01 December 2016

王梵志 Wang Fanzhi: 無題/我見那漢死 Untitled/A man drops dead before me

Today I am posting yet another of Wang Fanzhi's untitled 5-character quatrains on the subject of death.  On the face of it, the poem is on the fear of dying, and even my rendition lends support to this reading of fear of death: fear of dropping dead all of a sudden, fear of being the next to die.  But is this a correct reading?

In my view, the poem should be read as a reminder of the impermanence of life and inevitability of death, and that these truths are to be accepted and lived with and not feared.  I have, therefore, attempted to build in an ambiguity in line 4.  I have used the word "afraid" rather than "scared", "frightened" or "fearful" to tone down the "fear" to the extent that it can be read as "unhappiness" much like toning 恐畏 from 恐懼 down to 恐怕, and have narrowed down that it is the death next in turn that the poet is unhappy, uneasy about.  Acceptance, with reluctance?  Added 15.12.16:  I have, today, undertaken a simple (yet, in my view, major) revision of my rendition.  In my original rendition, I had added the idea of "next" which is not in the original Chinese version.  I did that so as to augment the urgency and, hence, the fear.  I now consider this addition as working against the ambiguity I was trying to build.  I have, therefore, revised line 4 from "But afraid me be next in turn" to"But afraid that it be my turn" with "-fraid", "be" and "turn"read stressed.  The "it be" formulation makes it possible to understand the line ambiguously as "shall", "would", "could", etc., and "my turn" is a more faithful rendition.  I have also taken the opportunity to effect some minor amendments which are shown on my revised version which follows the original version below.  I will, in due course, revise my notes on this post.

I hope you will enjoy this simple poem:-        

Wang Fanzhi (592?-670?): Untitled/A man drops dead before me

Original version (1.12.2016):
1  A man drops dead before me;
2  Like on fire, my bowels burn.
3  Not "cos I feel for that man,1   
4  But afraid me be next in turn.

Revised version (15.12.2016)
1  A man drops dead before me,
2  Like on fire my bowels burn; 
3  Not 'cos I feel for the man,
4  But afraid that it be my turn.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黄宏發
23rd November 2016 (revised 24.11.16; 30.11.16; 15.12.16)
Translated from the original - 王梵志: 無題/我見那漢死

1     我見那漢死
2     肚裏熱如火
3     不是惜那漢
4     恐畏還到我


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain in language which is less than elegant.  This English rendition is in trimester (3 beats or feet) which shortens the original 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  我見 (I see) is rendered as “before me” and (dies, dying, dead) rendered as “drops dead” so as to make the death more abrupt and closer to the poet.  那漢 (that man) is rendered as “A man” here , which is a normal opening but which subtly brings out the message of the poem (according to my interpretation) that this man is every man. 

*Line 2:  is rendered as “bowels” and (in/the inside) is omitted as its meaning is included in “bowels”.  熱如火 is rendered as “Like on fire … burn”.  The juxtaposition of “bowels” and “burn” evokes the ailment called “heartburn”.

*Line 3:  For 不是, I had originally penned “Not that” but have decided for “Not ‘cos (because)”.  is rendered as “I feel for” after considering ”pity, love, care about”.  那漢 is translated  as “the man”.

*Line 4:  恐畏 is rendered as “But afraid” (after considering “scared”, “frightened” and “fear”) with “But” added to complete the “Not ‘cos” rendition of 不是 (not) in line 3.  in 還到我 should be pronounced “hai” to mean “also” (= , 也要/), in contrast to the same character or word pronounced “huan” which means “return” (e.g. 還書) , “repay” (e.g. 還錢), “retribute” ( e.g. 以牙還牙).  到我 means literally “happens/occurs to me” or idiomatically “my turn comes”.  For 還到我, I had originally penned “I’m to follow in turn” but have now decided for “I’d be next in turn” and, ultimately, the rather colloquial “me be next in turn”.  Added 22.12.2016:    I have further revised this on 15.12.2016 to restore the original literal meaning of 到我 as "my turn" rather than the very specific and less literal rendering as "next in turn".  Line 4 now reads "But afraid that it be my turn" with "-fraid", "be" and "turn" read stressed. 


05 November 2016

佚名 (中國民謠) Anonymous (Chinese Folk Song): 茉莉花 Jasmine Flower

Added (24.11.2016):  I thank Ray Heaton for providing this link to the "Moli Hua" or "Jasmine Flower" on the Wikipedia which is most informative and interesting.

Original post:  Today, I am posting my rendition of a Chinese folk song together with its musical score.  I hope it will prove to be sing-able.  Shall we sing along?

Anonymous (Chinese Folk Song): Jasmine Flower

1  O what a beautiful Moli flower!
2  O what a beautiful Jasmine flower!
3  Fair and fragrant, you deck your sprays;
4  Pure and sweet and how we all praise.
5  Let me glean your blossoms so fair,
6  Send to my neighbours to share.
7  Moli flower, O Jasmine flower!
8  Jasmine flower, O Moli flower!

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黄宏發
21st September 2014 (revised 18.1.16)
Translated from the Chinese original - 佚名  (中國民謠): 茉莉花 

1  好一朵美麗的茉莉花
2  好一朵美麗的茉莉花
3  芬芳美麗滿枝椏
4  又香又白人人誇
5  讓我來將你摘下
6  送給別人家
7  茉莉花呀茉莉花
8  茉莉花呀茉莉花

*Acknowledgement:  I am grateful to my friend Charles Y. Huang 黃用 who kindly let me have sight of his English rendition of this song in the summer of 2014 and from which  I have borrowed heavily.

*Rhyme and Form:  The original is in one single rhyme with line 2 repeating line 1 and line 8 repeating line 7.  This English rendition is in rhyming couplets with a rhyme scheme of AABBCCAA.

Lines 1 and 2:  Although “jasmine” translates 茉莉perfectly, I have retained the transliteration of “Moli” in the opening line for its musicality and have done the same to open and close the last 2 lines.  I have omitted translating as the rest of the song makes sense only if understood as the plant and not a single flower.  I had originally penned “How fair, how lovely, O Moli/Jasmine flower” but have rejected it as I need to use the word “fair” in subsequent lines.

*Line 3:  The order of 美麗 “fair (beautiful)” and 芬芳 “fragrant” is reversed to make it sound more pleasing in English.

*Line 4:  The order of “pure (white)” and  “sweet (fragrant)” is reversed for the same reason.

*Line 5:  I have translated   (you) as “your blossoms” (which makes better sense) and have added “so fair” so as to create a rhyme for line 6.

*Line 6:  I have translated 別人家 as “my neighbours rather than “others” or “my friends”.  I have added “to share” which is implied in the line.

*Music and Song:  The musical score in “Numbered Musical Notation” 簡譜 together with the lyrics in both English and Chinese is given below.  Please note that I have only put down the numbered musical notes (with the symbol “^” or “\” added next to stand for a higher or lower octave) without, however,  note lengths as I do not have the software to do them on my computer.  Here goes the song:-
Anonymous (Chinese folk song): Jasmine Flower (Moli Flower)
佚名   (中國民謠)茉莉花 

1=Eb  2/4

3     3    5 | 61^ 1^6 | 5 56 | 5  0 |
O what a beautiful Moli flower!
好    一  朵 美   麗的  

3     3     5 | 61^1^6 | 5    56  |  5  0 |
O what a beautiful Jasmine flower!
好    一  朵美    的         

5       5   |  5    35      5  |  6       6    |  5  0  |
Fair and fragrant you deck your sprays;

3        23 |  5        32 |  1       1   2 |  1  0  |
Pure and sweet and how we all praise.

32   13 |  2         3    |   5     6    1^ | 5 -- |
Let me glean your blossoms so fair,

2         3 5   |  2 3     1      6\ | 5\  -- |
Send to my neighbours to share.

6\   1   2        3  |  12  16\ |  5\ -- |  
Moli flower, O Jasmine flower!
茉 莉    花      呀      茉     

6\     1       2        3 | 1216\ | 5\ --
Jasmine flower, O  Moli flower!

06 October 2016

杜甫 Du Fu: 八陣圖 The Eightfold Battle Formation

Today, I am posting my rendition of a little poem by Du Fu on the achievements and regrets of Zhuge 諸葛 Liang 亮 who should be no stranger to those of you familiar with Chinese history.  My notes may help a bit, at least insofar as the Battle Formation is concerned. Postscript (7 October 2016):  Thanks to Ray Heaton, I can now give you a wiki link to an alternative interpretation of the Battle Formation as a defensive construct (kind of fortress?) translated as "Stone Sentinel Maze" and another link to Chapter 84 of the Luo Guanzhong historical novel "Romance of the Three Kingdoms" translated by C.H. Brewitt-Taylor.

The big picture, Shu should have allied with Wu to counter Wei, the strongest of the three.  The King of Shu Liu Bei decided, probably against Zhuge's advice, to attack Wu, but failed, leading to the ultimate demise of Shu.

No more history.  Please sit back and enjoy the poem.

Du Fu (712-770): The Eightfold Battle Formation

1  Of all, in all Three Kingdoms, his feats, the greatest;
2  His Eightfold Battle Formation, his fame, thus, spread.
3  The river churns but turns not the stone cairns he laid;
4  Shu’s failed move to annex Wu----his lasting regret.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黄宏發
4th September 2013 (revised 9.9.13; 11.9.13; 12.9.16; 27.9.16)
Translated from the original - 杜甫八陣圖

1  功蓋三分國
2  名成八陣圖
3  江流石不轉
4  遺恨失吞吳


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 feet or beats) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme, as in the original, is XAXA with a less than perfect rhyme of “spread (2) - regret (4)”.

*Title and line 2:  means battle formation, and 八陣 should, in my view, be understood as one battle formation with the number 8 as the key formation concept, hence, capable of, at least, up to (8 by 8) 64 variations.  I have, therefore, translated it as “Eightfold Battle Formation” rather than “Eight Battle Formations” or “Eight-sided/-faced/Octagonal Battle Formation”.  The term 八陣 was first referred to without details in 孫臏兵法 “Sun Bin’s Art of War” by 孫臏 (the Master Sun 孫子 of the 4th century BCE), probably a descendant of 孫武 “Sun Wu” (the Master Sun 孫子 of the 6th century).  It is believed that this Battle Formation was first fleshed out by 諸葛亮 Zhuge Liang (181-214), the prime minister of the Kingdom of Shu (or 蜀漢 Shu Han) in the period of the Three Kingdoms 三國時代 (220-280), the other 2 Kingdoms being Wei (to Shu’s north) and Wu (to Shu’s east).  I have omitted translating the word (plan/diagram) which is covered by implication by the word “Formation”.

*Line 1:  I have decided to translate 三分國 as “all Three Kingdoms”, omitting the idea of (divide/divided) which idea is implied though not emphasized.  I could have used “trisected” for 三分, but this would dictate that the entity (kingdom/state, empire/country) must be translated in the singular, and neither “kingdom/state trisected” nor “empire/country trisected” is considered superior.

*Line 3:  (pebbles, stones, rocks, boulders) is translated as “stone cairns” with “cairns” added so as to make it clear that the word refers not to any stone in the river or on the river bank, but to stones laid by Zhuge Liang on the river bank to form an 8 by 8 matrix of 64 “cairns”, [相去二丈] spaced  2 ‘zhang’ or 6.66 metres apart, [各高五尺] each measuring 5 ‘chi’ or 1.66 metres high, and [廣十圍] 10 ‘wei’ (2 ‘wei’ = 1 ‘chi’) or 1.66 metres wide.  I am inclined to take the matrix to be a training ground rather than a fortress.

*Line 4:  For 失吞吳,  I had considered “ill move to annex Wu” but have decided for the plainer “failed move to annex Wu”, and for 遺恨, his lasting regret.  Although I am inclined to blame the King Liu Bei 劉備 rather than Zhuge Liang, I hope I have succeeded in retaining all the ambiguities of the original by opening the line with the added word “Shu’s”

07 September 2016

王梵志 Wang Fanzhi: 無題/世無百年人 Untitled/No man lives to a hundred years

This Wang Fanzhi poem which features the image of "an iron wrought threshold" (which outlives its owner and is of no use to the owner on his death) is a corollary to another poem, also by Wang, which features the image of "an earthy steamed bun" (the grave, the earthy mound in the shape of a steamed bun, to which one must go, posted here in July 2016).

These 2 images have been immortalized some 5 centuries later by the Sung dynasty poet 范成大 Fan Chengda (1126-1193) in lines 3 and 4 of his poem (a 7-character 8-line regulated verse 七言律詩 or octet 七律) entitled 重九日行營壽藏之地 which runs thus:-

1  家山隨處可行楸
2  荷鍤攜壺似醉劉
3  縱有千年鐵門限
4  終須一箇土饅頭

5  三輪世界猶灰劫  
6  四大形骸強首丘
7  螻蟻鳥鳶何厚薄
8  臨風拊掌菊花秋  

Although I have not translated this poem (nor may ever do so), I will here attempt a rough rendition of the 2 lines concerned:-

縱有千年鐵門限   Though your iron wrought threshold may stand a thousand years,
終須一箇土饅頭   Yet, to your mound, your earthy steamed bun, you're bound to go.

Now, back to the iron wrought threshold.  I hope you will enjoy my rendition:-

Wang Fanzhi (592? – 670?): Untitled/No man lives to a hundred years

1  No man lives to a hundred years;
2  Write songs to sing for a thousand, what for?
3  The dead, on seeing an iron wrought threshold, 
4  Clap hands and laugh: “We did it before!”

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
27th April 2015 (revised 29.4.15; 30.4.15; 1.5.15; 26.5.15)
Translated from the original - 王梵志: 無題/世無百年人

1  世無百年人
2  強作千年調
3  打鐵作門限
4  鬼見拍手笑


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is a tetrameter (4 beats or feet) while the original is a 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.  An alternative rendition in ballad form is given at the end of the notes.

*Line 1:  I had originally translated as “In life” and omitted translating “years”, but have now decided to drop “In life” as it is covered by “lives” and to re-instate “years” in line 1 to pave the way for its omission in line 2 after “thousand”.
*Line 2:  Following the line 1 message of “life is short”, line 2 should mean 無謂強作千年調 “it is futile to (or why should one) force oneself to or strive to (or just) write songs to be sung for a long, long time (a thousand years)”, hence, my rendition of this line as a rhetorical question of “… what for?”  For I had considered “Script”, “Pen” and “Make”, and have decided for “Write”.  For 調 I had considered “verses”, “lyrics” “poems” and “tunes”, and have decided for “songs”.   For 千年 “thousand years”, I had considered but rejected words and expressions such as “everlasting”, “millennium”, “lasting forever”, “long, long lasting” and have decided for the literal “a thousand (years)”.  After considering “to be sung for/to live to/lasting for/to last for a thousand”, I have now decided for “to sing for a thousand”.

*Lines 3 and 4:  門限 in line 3 means 門檻 “threshold” usually made of wood which can be covered with “iron” for durability but can be made of stone or iron.  For such an iron threshold, I had considered “iron clad” and “iron made”, but have decided for “iron wrought” which also covers the translation of the verbs “forge” and “make” in line 3 which creates space for “ghost” “see” in line 4 of the original to be moved up to line 3, making it possible for the addition of a few words, in line 4, to explain why ghosts would “clap hands and laugh”.  There is nothing very ghostly about the “ghosts” in the original line 4 which simply means “the dead”.  I had considered “ghosts”, “dead souls”, “dead men”, “dead ones” and “dead folks”, and have decided for “the dead”.  Line 3 of my rendition now reads “The dead, on seeing an iron wrought threshold”, followed by “Clap hands and laugh” in line 4 to which I have added “We did it before” to complete the rhyme with “what for” in line 2 and to explain, according to my interpretation, why the ghosts clap hands and laugh----because they did the same silly thing when they were alive.

*Alternative Rendition in Ballad Form:-
1  No man lives to a hundred years,
2  Write songs everlasting, what folly!
3  The dead, on seeing an iron threshold,
4  Clap hands and laugh: “By golly!”

04 August 2016

杜牧 Du Mu: 秋夕/ 七夕) Autumn Evening/ The 7th Day of the 7th Moon

Next Tuesday, 9 August 2016  is this year's 7th day of the 7th moon/month on the  lunar calendar which is a traditional Chinese festival for  lovers separated and for love seekers.  Please see my note on  the "Title and line 4".

Here, I am posting this little poem by the famed  Tang dynasty poet Du Mu (not to be confused with Du Fu)  to meet the occasion.  I do hope you will enjoy it:-

Du Mu (803-852): Autumn Evening/ The 7th Day of the 7th Moon

1  (Autumn: cold is the ink-brushed panel in the pale candlelight;)
    'Tis autumn, cold is the ink-brushed panel in the pale candlelight; (revised 2.9.16)
2  (And girls in silk, little fans in hand, frolic with fireflies in flight.)
    My maids in silk, little fans in hand, frolic with fireflies in flight. (revised 2.9.16)
3  (Nightfall: these royal palace grounds, chilled like in water be;}
    Night falls, these royal palace grounds, chilled like in water be; (revised 2.9.16)  
4  (O here I lie to eye the Stars----named Herder and Weaver unite.)
    O here I lie to eye the Stars----of the Herder, the Weaver unite. (revised 2.9.16)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
3 July 2008 (revised 7.7.08; 17.7.08; 27.7.16; 28.7.16; 29.7.16; 2.9.16)
Translated from the original -杜牧: 秋夕/ 七夕

1  銀燭秋光冷畫屏
2  輕羅小扇撲流螢
3  天階()夜色凉如水
4  ()看牽牛織女星


*Form, Meter and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in heptameter (7 beats or feet) to emulate the 7-character lines of the original.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*Title and line 4:  I have added 七夕 “evening of the 7th day of the 7th moon/month” to the title to make it crystal clear that the poet refers to a particular, and not just any, autumn evening as revealed by his making reference to the Stars of the Herder and the Weaver in line 4.  Chinese legend has it that the 2 stars or fairies have been separated, in punishment, by the Heavenly Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝 and allowed to meet once a year on the night of the 7th day of the 7th moon/month when they, though still separated by the Milky Way, are closest to each other.  This has become the festival of “the lover separated” and “the lover yet to come”.

*Lines 1 and 3:  I suggest the words “light” and “colour” in 秋光 (line 1) and 夜色 (line 3) do not mean what they literally say, but refer to “setting”, “scene”, “scenery”, “sights and sounds”, and even “quality” as in 湖光山色, 光景, 觀光, 景色, even 成色, hence, my rendering 秋光 in line 1 simply as “Autumn” and 夜色 in line 3 as “Nightfall”.

*Line 1:  I have not taken 銀燭 to literally mean “candle made of silver” or “candlestick/holder made of silver” but have interpreted to refer to a “silvery/white/pale/pallid” colour and  to refer to 燭光 “candlelight”, hence, my original “in the silvery candlelight” to end the line.  I have now decided for “in the pale candlelight” which takes away any suggestion of a precious metal. I had originally used the literal “painted” to translate but have found it too suggestive of glamour which is incompatible with the idea of “coldness”.  I then used “ink-washed” (the Chinese ink and wash painting style with a brush) and have now decided for “ink-brushed”.  I have rendered “screen/partition” as “panel”.
*Line 2:  I have interpreted 輕羅 “light silk” and 小扇 ”little fan” not as a single expression to mean “a little fan made of thin silk” but as 2 expressions to mean “girls (clad) in silk” 輊羅 (with the idea “girls” which is implied, added) and “little fans in hand” 小扇 (with “in hand” which is also implied, added).  To translate I have used “in flight” which rhymes perfectly with “candlelight” (line 1) and “unite” (line 4).

*Line 3:  I have embraced the 天階  version in which “heaven” means “the royal capital or royal palace” and means “courtyard/grounds” (and not “streets”) and have translated it as “royal palace grounds”.  In short, I have taken the poem to be a plaint from a lady who is no longer in the Emperor’s favour.

*Line 4:  I have used the 卧看 version and have decided for the first person “Here I lie” rather than the third person “There she lies” to make the rendition more personal.  I have used the Chinese names of the 2 stars 牽牛 (or 牛郎) and 織女 which I have literally translated as “Herder and Weaver” instead of their proper names in astronomy “Bootes and Vega” since the poem refers to a Chinese festival and is very Chinese (please see my note above on the “Title and line 4”).  Though very much tempted, I have also dropped the idea of using “Romeo and Juliet” for the same reason.  To complete the rhyme, I have added the word “unite” which is not in the original, but without which, the mood is lost.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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