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. 


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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