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!”


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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