05 December 2018

李清照 Li Qingzhao: 聲聲慢 Sheng Sheng Man -- [*尋尋覓覓] [*O search, I search and seek, I seek]

Today, I am posting my rendition of 李清照 Li Qingzhao's  詞 "ci" or tune lyric poem 聲聲慢 "Sheng Sheng Man" ('Note After Note' Slow Song), better known by the poem's first line 尋尋覓覓 which I have rendered as "O search, I search, and seek, I seek".

The poem was probably written in her later years after the demise of the Northern Song dynasty, her family's fleeing from the North to South of the Yangzi River, and her husband's untimely death, leaving her all alone with nothing but sorrow and woe.

As the poem is fairly long, and my notes even longer, I will simply invite you to read my rendition and notes and let me have your comments, kind or otherwise.

Li Qingzhao (1084-1151): Sheng Sheng Man (Note after Note) [*O search, I search, and seek, I seek]

1          O search, I search and seek, I seek;
2          Yet cold, so cold, alone, all lonely;
3          O sad, I’m sad and down, I’m down--- O bleak, so bleak!
4          At this a time when the clime, oft sudden, from warm turns chilly,
5          ‘Tis hardest to tend to my poor physique.
6          How could a three-or-twosome bowls or cups of wine
7          Ever withstand the gusty winds that, by evening, upon me wreak?
8          Migrating geese fly past,
9          Aching, breaking my heart;
10       Sweet old friends of mine they were, they now, just squeak.

11        On the ground, yellow chrysanthemum petals pile thick,
12        All weary, worn and waned;
13        By now, O what of flowers are left for me to pick?
14        Watching by the window, alone---
15        O how I wish the hour of darkness: come soon, come quick!
16        (The phoenix tree, drenched now in fine drizzling mizzles,)
        The phoenix tree, drenched now in fine mizzling drizzles, (revised 6.1.19)
17        (‘Tis evening, in tears, dripping:)
       'Tis evening, in tears, a-dripping: (revised 6.1.19) 
17a     (A dot, a dot, and a tick, a tick …)
        A dot, a dot, and a tick, a tick --- (revised 6.1.19)
18        A time, O such as this,
19        How shall the one word ‘sorrow’ suffice, to bare a heart so sick?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黃宏發
26th November 2018 (revised 29.11.18; 3.12.18; 5.12.18; 6.1.19)
Translated from the original - 李清照:  聲聲慢 [*尋尋覓覓]

1                尋尋覓覓
2                冷冷清清
3                淒淒慘慘戚戚
4                乍暖還寒時候
5                最難將息
6                三杯两盞淡酒
7                怎敵他晚來風急
8                雁過也
9                正傷心
10            卻是舊時相識

11            滿地黄花堆積
12            憔悴損
13            如今有誰堪摘
14            守着窗兒
15            獨自怎生得黑
16            梧桐更兼細雨
17            到黃昏
17a        點點滴滴
18            這次第
19            怎一個愁字了得


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a long-short lined “tune lyric” or “ci” to the tune of 寄調 Sheng Sheng Man 聲聲慢 which is a “lyric pattern” (as the music is lost) in 2 stanzas or halves with 49 characters in the first half and 48 in the second.  This English rendition strictly follows the same long-short lined lyric pattern but with a count of feet or beats (not syllables) to determine the length of the lines.  The long-short line-length scheme of both the original and this rendition is: 4-4-6/6-4/6-7/3-3-6// 6-3-6/4-6/6-3-4/3-7//.  (Please note I have used, here and for the rhyme scheme below, the single slash “/” to represent the end of one sentence and the double slash “//”, the end of the stanza.)  The original adopts one single rhyme throughout the poem with a rhyme scheme of: AxA/xA/xA/xxA// AxA/xA/xxA/xA//.  Unable to find one single rhyme for the entire poem (as there are far fewer rhyme words in English than Chinese), I have in this rendition used the “-eak” rhyme for the first half and the “-ik” rhyme for the second.  Thus, the second half of the rhyme scheme in this English rendition should be represented as: BxB/xB/xxB/xB//.  You will also wish to note that in the original, the rhyme words are all in the “entering tone” 入聲 the sound of which (here, the ending “-k” sound) has practically disappeared in Putonghua 普通話 but is still very much alive in Cantonese 廣東話.  For example, (line 1) is pronounced “mik” in Cantonese but “mi” in Putonghua, and (line 3), “qik” in Cantonese, has become “qi” in Putonghua.  I am glad I have adopted the “-ik” rhyme for the second half of the poem which happens to be the single rhyme of the whole original poem read in Cantonese.  I am equally happy with the “-eak” rhyme for the first half, which is so close to the “-ik” rhyme.

*Lines 1 to 3:  These 3 lines of the original feature 7 pairs of re-duplicated words (characters) 叠字, and of these, 6 pairs are perfectly re-duplicated in my English rendition, viz. “search-search”, “seek-seek”, “cold-cold”, “sad-sad”, “down-down”, and “bleak-bleak”, with the remaining pair re-duplicated, perhaps less perfectly, in the stressed syllable “lone”, i.e. “alone-lonely”.

*Line 2:  冷冷清清 should be understood as in 冷清清 (empty, deserted, coldly treated, unfrequented), hence, the feeling of coldness and loneliness, not physically cold.  I have therefore rendered the 4 words as “Yet cold, so cold, alone, all lonely”.

*Line 4:  The phrase 乍暖還寒   is usually used to refer to spring, but is used here to refer to autumn which does have short spells of warm weather e.g. the Indian summer in North America and the Autumn Tiger 秋老虎 in China.  I have added “oft sudden” (not in the original) to clarify the nature of this climatic changeability.

*Line 5:  將息 is rendered as “to tend to my poor physique” with “poor” added for clarity.  最難 is translated literally as “hardest” after considering the grammatically correct “hard”.

*Line 6:  I have moved “How could” from line 7 to line 6 for line length considerations.  I suggest reading “How could” da-dum with “could” stressed.  淡酒 is translated simply as “wine” after considering and discarding the rather wordy “a light/pale wine”.

*Line 7:  怎敵他 is rendered as “How could (moved to line 6) … Ever withstand the (to begin this line 7)”.  Despite the existence of a 曉來 (come dawn) version of the poem, I have decided for 晚來 which is translated literally as “by evening”.  風急 is rendered as “gusty winds … upon me wreak” with “upon me wreak” (not in the original) added to make the poet the target of the winds’ vengeance.

*Lines 8 to 10:  I have decided for “Migrating … fly past” in line 8 and have added “they now, just squeak” (not in the original) to fully convey the poet’s feeling of loneliness to see her old friends, the wild geese, flying away just squeaking without stopping.

*Line 11:  I had considered but have now rejected shortening “chrysanthemum” to “‘santhemum” or “chrysanth”.  I suggest reading “On the ground” with “On” stressed.

*Line 13:  I have decided for “By now, O what of flowers are left for me to pick?” after considering “… are left I care to pick?”

*Line 14:  守着窗兒 is rendered as “Watching by the window” after considering “Watching out of the window”, and I suggest reading it dum-da dum-da dum-da with the word “by” stressed.  I have moved 獨自 “alone” from line 15 up to the end of line 14 to make line 14 a 4-beat line.

*Line 15:  怎生得黑 is understood as “How am I to bear/suffer the long, long wait for the hour of darkness to come?” and is rendered conversely as a wish: “O how I wish the hour of darkness: come soon, come quick!”

*Lines 16 to 18:  In line 16, 梧桐 is properly translated as “The phoenix tree”, 更兼 is rendered as “drenched now in”, and 細雨 elaborated as “fine mizzling drizzles”; followed by 到黃昏 “’Tis evening” in line 17 to which I have added “in tears a-dripping” (not in the original), to pave the way to the onomatopoeia of 點點滴滴 in line 17a which I have rendered as “A dot, a dot, and a tick, a tick ---” after considering “A drop, a drop, and a drip, a drip …” (or “drip drop, drop drip) which I regard as less than ideal despite the assonance of “-ip” and “-ik”

*Line 19:  一個 is translated literally as “the one word”, and is rendered as “sorrow” after considering “woe”.  了得 should not be understood as “how outrageous” as in the remark 還了得, nor “outstanding, extraordinary, great” as in 本事了得.  In my view, should be taken to mean “be enough or sufficient or able to”, and , to mean “to fully tell or conclude or settle or finish”.  了得, therefore, means “be enough to fully tell” and is rendered as “suffice to bare”.  The whole line 怎一個愁字了得 should, therefore, mean “how can the one word ‘sorrow’ be enough to fully tell of my woefulness” and is rendered as “How shall the one word ‘sorrow’ suffice, to bare a heart so sick?” with “a heart so sick” (not in the original) added to complete the “-ik” rhyme.  I suggest reading “How shall” da-dum with “shall” stressed. 

13 November 2018

杜牧 Du Mu: 赤壁 Red Cliff

Today, I am posting my rendition of a 7-character quatrain by the late Tang dynasty poet Du Mu 杜牧 entitled "Red Cliff".  I do hope you will find it interesting.  Here we go:-

Du Mu (803-852): Red Cliff

1  Sunken in sand a snapped halberd, its blade of iron remains;
2  I scrape, I scour to find it made in the warring Tri-Kingdom reigns.
3  Had the East Winds not risen, that Spring, to lend Zhou Yu a hand,
4  His wife Er-Qiao would have gone to Bronze Bird Tower in chains.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黄宏發
17 November 2017 (revised 6.11.2018)
Translated from the original - 杜牧: 赤壁

1  折戟沈沙鐵未銷
2  自將磨洗認前朝
3  東風不與周郎便
4  銅雀春深鎖二喬


*Form. Metre and Rhyme:  This English is in heptameter (7 feet or beats) to emulate the 7-character lines of the original.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Title and Background:  The title 赤壁 “Red Cliff” refers to a river battle on the 長江 “Long River” or “Yangzi River” between “Wei” (220-265) on the one side and (or蜀漢) “Shu” (221-263 CE) and (or東吳) “Wu” (222-280) on the other, in the last days of the Eastern Han dynasty (25-220) when the 3 said kingdoms emerged vying for supremacy over the whole of China.  Thanks to gusts of east winds, the Wu-Shu alliance led by the Wu commander 周瑜 Zhou Yu downstream on the east, launched a fire attack on the Wei fleet upstream on the west, and won the battle.    

*Line 1:  is translated literally as “snapped” after considering “broken”.  未銷 (not wasted) is rendered in the positive as “remains”.

*Line 2:  自將磨洗 is translated as “I scrape, I scour”, and as “to find it (was) made”.  I have chosen to translate 前朝 (a former dynasty) by adding words which explain e.g. which dynasty, and why and what war.  I have considered “the last of Han dynasty days” which although is closer to the original’s “former dynasty, is still wanting in explanatory power.  I have now rendered it as “in the warring Tri-Kingdom reigns”.

*Line 3:  For 東風 (east winds), I had considered “the Easterlies” but have decided for the literal “the East Winds”.  不與周郎便 is rendered as “Had … not risen … to lend Zhou Yu a hand” with the name of 周郎 (Minister Zhou) properly spelt out as 周瑜 “Zhou Yu”.  I have moved 深春 (deep spring) from the original’s line 4 to the middle of line 3 of my English rendition with “, that Spring,” inserted.  This may not be entirely proper, but it tells us in no uncertain terms that this crucial battle happened in Spring, and there is no space for any reference to Spring in my line 4 in English.

*Line 4:  I have not interpreted 二喬 (two ladies of the Qiao family) to refer to both of the Qiao family's 2 daughters: 大喬 (elder sister) who married 吳王 the Lord of Wu 孫策 Sun  Ce, and /二喬 (younger sister/second daughter) who married 周瑜 Zhou Yu.  I have taken the poem to refer only to the second daughter who, I surmise, accompanied her husband Zhou in the Battle of Red Cliff.  二喬 is therefore rendered as Er-Qiao with “His wife” added for.  This interpretation heightens the immediacy of the situation, although both sisters were much admired and coveted by 魏王 the Lord of Wei 曹操 Cao Cao whose palace was 銅雀樓 the Bronze Bird Tower.    

31 October 2018

Jia Dao: Two 5-Character Quatrains 賈島: 五言絕句兩首

Today, I am re-posting my rendition of two 5-character quatrains by Jia Dao.  I hope you will love them as much as I do:-

A:  Jia Dao (779 – 843): The Swordsman

For ten long years, a sword I whetted,  
Its frosty blade, as yet, untried.
Today I hold it, unsheathed, before you;
Of you, to whom was justice denied?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者黃宏發
4th May 2015 (revised 7.5.15; 18.5.15; 22.5.15)
Translated from the original - 賈島:  劍客

B:  Jia Dao (779—843): Visiting the Absent Hermit

Beneath the pine-trees, I ask of a lad I see.
Away is the master gathering herbs, says he,
Up in this mountain, but where? I cannot tell, 
For there the clouds are deep and dense as be. 

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)       譯者: 黃宏發
17 March 2008 (revised 19.3.08; 7.7.08; 17.7.08; 19.7.08; 21.11.08; 25.11.08; 26.11.08)
Translated from the original - 賈島: 尋隱者不遇


12 October 2018

韋莊 Wei Zhuang: 寄調菩蕯蠻 To the Tune of Pu Sa Man

Today, I am posting my rendition of a "lyric" or "ci" 詞 by the late Tang dynasty poet Wei Zhuang who lived past the demise of the Tang dynasty in 907 and continued to serve as an official in the state of 前蜀 "Former Shu" till his death in 910.

I had originally, some 10 years ago, rendered the whole poem in hexameter (6 feet or beats), but have now revised it to accord with the original format of 2 long and 6 short lines format.  In this English rendition, the 2 long lines are in hexameter, the 6 short line, in pentameter.

Here we go:- 

Wei Zhuang (836-910):  To the Tune of  Pu Sa Man

1    They say Jiangnan the South Bank is truly fine and fair;
2    He, who has come to Jiangnan, grows old agreeably there.
3    Its waters, in springtime, are bluer than the sky;
4    In a gaudy house-boat, to the music of drizzles I lie.

5    She, by the wine-stove, gleaming just like the moon;
6    Her wrists, milk-white, as frost and snow bestrewn.
7    While yet un-old, I’d leave not for my home of old,
8    For to leave is to languish in heartbreak pains untold.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黃宏發
25th May 2007 (revised 11.6.2007; 23.7.2007; 3.9.2008; 5.10.18)
Translated from the original –

韋莊:  寄調菩蕯蠻

1    人人盡說江南好
2    遊人只合江南老
3    春水碧於天
4    畫船聽雨眠

5    爐邊人似月
6    腕凝霜雪
7    未老莫還鄉
8    還鄉須斷腸

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is primarily in pentameter (5 
feet or beats) with the first 2 lines in hexameter (6 feet or beats).  This is to 
emulate the original’s 2 longer 7-character lines and 6 shorter 5-character lines.  
The rhyme scheme is AABBCCDD as in the original.  I am indebted to C.Y. 
Hsu 徐兆鏞 for the rhymes of “fair - there”, “sky - lie” and “moon - strewn” in 
his translation of the poem and regret I have forgotten the source.

*Line 1:  江南 is rendered in transliteration as “Jiangnan” with the literal  translation
“the South Bank” added.

*Line 2:  遊人 is not just any visitor/tourist, but someone who has been sent or 
has come to stay somewhere away from home, cf. 宦遊人, an official sent to 
stay away from home and the capital.  As the poem was written before Wei 
Zhuang became an official, it is therefore rendered as “He, who has come”.  只合
江南老 “grows old agreeably there” can alternatively be rendered as “will age 
agreeably there”.

*Line 3:  is rendered literally as “waters” to cover both rivers and lakes.

*Line 4:  畫船 (painted boat) is a house-boat of pleasure painted gaudily, and is rendered as “gaudy house-boat” after considering “painted house-boat”, “boat of pleasure” and “barge of pleasure”.  聽雨眠 is rendered as “to the music of drizzles I lie”.

*Line 5:  爐邊人 (person by the stove) refers to the maid waiting by the wine-stove (not any stove, nor the fireplace) and is rendered as “She, by the wine-stove” rather than literally “fire-stove” as the Chinese yellow rice wine is drunk warmed.

*Line 6:  晧腕 (white wrists) is rendered as “Her wrists, milk-white” after considering “pure white” and “cream white”.  凝霜雪 (congeal, frost, snow) is rendered as “as (with) frost and snow bestrewn”.  I am unsure if the word “with” can be omitted.

Lines 7 and 8:  For 還鄉 (return home), I had considered “… return not to my home …” for line 7, and “To return …” for line 8, but had decided for rendering the idea of “returning home” as “leaving Jiangnan” which being the essence the these 2 lines.

*Line 7:  For 未老 (not yet old), I have coined the word “un-old” and have rendered it as “While yet un-old”.

*Line 8:  I have rendered 斷腸 (severed guts) as “heartbreak pains untold” but am still wondering if "heartbreak" should be substituted by “gnawing” which is closer to the literal meaning of 斷腸 (guts severed, hence, gnawing pains).   

30 September 2018

He Zhizhang: Two 7-character Quatrains 賀知章: 七言絕句 兩首

Today, I am re-posting my rendition of two 7-character quatrains by He Zhizhang.  I have rendered poem A on the 'willow" in hexameter (6 feet or beats) and poem B on "returning home" in pentameter (5 feet or beats).  For my notes on their translation, please visit the relevant links.  Here we go:-

A:   He Zhizhang (659-744): An Ode to the Willow

1  Up to your crown, O willow, dressed in the green of jades,
2  Myriads of twigs so verdant, droop like your silken braids.
3  Who knows who the tailor is, who’s cut your leaves so fine? It’s
4  The vernal winds past February, sharp as the scissors’ blades.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黄宏發

Translated from the original - 賀知章: 詠柳

1  碧玉妝成一樹高
2  萬條垂下綠絲縧
3  不知細葉誰裁出
4  二月春風似剪刀

B:  He Zhizhang (659-744): Coming Home, Fortuitous Lines 

I left home young, now old, I return care free;
My tongue unchanged, my hair though thinner be. 
Unknown am I to the boys and girls I meet;
Smiling they ask, “Sir, from whence come thee?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者黃宏發

Translated from the original - 

賀知章回鄉偶書 其一 


19 September 2018

王維 Wang Wei: 鳥鳴澗 Birdsong Brook

Today, I am posting a beautiful little quatrain by Wang Wei entitled "Birdsong Brook"which I like very much.  I hope you too will like Wang's original poem and Vikram Seth's rendition (reproduced in my notes) and my rendition of here posted.  Here we go:-. 

Wang Wei (701-761): Birdsong Brook

1       At ease and I see osmanthus flowers falling---
2       A night so still, a mountain so hollow in spring.
3       Up comes the moon awaking the mountain birds,  
4       By the brook in spring, then and again they sing.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者黃宏發
30th April 2009 (revised 6.5.09; 7.5.09; 6.6.11)

Translated from the original - 

王維: 鳥鳴澗

1       人閒桂花落
2       夜靜春山空
3       月出驚山鳥
4       時鳴春澗中


*  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 metrical feet) to emulate the original 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA, more demanding than the original XAXA, both being rhyme schemes of the Chinese quatrain.  I am indebted to Vikram Seth from whose superb rendition of the same poem, I have borrowed not only the title of “Birdsong Brook” and his rhyme of “Spring” and “sing”, but also his phrase “Up comes the moon”.  His rendition, on p.4 of his “Three Chinese Poets: Wang Wei, Li Bai and Du Fu”, HarperCollins (1993) or Faber (1992) which I like very much (except for his stressing the first syllable in every single line which, in my view, makes the poem sound harsh), is as follows:-
1  Idly I watch cassia flowers fall.
2  Still is the night, empty the hill in Spring.
3   Up comes the moon, startling the mountain birds.
4  Once in a while in the Spring brook they sing.

*  Line 1:  I had first considered using the “lie idly/leisurely” approach to translate 人閒 but have eventually embraced the “at ease and see” approach, hence, “At ease and I see”.  The correct name for 桂花 is “osmanthus” while “cassia” is the name for 桂皮.  I have used “falling” rather than “fall” both for the rhyme and for being more descriptive of the scene.

*  Line 2:  For I have chosen “hollow” over “empty”.

*  Line 3:  I am indebted to Vikram Seth for the phrase “Up comes the moon” (see note above).  (startling) is taken to mean 驚醒, hence, “awaking”.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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