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. 


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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