07 February 2015

劉雪庵 Liu Xue'an: 踏雪尋梅 Over the Snow for Wintersweet Flowers

Following Tang poet Bai Juyi's "Flower No Flower" (白居易:花非花) which I posted in October 2014, today I am posting a second "sing-able" verse: "Over the Snow for Wintersweet Flowers" 踏雪尋梅, lyrics by Liu Xue'an 劉雪庵 and music by his music master Huang Zhi 黃自.  It was also Huang Zhi who composed the music for Bai Juyi's "Flower..." poem.

Again, I am grateful to my friend Charles Huang Yong 黃用 who is pursuing a similar hobby and has shared with me many of his renditions which have been a source of my inspiration.  He has, like me, chosen to translate the 梅 plum/mume here properly as 蠟/臘梅 wintersweet.  Please see my note on line 2 here in this post and my note on Wang Wei's "A Poem in Sundry Lines" 王維: 雜詩 posted on this blog in January 2010.

I have known this song all my life since primary school in the early 1950's, and rendering the lyrics into English gives me the greatest pleasure that I, for one, can now sing it in English.  The music is given (though not fully) at the end of the notes.  Please have a go at singing this tune, now in English. 

Liu Xue'an (1905-1985):  Over the Snow for Wintersweet Flowers

1    Snow wanes, the day so fine;
2    The wintersweet, sweet as wine.
3    On a mule, o’er the bridge,  
4    The bell goes tinkling-tine.
5    Tinkling-tine! Tinkling-tine!
6    Tinkling-tine! Tinkling-tine!
7    O flowers, gleaned for a vase of mine,
8    Be with me while I read or chime,
9    We’ll share a time divine.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黄宏發
20th September 2014 (revised 22.9.14; 23.9.14; 24.9.14; 26.9.14; 27.9.14; 28.9.14)
Translated from the original - 劉雪庵踏雪尋梅

1    雪霽天晴朗
2    臘梅處處香
3    騎驢把()橋過
4    鈐兒響叮噹

5    響叮噹 響叮噹
6    響叮噹 響叮噹
7    好花採得瓶供養
8    伴我書聲琴韻
9    共渡好時光


*Form, Meter and Rhyme:  The original is a 9-line rhymed verse (with A for rhyme A and X for unrhymed) but of varying line-lengths (number of words, which are monosyllabic in Chinese, marked in brackets), in a pattern of A(5)-A(5)-X(5)-A(5)-A(6)-A(6)-A(7)-X(6)-A(5).  This English rendition follows the same rhyme scheme and a similar pattern of line-lengths (counted in terms of feet or stresses or beats): A(3)-A(3)-X(3)-A(3)-A(4)-A(4)-A(4)-X(4)-A(3).  Since the original are the lyrics of a song, it is rendered with “sing-ability” very much in mind.
*Line 1:  I had originally penned “Snow wanes”, revised to “Snow’s waned”, but have now decided to revert to “Snow wanes”.  I had originally penned “the day is fine”, but have found “the day so fine” far superior whether sung or simply read out loud.

*Line 2:  /臘梅 should properly be translated as “wintersweet” (chimonanthus praecox) and not as “mume” or “plum” (prunus mume) which is the Japanese/Chinese .  They are different plants but have a lot in common: both native to China, have fragrant flowers, and blossom in winter.  Although /臘梅 is /臘梅 (wintersweet) and  is  (plum/mume), the latter, as a single word, may refer to either. Thus, the  in the title obviously refers to /臘梅.  I had elsewhere in Wang Wei’s “A Poem of Sundry Lines” 王維: 雜詩 (my January 2010 post) interpreted his 寒梅 “cold/winter plum flowers” to mean “wintersweet flowers”.  I have failed to translate the meaning of 處處 “everywhere/all over the place” and have taken it to be self-evident, but have been able to reproduce its reiterative beauty by repeating the word “sweet” in the line.  To the line, I have added the analogy of “as wine”, which is not in the original, for the “-ine” rhyme.

*Line 3:  should technically be “ass” or “donkey”, neither very pleasing to the ear.  I have, therefore, adopted  “mule”, a cross between a donkey and a mare, considering that it is like a horse but not a horse.  There are 2 versions of the third word: and .  I have chosen  because is the proper name of a river and 灞橋過 (understood as 過灞橋) would mean “cross the bridge over the Ba River” which is unlikely to be the theme of the song.  I had originally penned “I cross the bridge” but have decided for “o’er the bridge”.

*Lines 4 to 6:  I am more than pleased to have rendered 響叮噹 as “tinkling-tine” with “tinkling” for the sound of the bell on the mule and “tine” for the pause in between.  This is not to say “tine” is not chosen for the “-ine” rhyme.

*Lines 7-9:  I have simply rendered line 7 as “O flowers, gleaned for a vase of mine” using the word “for” to translate, not literally, 供養 which term can mean either (1) “provide for” (e.g. 父母 “one’s parents” or someone dear) or (2) “enshrine for worship” (e.g. 神明 “a deity” or some adorable person/thing), or both.  And these last 3 lines of the song seem to indicate both meanings do exist: I will keep you well in a vase placed in my study to keep me company while I read aloud and play my lute, and we’ll have a good time together.  As such, it seems to me the best approach is to use “for a vase of mine” for line 7 and leave it to the next 2 lines to speak for themselves.  I had originally considered “With books and my lute for/in company” to translate line 8, but had rejected it as wrong as the line suggests the flowers (and not the lute and books) keeping the poet company.  I have, therefore, employed the structure of “O flowers . . .” in line 7 as the addressee and the “Be with me” in line 8 as the message addressed to the flowers, asking them to keep the poet company in his study while he reads and chimes. Please note “chime” is not a true “-ine” rhyme, but in any case, line 8 is unrhymed in the original.

*Line 8:  Although the line can be scanned and read as 2 trochees (DUM-da) followed by 2 iambs (da-DUM) making “Be with me while” read as DUM-da-DUM-da stressing “Be” and “me”, I suggest that it should be scanned and read as 4 iambs (i.e. a straightforward iambic tetrameter line which is what I have written) turning the same 4 words into da-DUM-da-DUM stressing “with” and “while”.  As the word “with” is, in my view, of crucial importance to the meaning of the line and the whole song, I strongly suggest it should be read stressed.  As for the second half of the line, I had originally penned “I read and chime” which appeared straightforward and unproblematic.   I now consider it flawed as it may be taken to mean the poet reading aloud and playing the lute at the same time (which no one can do) and have decided to use “or” instead of “and”.  This is to say, the company of the wintersweet flowers is all important whether the poet is reading or chiming or just relaxing in his study.

*Line 9:  I had originally penned “We’ll spend a time” with “We’ll” to translate and “spend” for .  Instead of “spend”, I have now decided for the word “share” which, in my view, best captures the idea of 共渡 but have decided to retain “We’ll” instead of revising it to “To”.  I have ended the line and the whole song in the “-ine” rhyme with the word “divine”, meaning “excellent in a superhuman degree, said of persons or things” (Shorter Oxford), “extremely good, unusually lovely” (Webster’s Unabridged).  Although this may be flawed for being informal (Webster’s) and colloquial (陸谷孫: 英汉大詞典), I will stick to it and take it to simply mean “heavenly” in the sense of “good, lovely” rather than “godly, sacred”.

*Music:  The music to the lyrics was composed by Huang Zhi (1904-1938), a famous composer in the Nationalist period (1911-1949).  The musical score in “numbered musical notation” (簡譜 jianpu or "simplified notation") and the song lyrics in both English and Chinese are given below.  Please note that I have only put down the numbered musical notes (with “^” and “\” added to the number to stand for a higher and lower octave), bar lines, the key signature (in this case, 1=E) and time signature (2/4).  Other information such as note length, slurs, etc. are omitted as I am unable to do them on my computer.  THE SONG follows:-

Over the Snow for Wintersweet Flowers 踏雪尋梅    
Lyrics : Liu Xuean (1905-1985) 劉雪庵   
Music : Huang Zhi (1904-1938) 黄自

1=E    2/4
Snow wanes, the day so fine;
3            5        5    5    12|  3  0 |
The wintersweet, sweet as wine.
3       3     3   6         5      12|  3  0
On a mule, o’er the bridge,
3    5|  1^7 |   3      6      5 |
The bell goes tinkling-tine.
5\    5\       3      2    1 |    1  0 |
Tinkling-tine! Tinkling-tine!
3      5      5 0 |    2    5      5   0 |
Tinkling-tine! Tinkling-tine!
3      5      5 0 |    5    1^    1^  0 |
  O     flowers, gleaned for a vase of mine,
0135 | 1^           7            5 |  3  3      6   5  0 |
    好                          得             
Be with me while I read or chime,
5      5    12    3      4 |   5    5     5 |
We’ll share a time divine.
5\         5\     3    2     1 | 1  0 ||
                    時 光


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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