: to return by the day he’d said” after considering “he’s ‘failed me:/failed’ to be ‘home/back’ by the day ‘as he’d/as’ said”.  The word “said” which rhymes with “instead” in line 4, is used in the sense of “promised”.

*Line 3:  早知 does not mean “I had earlier/always known” but “if I had earlier/sooner known” and is simply translated   as “O had I known”.  Here, in the context of a river gorge, the word “tide/high waters” refers not to潮汐 “morning and evening tides”, but to 潮汎 or simply “flood/high waters” which occur on rivers in spring (hence春汎 “spring flood/high waters”) after the dry autumn and winter months (although also in summer and autumn after heavy rains).  The flood waters make the River and the Gorge navigable and for the sailor (in line 4) and the merchant (in line 2) to come home if he chooses to.   有信is rendered here as “as ever … on time” with “as ever” to translate the literal meaning of “faithfully, trustily, unfailingly”, and “on time”, the implied meaning of “regularly, punctually”.  I have dropped the most poetic word “timely” as it, unfortunately, does not mean seasonally but seasonably.  As the line refers to flood waters, 潮有信 is rendered as “this River, as ever, floods on time”.  I had considered but dropped the alternative formulation of “how trustily, flood waters fill the banks (or River or Gorge”.
*Line 4:  弄潮兒 “one who plays in the water (river, lake or sea)” is interpreted as “one who braves the water as a sailor or as a lover of watersports”, hence, in this context, “a river-boat sailor”.  I had considered “man” and “hand” but have decided for “sailor”.  嫁與 … reads like a statement, but as I see it, the poem is a wife’s plaint for being left alone at home and not a serious statement that she would rather marry a river-boat sailor.  I had, therefore, considered turning the statement of “I would have had married …” into a rhetorical question of “Would I have had married …”, but have decided to adhere to the statement formulation with “might” replacing “would” and other alternatives such as “may” and “could”, hence, “I might have had married a river-boat sailor instead”. 


02 July 2015

蘇軾 Su Shi: 題西林壁 (橫看成嶺...) Written on the Wall of Xilin Temple (at Mount Lushan) (1- A range in panorama...)

Today, I am posting a quatrain by the famous Sung 宋 dynasty poet Su Shi 蘇軾 or more popularly known as Su Tung-Po 蘇東坡.  The poem is about Mount Lushan 廬山 in present-day Jiangxi 江西 province.  Xilin 西林 (West Woods or Forest) is the name of a temple.  You may wish to contrast it with Li Bai's poem on Mount Lushan (which I posted in September 2009) in which Li Bai sings of the grandeur of a waterfall in Mount Lushan ("As if 'twere the Silver River, falling from heaven supreme"), while Su Shi here gives us some food for thought in his philosophic reflection: "Because this very mountain, has had me right inside".  As for Li Bai's poem, please go to my rendition of his "View of a Waterfall at Mount Lushan".

This is the first Sung dynasty quatrain I have ever attempted.  I do hope you will enjoy it.   

Su Shi (1037 - 1101): Written on the Wall of Xilin Temple (at Mount Lushan) (A range in panorama...)

1  A range in panorama, peaks if viewed from the side;
2  Far, near, low, and high, these summits differ wide.
3  The true face of Mount Lushan, O ‘tis so hard to tell, 
4  Because this very mountain, has had me right inside.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
27th May 2015 (revised 28.5.15; 2.6.15; 3.6.15; 4.6.15; 5.6.15; 8.6.15; 10.6.15; 11.6.15; 12.6.15)
Translated from the original - 蘇軾: 題西林壁 (橫看成嶺...)

1  橫看成嶺側成峯
2  遠近高低各不同
3  不識廬山真面目
4  只緣身在此山中

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  For I have chosen “range” over “ridge”.  For I have chosen the plural “peaks” over the singular “a peak” as there are over 90 (or, by another reckoning, 170) peaks in the 300 square km. Mount Lushan area (slightly less than a third of the size of Hong Kong).  I had considered “peaks when/as/if viewed from aside/the side”, and have come to decide for “peaks if viewed from the side”.

*Line 2:  遠近高低 “far, near, high, low” can be taken to refer to either (a) the peaks (how far and how high they are) or (b) the vantage point of the viewer (from how far and how high the peaks are viewed).  I have translated it literally to retain this ambiguity but have reversed the order of “high” and “low” in order to create an assonance of the “ai” sound in “high” (at the caesura/pause) and “wide” (at the end of the line).   To heighten this ambiguity, I could have rendered 各不同 as “the sights do differ wide” or “the scenery differs wide”, but had decided for “these summits differ wide”.  I had also considered “differ, divide” as an alternative to “differ wide” the proper adverbial form of which should, theoretically, be “differ widely” which, however, makes no rhyme.  I have, therefore, decided to stick to “differ wide”.  In support of my decision, aside from invoking poetic licence, I reproduce below the entry on “wide” in Fowler’s (p. 850, The New Fowler’s Modern English Usage, 3rd Edition): “It should be borne in mind that there are a great many circumstances, mostly in fixed phrases, in which, though widely is theoretically the needed form, wide is the idiomatic form; …  Thus wide apart, wide awake, open one’s eyes wide, wide open, is widespread, are all idiomatically required (not widely apart, etc.); and there are many more.”  And I wonder why, even if it is not idiomatically required, “differ wide” cannot be accepted as, at least, not incorrect.
*Line 3:  To translate 不識 I had originally considered “I’ve never ever known” and variations of it.  I am grateful to the famed poet/translator Prof. Yu Kwang-chung 余光中 for rendering it as “hard to tell” (his translation of this poem  in his paper “Poet as Translator”, p. 10 in “Dancers and the Dance: Essays in Translation Studies”, eds Lawrence K.P. Wong and Chan Sin-wai, Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars, 2013) which I have now borrowed, thus my rendition: “The true face of Mount Lushan, O ‘tis so hard to tell”.  Here, the word “tell’ is used in the sense of “to discern or recognize … so as to be able to identify or describe …” (Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dict.)

*Line 4:  I had originally penned the first half of the line as “Only/All because this mountain” 只緣 此山, but have now decided for the less literal yet equally adequate “Because this very mountain” with “this very” (instead of “Only/All … this”) to translate .  For the second half of the line, I had originally penned “has had me trapped inside” with the word “trapped” added to better hint at the poem’s message of 當局者迷 “The one who is in it, doesn’t get it, precisely because he is (too much) in it.”  I rejected it as being too obtrusive and considered the less obtrusive “kept” (“has had me kept inside” or “has kept me right inside”), but have decided to drop them and render it simply as “has had me right inside”.  This I find subtly adequate for the purpose of the message as the word “have” in “had” can mean “to hold advantage over” in addition to the ordinary meaning of “to possess”. 


02 June 2015

賈島 Jia Dao: 劍客 The Swordsman

Today, I am posting my latest translation, a simple little poem by Jia Dao.  Hope you like it:-

Jia Dao (779 – 843): The Swordsman

1  (For ten long years, my sword I whetted,)
    For ten long years, a sword I whetted,  
    (revised 4.7.15)
2  Its frosty blade, as yet, untried.
3  Today, I hold it unsheathed before you;
4  Of you, to whom was justice denied?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
4th May 2015 (revised 7.5.15; 18.5.15; 22.5.15)
Translated from the original - 賈島:  劍客

1  十年磨一劍
2  霜刃未曾試
3  今日把示 ()
4  誰有() 不平事


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  To complete the 4-beat metre, I have added an extra syllable (a word) to the first half of the line; for 十年 “ten years”, I had considered “For ten whole years” and “A full ten years”, and have decided for “For ten long years”.  For , I had considered “polished” but have decided for the more appropriate “whetted”.  I had originally translated 一劍 as “a sword” literally, but have now decided for “my sword” so as to better convey the idea that the sword is the sword of the poet, a synecdoche for his swordsmanship and, hence, a metaphor for his scholarship and abilities.

*Line 2:   is translated as “frosty” in the sense of “shiny”. is translated literally as “blade” which two words can mean both the knife/sword itself and its cutting edge(s).  I had considered adding “edge(s)” after “blade” but have found it too bothersome to work out the metrics of “blade edges” (as in Chinese usage is invariably doubled-edged) and really unnecessary for reason that and “blade” are perfect equivalents.

*Line 3:    “hold” is translated as “I hold it” and 示君 “to show you”, as “before you”, with “unsheathed” added to heighten the sense of “to show you (his metal/mettle)”.

*Line 4:  For 不平事 I had considered “wrongs”, “inequities” and “injustices”, but have decided for “justice denied” which rhymes perfectly with “untried” (line 2).

*Lines 3 and 4 (Alternative Version):  The words in brackets in the original, i.e. “give” (not in the sense of “like/similar”) in line 3, and “for” in line 4 are found in an alternative version of the poem.  If adopted, they would change the message of the poem.  Line 3 would mean: “Today (今日) I hold () it and present () it to you ()”, and line 4: “You who () will, for () the people, right their wrongs (不平事)”.

*Rendition of the Alternative Version (characters in brackets in lines 3 and 4):
1  (For ten long years, my sword I whetted,)
    For ten long years, a sword I whetted,  
    (revised 4.7.15)
2  Its frosty blade, as yet, untried.
3  Today, I present it to you, my Lord,
4  From whom, no injustice may hide.

*The Analogy:  In addition to the literal sense, the poem can (and, perhaps, should) be understood as an analogy of a man (the poet), after studying hard (whetting his sword) for ten years, is now ready to take the imperial examinations (show his sword/swordsmanship to represent scholarship and abilities), pledging that he, as an official (the “swordsman”, as in the title), will right all injustices.  The alternative version features the same analogy with lines 3 and 4 saying: the poet presents himself (the sword) to the imperial examiners and asks to be deployed to right all injustices.  Instead of the poet himself as the “swordsman” showing his sword, the one (the emperor) who is about to receive and use the sword becomes the “swordsman”.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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