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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