05 October 2017

王之渙 Wang Zhihuan: 登鸛雀樓 Ascending the Stork Tower

Of the recently reported 10 most popular Tang dynasty poems selected in Hong Kong, I found I had already translated 9 (all being quatrains), but only 8 had been posted here on this blog.  

I had mistakenly thought my rendition of this most famous "Stork Tower" quatrain by Wang Zhihuan which I penned some 10 years ago when I first picked up this hobby, must have been posted long ago.  My apologies!  

I hasten to polish my original rendition and have it posted.  "There, up the steps one goes!"  Here we go!

[Added: 11.10.17]  But indeed, haste makes waste.  I have decided to revert to my original rendition of line 4 as "A floor, or more,  oh, upstairs there one goes!"  Here we go:-

Wang Zhihuan (688-742): Ascending the Stork Tower

1  (Over the mountains, the white sun daily sets;)
    (Over the mountains, daily the white sun sets; (revised 11.10.17)
    Over the mountains, the white sun daily sets, (revised 30.10.17)    
(And into the ocean, the Yellow River flows,)
    And into the ocean, the Yellow River flows.(revised 11.10.17)
(Wishing to eye a thousand miles of sights---)
    Wishing  to eye: the view of a thousand miles, (revised 11.10.17)   
(A floor and more, there up the steps one goes.)
    (A floor, or more: oh, upstairs there one goes.) (revised 11.10.17)
    (A floor and more: oh, up the stairs one goes.) (revised 30.10.17)
    A floor, a floor more, up the stairs one goes. (revised 5.11.17)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者黃宏發
4th August 2007 (revised 3.9.07; 5.12.07; 26.2.08; 25.6.08; polished 3.10.2017; 6.10.17; 11.10.17; 30.10.17)
Translated from the original- 王之: 登鸛雀樓


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain which is made up of 2 perfectly parallel couplets.  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 beats or feet) to emulate the original 5-syllable lines.  I have been able to render the first couplet (lines 1 and 2) as a perfectly parallel couplet except for the addition, in line 1, of the word “daily” for the 5-beat metre.  I have not attempted to render the second couplet in the parallel form.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Lines 1 and 2:  I am grateful to my poet friend Bei Dao 北島 for pointing out to me that for 白日, “white sun” is superior to my original “bright sun” as only “white” can appropriately parallel “Yellow” in line 2.  (I can alternatively retain my original “bright” in line 1 and change “Yellow” into “muddy” in line 2.)  In line 1, I have added "daily" (originally after, now 11.10.17) before "the white sun" primarily for reason of the 5-beat metre, but also to cover the meaning of as “day” in addition to meaning “sun”.  In line 2, I have rendered (sea) as “ocean” in order to match the sound of “mountains” in line 1.

*Line 3:  千里 (1,000 “li”), though strictly only about 300 miles, should be taken as a hyperbole and rendered as “a thousand miles”.
*Line 4:  I take 更上一層樓 not to mean “go up one floor”, but to mean “go up one more floor" (and up to the very top, if necessary.)  I had originally penned "oh, upstairs there one goes" to translate 上 ...  樓 but had revised it to "oh up the steps one goes".  I have now decided to revert to the original. 

1 comment:

John Frazer said...

A beautiful poem indeed, and a beautiful translation, too! I cannot compete with the efforts you have put into this; but maybe you'll enjoy an impromptu rendering of the same, in a rather free-style German:

Besteigung des Storchenturms

Dort langt die gleiße Sonne schon nach der Berge Saum /
Hienieden gießt sich der Gelbe Fluß ins Meer //
Nimmer müd will das Aug die Weiten schaun /
Drum höher, auf, zum nächsten Stock!

"gleiße Sonne" may have never existed in this form, but "die gleißende Sonne" is a common expression, and "der Gleiß der Sonne" is an old-timey way of referring to the glistening sun. "Dort" points to the distance, while "hienieden" is "here-under" or "down here"; these are meant to be evocative of the excitement and the growing lack of distance when seeing and pointing to the features of the vista near and far. We normally say "der Fluß fließt"—"the river flows", but here I use "der Fluß (er)gießt sich", "the river is pouring (itself) (into the sea)". I think it makes a nice element of alliteration with "gleißen". The next line is very freely translated; "the eye, never tiring, craves to behold the expanses". "Saum" and "schaun" make for an imperfect rhyme, echoing the original. The last line I understood as an exhortative, "Up now, let's climb one up!", i.e. let's reach the top before the sunset.