03 September 2017

杜甫 Du Fu: 江南逢李龜年 Meeting Li Guinian in Jiangnan

Today, I give you a poem by Du Fu in which the name of Cui Jiu 崔九 is mentioned.  Let there be no confusion: this is not the same Cui Jiu as the one sent off by Pei Di in his "Farewell to Cui Jiu" posted here August 2017.  This is clarified in the notes to this poem and to the previous poem.

I particularly like the ambiguity of lines 3 and 4, "a truly scenic land of the south ... in a season of flowers ... falling".  How beautiful, yet how sad!  I hope my adding, in my rendition, the word "all" between "flowers" and "falling" can work the magic.  Here we go:-

Du Fu (712-770): Meeting Li Guinian in Jiangnan

1  At the house of the Prince of Qi, regularly I saw you;
2  On stage in the hall of Cui Jiu’s, oft-times I heard you sing.
3  Now Jiangnan, this truly scenic land of the south, ‘tis here
4  That you again I meet, in a season of flowers, all falling.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
6th January 2017 (revised 8.1.17; 10.1.17; 19.1.17)
Translated from the original - 杜甫: 江南逢李龜年



*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition of the quatrain is in hexameter (6 feet or beats) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original although "sing (in line 2), falling (in line 4)" is an imperfect rhyme.

*Title and the Poem:  This is one of the last poems by Du Fu when High Tang 盛唐 was at its end and the dynasty, past its prime.  Shorn of his office, Du wandered to 江南 (river south) specifically to 潭州 Tanzhou (in present day 湖南 Hunan province) where he met again 李龜年 Li Guinian who was then performing in the streets for a living.  Li Guinian was a famous musician and singer who was much in the favour of the then Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 and loved by one and all.
*Line 1:  岐王, younger brother of the then Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗, is rendered as “the Prince of Qi”, and  (home, lodging) as “the house”.  I suggest both “re-“ and “-ly” in “regularly” should be read stressed, with “saw”, of course, read stressed, hence, 3 beats for this 2nd half of the line.

*Line 2:  崔九 (Cui the Ninth) refers to 崔滌 Cui Di who was 殿中監 Director of the Palace Administration in the halcyon days of Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (hall) (front) is rendered as “in the hall” with “on stage” added to indicate a hall for performance on a stage located in front of the hall.  幾度聞 is rendered as “oft-times I heard you sing” with “sing” added to, obviously, rhyme with “falling” in line 4 but also to make clear the nature of Li Guinian’s performance which must be song and music.

*Line 3:  I have rendered 正是 (precisely is) as “Now … ‘tis here”.  The word “now” is chosen as it is used to call attention to whatever follows which is exactly what 正是 is used in Chinese.  (Just imagine adding 正是 to any 1 or 2 lines of quotable quotes in Chinese.)  It is chosen for the equally important reason that it turns the “past” of lines 1 and 2 to the “now” of lines 3 and 4.  The literal meaning of 正是 (precisely is) is more than adequately covered by “’tis here”.  I have used “Jiangnan” to render江南 to repeat the transliteration used in the title, but have added “land of the south” to amplify and clarify.  好風景 is rendered as a description “this truly scenic” (descriptive of Jiangnan), rather than a statement that “the scenery (in Jiangnan) is truly fine”.

*Line 4:  又逢君 is rendered literally as “That you again I meet”, but moved from the end to the beginning of the line to follow through from the enjambed “’tis here” in line 3.  I had initially rendered 落花時節 as “in a season of flowers falling” which can mean a beautiful season, but which can also mean the demise of spring.  The original is not specific and is probably meant to be ambiguous.  As the historical context dictates that this can or even must be a sad or soulful season, I had toyed with the idea of shortening the first half to 2 beats (e.g. “That again we meet” or “That I meet you again”) and adding a one-beat word expressive of regret or sadness (e.g. “alack” or “alas”) or adding the word “sad” before “season” to complete the 6-beat line.  However, as the text of the poem contains no such words, not even words suggestive of them, I decided against it.  I then turned to working on the second half of the line and have come to decide for adding a “comma” and the word “all” between “flowers” and “falling”.  I hope this arrangement succeeds in retaining the beauty of flowers falling, and in subtly suggesting the end of spring which stands for the demise of the prime time of the Tang dynasty and the now impoverished, aging Li Guinian and Du Fu.  This last line now reads: “… ‘tis here/ That you again I meet, in a season of flowers, all falling.”


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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