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”.

Classical Chinese Poems in English


Search This Blog