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.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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