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. 

Classical Chinese Poems in English


Search This Blog