09 June 2016

王建 Wang Jian: 新嫁娘 (三日入厨下) The New Bride (Third day as bride, I'm down in the kitchen)

Today, I am posting my rendition of a sweet little poem by Wang Jian on the theme of life as a new bride.  Although it can be interpreted as the new bride having to do all the cooking after a 3-day grace period (honeymoon?),  I consider it preferable to see it as a new bride finding her place in a rich (or at least well-to-do) household.  (Please see my note to line 2.)  I do hope you will enjoy it.    

Now, I am reminded of an even sweeter quatrain on the same theme, under a rather bland title of "近試上張水部 Submitted ... as the Imperial Examinations Approach"  by 朱慶餘 Zhu Qingyu which I posted here in March 2012.  The scene: a new bride getting ready to greet her new parents the morning after the wedding, she whispers to her groom: "Are my brows ... painted just right?"  I do hope you will enjoy this one too.  Now, back to this 3-day old new bride:-

Wang Jian (766?-830?): The New Bride (Third day as bride, I'm down in the kitchen)

1    Third day as bride, I’m down in the kitchen,
2    (Hands laved, a good soup to make, as said.)
      Hands laved, to make a good soup as said.
      (revised 10.6.16)
3    Unsure yet of the taste of my in-law mother,
4    I’ll let her young daughter first try it instead.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黃宏發
3rd January 2016 (revised 17.5.16)
Translated from the original – 王建: 新嫁娘 (三日入厨下)

1    三日入厨下
2    洗手作羹湯
3    未諳姑食性
4    先遣小姑  


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is written in the first person while the original is capable of being read as in either the first or third person, and is set in the present rather than the past tense.  The rendition is in tetrameter (4 feet or beats) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  I have added the word “bride” which is clearly stated in the title and unmistakably implied in the original verse. For 入厨下 “enter, kitchen, down”, I had considered “I go to/enter the kitchen” and “I’m in the kitchen”, but have decided for “I’m down in the kitchen” which covers both “down” and “enter, in”.

*Line 2: For in 洗手 I had considered “washed” and “cleansed”, but have decided for “laved” for assonance with “make”.  For 羹湯  I have picked “soup” which word, in English, is generic (covering both the thicker and the thinner ), and have added “good” (not in the original) to make the soup special.  I have also added “as said” to make it possible for line 2 to end rhyme with “instead” in line 4.  The addition of “as said” also helps explain why the new bride has to make a soup (and a good one for that), why on or from the third day, and why only a soup and not a whole meal.  This must be a well-to-do household with servants and maids and chefs.  The soup cannot have been part of the regular meal but served as a snack between meals, and the new bride must have either offered to do it to please the mother-in-law or been asked by the mother-in-law to do it, and “… a good soup to make, as said” is ambiguous enough to cover both possibilities.
*Line 3:  For 未諳 I had originally penned “Not knowing” but have now decided for “Unsure yet”.   does not mean “know”, but “know well”, “familiar with”, “well versed”, etc.,  未諳, therefore, means “not yet familiar with”, hence, “yet to know more”, “Unsure yet” is, in my view, the best approximation.  “Unsure yet” should be scanned as an amphibrach and read DaDumDa.  For “mother-in-law”, I had considered “husband’s mother” as an alternative but rejected it as it tends to confuse the message of the line which is simply that the mother-in-law’s taste is new to the bride.  I have now decided for “in-law mother” so as to end line 3 with an unstressed syllable in contrast to the stressed syllables in lines 2 and 4.

*Line 4:   Similar to my thoughts on line 3, rendering 小姑 ”husband’s younger sister” as such or even simply as “young sister-in-law” confuses the message of the line which is that the mother-in-law’s taste is best known to her young daughter, hence, my “her young daughter” where “young” should be read unstressed or slightly stressed.  The word “instead” at the end of the poem (not present in the original) is implicit in both the original and the translated “first”, in the sense of “… first, to find out if it is to the taste of her mother-in-law” hence, “… first, instead of serving her mother-in-law right away”, and not in the sense of a sequence of first serving the young sister-in-law, followed by the mother-in-law.   “send” is understood and not translated, but is covered by “let”.  I had originally penned “have”, but have decided for “let which, here, should be read stressed.   As for “taste”, I have picked “try” so as not to repeat the word “taste” which has been used as a noun to translate 食性 in line 3.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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