06 December 2019

李清照 Li Qingzhao: 蝶戀花 Die Lian Hua -- 上巳召親族: 記夢 Gathering of Relatives ... : A Dream

Here is my rendition of another tune lyric poem by Li Qingzhao 李清照.  This poem is of a dream of the circumstances and mood of the poet before, during and after the 上巳 "third of third lunar month" Spring family gathering probably in (and certainly not later than) 建炎三年 (1129) in which year, in the eighth lunar month, her husband Zhao Mingcheng 趙明誠 passed away making such gatherings at her house impossible.

In reading the poem, please be prepared to be swayed by:
(a) the weariness of the endless night;
(b) the old old capital and homeland lost to the Jins 金;
(c) the lack lustre spring;
(d) food casually prepared;
(e) the numbing pleasures of wine and pickles; and
(f)  the mortality of spring and us mortals.

Li Qingzhao (1084-1151): Die Lian Hua (Butterflies Love Flowers) – Gathering of Relatives on the Third Day of the Third Lunar Month: A Dream

1   Weary, dreary the endless night, joyous feelings lacking;
2   In vain, I dream of the old capital
3   And the old capital road I should be taking.
4   To make this very year’s prime time a truly glorious spring,
5   Her flowers, her moon, better be seen as luminously endearing.

6   Casually plain are the dishes of food, short, so short of feasting,
7   But the wine so fine, the plums well pickled,
8   To the palate of one and all befittingly pleasing.
9   Tipsy, I deck my hair with flowers, O flowers, don’t be mocking,
10  Sadly, springtime, like us mortals, shall age and soon be dying.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
25 November 2019 (revised 28.11.19; 30.11.19; 4.12.19)
Translated from the original - 李清照: 蝶戀花 -- 上巳召親族: 記夢

1   永夜懨懨歡意少
2   空夢長安
3   認取長安道
4   為報今年春色好
5   花光月影宜相照

6   隨意杯盤雖草草
7   酒美梅酸
8   洽稱人懷抱
9   醉裏插花花莫笑
10  可憐春似人將老


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a tune lyric poem or ‘ci to the tune of Die Lian Hua 蝶戀花 (Butterflies Love Flowers) entitled 記夢 (A Dream), which is in two 5-line stanzas of 30 characters (= single syllable words) each with a line length pattern of 7-4-5/ 7-7.  This English rendition follows the same line length pattern, counting feet or beats (not words, nor syllables) to determine the length of lines.  To emulate the original: the 7-character (hepta-syllabic) lines are rendered in heptameter (7 beats), the 4-character (tetra-syllabic) lines, rendered in tetrameter (4 beats), and the 5-character (penta-syllabic) lines, in pentameter (5 beats).  To further emulate the original, a caesura is provided after the fourth beat for the six 7-beat lines, and after the second beat for the two 4-beat lines.  These strictly follow the original’s location of the caesura.  As for the two 5-beat lines, the caesura is located after the third beat which should be after the second beat if the original were to be strictly followed.  This English rendition also strictly follows the rhyme scheme of the original, which is a single rhyme for all lines except lines 2 and 7, thus: AxA/ AA// AxA/AA//.  Unable to find perfect (not even assonance) rhyme words, I have used the unstressed “-ing” ending of a word as rhyme, a slant rhyme.

Title:  上巳 is an ancient feast day on the third day of the third lunar month for family gatherings.  The title 上巳召親族 is rendered as “Gathering of Relatives on the Third Day of the Third Lunar Month”, and 記夢 as “A Dream”.    

*Line 1:  永夜 (always, night) is rendered as “the endless night” and moved to the middle of the line. 懨懨 (weak and weary) is rendered as “Weary, dreary” with the “-eary” internal rhyme to emulate the reduplication of the word (pronounced “yan”).  歡意少 (joy, feelings, not much) is rendered as “joyous feelings lacking.

*Lines 2 and 3:  空夢 in line 2 is translated literally as “In vain, I dream of”.  長安 (Chang’an) in lines 2 and 3 is rendered as “the old capital” as it is a euphemism for the North Song 北宋 capital of Bianjing 汴京 (present day Kaifeng 開封) lost to the Jin dynasty (1115-1234).  Thus, “the old capital” covers both Chang’an and Bianjing.  In line 3, 認取 (recognize, take) is rendered as “I should be taking”, and translated literally as “And the … road”.

Lines 4 and 5:  I have taken the formulation of 為報 (in order to report) ... in 
line 4 and ...宜  (suitably or better be) ... in line 5 to mean “to make the claim 
(that this year’s Spring is indeed glorious, the flowers and the moon) had better 
be seen as …”  為報in line 4 is, therefore, rendered as “To make”.  今年 
in line  4 is translated literally as “this very year(’s)”, and 色好 (Spring, 
colours, glorious) is rendered as “(this very year’s) prime time, a truly glorious
Spring”, with “prime time” added (which hints at the French word “printemps” 
meaning Spring and Springtime).  花光 (flower, light) and 月影 (moon, shadow 
or reflected image, both implying light) in line 5 are rendered as “Her flowers” 
and “her moon” without any reference to “light” which is to be covered by the 
word “luminously” used to also render 照   (shine) in the second half of the
line:  宜相照.  This is rendered as “better be seen as luminously endearing”.  宜 
is rendered as “better be seen as” as explained at the beginning of this note.  照 
is  rendered as “luminously” which also covers … in the first half of the
line, as explained above.   (if taken to mean “mutual”) should be understood
as “mutually between us humans on the receiving end and the flowers and the 
moon on the giving end”, rather than “mutually between the flowers on the one 
side and the moon on the other”.  In fact, is also “a word indicative of an 
action taken by one side to the other”, for example, 事相告 (have something to
tell) and 好言相勸 (have well-meant advice to offer).  Another example is 王維   
Wang Wei’s 明月來相照 “Only the clear moon comes to shine on me” in his
quatrain 竹里館 “Hut Among the Bamboos” (translated by Innes Herdan, “300
Tang Poems”, Taipei: Far East, 2000, p. 560) or my translation “None but the  
moon, to me, solace you bring” in “House in the Bamboo Grove” (posted here 
on 11 March 2008). 相照 is, therefore, rendered as “luminously endearing” after 
considering “… enchanting/ embracing”.  

Line 6:  隨意 is translated rather literally as “Casually plain”.  杯盤 (cups, 
dishes) refer to the food/ meal served and is rendered as “the dishes of food”.  雖 
(though) is rendered as “Yet” () to begin line 7.  草草 (not elaborate, not 
formal)  is rendered as “short, so short of feasting” with “short of feasting” to 
translate the meaning and the reduplication of “short” to emulate the 
reduplication of  in the original.  

Line 7:  "Yet" is added to begin the line to cover the omission of "though" in line 
6.  酒美 is translated literally as "the wine is fine"  梅酸 (plum, sour) is taken to 
mean "plums pickled (not sour)" and is rendered as "the plums well pickled".

Line 8:  (exactly) (fittingly) (people) 懷抱 (bosom or embrace) is 
rendered as “To the palate of one and all befittingly pleasing” with 洽稱 
rendered as “befittingly pleasing” and 人懷抱 rendered as “to the palate of one 
and all”.

Line 9:  醉裏 (drunk) is translated literally as “Tipsy”.  插花 is taken not to mean “arranging flowers”, but “decking flowers” and is rendered as “I deck my hair with flowers”.  花莫笑 is translated literally as “O flowers, don’t be mocking”.

Line 10:  可憐 (pitiable) is translated rather literally as “Sadly”.  (Spring) (like) (people) is rendered as “Springtime, like us mortals”.  (shall or soon) (grow old) is rendered as “shall age and soon be dying”.  

14 November 2019

劉石佑 John Lau: 日本德仁天皇登基有感 Enthronement of Emperor Naruhito of Japan

Today, I am posting my English rendition of a quatrain by my dear friend John Lau.  This is a tribute to both Japan and China as most Chinese would believe that the Japanese have kept (well kept and even refined) traditional Chinese rites which belief can hardly be conclusively verified..  In any case, Greetings, Emperor Naruhito! 

Lau Shek Yau/ John Lau) (b.1947): Enthronement of Emperor Naruhito of Japan (23 October 2019)

1   Propriety lost, we turn to the East and see
2   The stately rites of our great Tang dynasty.
3   Ancient rituals, in Japan now still extant,
4   Re-live the grand and glorious ceremony.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
27 October 2019 (revised 28.10.2019; 29.10.19; 30.10.19)
Translated from the original:  劉石佑: 日本德仁天皇登基有感 (20191023)

1   禮失求諸夷
2   大唐盛世姿
3   東瀛存古例
4   重現壯豐儀


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is a quatrain in pentameter (5 feet or beats) to emulate the original which is a 5-character 絕句 “jueju”.  To further emulate the original, I have also given a caesura (pause) to every line after the first 2 feet or beats.  The rhyme scheme is AAxA as in the original.

*Line 1:  禮失 (rites/manners lost) is rendered as “Propriety lost”.  求諸 (seek from, ask of) is rendered as “we turn to … and see” with “and see” added to link up to line 2 and to create the “see/-ty/-ny” end rhyme for lines 1, 2 and 4.   (‘Yi’) means 東夷 (the ‘Yi’ people of the East).  It refers to Japan and the Japanese people and is rendered simply as “the East” for brevity.

*Line 2:  大唐 (great, Tang dynasty China) 盛世 (prosperous, period) is rendered as “of the great Tang dynasty” and moved down to the end of the line for the “-ty” end rhyme.  I suggest reading “-ty” stressed, but “Tang” unstressed.  姿 (appearance, posture, countenance, deportment) is taken to refer to matters having to do with propriety (rites and rituals), and is, hence, rendered as “The stately rites” (after considering other qualifying adjectives such as “solemn”, “graceful”, and “elegant”) and moved up to begin the line.

*Line 3:  東瀛 (East ‘Ying’) refers to Japan and is simply rendered as “in Japan”.  (exist) is rendered as “now still extant” after considering “till now extant”.  古例 (old rules) is rendered as “Ancient rituals” and moved up to begin the line.   

*Line 4:  重現 (again, appear/see) is rendered as “Re-live” after considering “Re-enact”.  壯豐 (strong, rich) is rendered as “grand and glorious” after considering “grand, exuberant”.  (rites) is translated literally as “ceremony”.  I suggest reading “ce-” and “-ny” in “ceremony” stressed.    

22 October 2019

元稹 Yuan Zhen: 行宮 The Adjunct Palace

Today, I am posting my latest rendition, a quatrain by Yuan Zhen 元稹, a contemporary and great friend of Bai Juyi 白居易.  I hope you will enjoy this.  Please also read my notes to learn that Bai Juyi had written much longer poems on the same Emperor and to know a little about the posthumous titles of Emperors.  You may wish to read up on Herbert Allen Giles to whom I owe a great debt.

Postscript:  I have further considered "their Emperor's" in line 4 and have decided that "His Majesty's" would look and sound more appropriate.  I have revised the text and the notes accordingly as if they had been posted a few hours ago.

Yuan Zhen (779-831): The Adjunct Palace

1   (In the vacant ancient Adjunct Palace towers,)
     In the vacant, age-old Adjunct Palace towers, (revised 30.10.19)
2   Quietly, glowing, the poor red palace flowers.
3   Here still reside some white-haired palace ladies,
4   Sit idly recounting His Majesty’s bygone hours.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
2 October 2019 (revised 4.10.19; 6.10.19; 7.10.19; 8.10.19; 9.10.19; 22.10.19; 30.10.19)
Translated from the original – 元稹: 行宮

1   寥落古行宮
2   宮花寂寞紅
3   白頭宮女在
4   閒坐說玄宗


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is a quatrain in pentameter (5 feet or beats) to emulate the original which is a 5-character “jueju” 絕句 (quatrain).  To emulate the original, I have also given a caesura (pause) after the first 2 feet or beats for each 5-beat line.  The rhyme scheme is AAxA as in the original.  I am grateful to the great pioneering British translator (of Chinese into English) Herbert Allen Giles (1845-1935), from whom I have borrowed his “bowers – flowers – hours” rhyme.  Please note, I have in my rendition used “towers” instead of his “bowers”.  Giles’ rendition is as follows:
Deserted now the imperial bowers
Save by some few poor lonely flowers …
One white-haired dame
Sits down and tells of bygone hours.

*Title:  (travel) (palace) means a place where the monarch stays when he is travelling away from the palace in the capital.  However, I do not take it to be a general term as, in my view, it refers to a specific palace, the “Shangyang Palace” 上陽宮 in the equally ancient, if not older, city of Loyang 洛陽 which was, in the Tang dynasty, the / / 輔都 adjunct/ auxiliary capital known as 東京 (Eastern Capital) with Chang’an 長安 the capital known as 西京 (Western Capital).   I have, therefore, rendered the title 行宮 as “Adjunct Palace”.  The predicament of the ladies in the Shangyang Palace is detailed in a fairly long 七言古詩old-style poem by白居易 Bai Juyi entitled 上陽白髮人 “Shangyang’s White-haired Ladies”.

*Line 1:  寥落 is rendered as “(In the) vacant”.  古行宮 is rendered as “age-old Adjunct Palace towers” with “Adjunct Palace” capitalized to make the palace specific, and with “towers” (instead of Giles’ “bowers”, being more fitting for the Adjunct Palace) added to begin the “towers – flowers – hours” rhyme.

*Line 2:  宮花 is translated literally as “palace flowers” to depict a garden scene and to retain the ambiguity of using “palace flowers” to allude to “palace ladies”.  is rendered as “Quietly … the poor” to cover both  “quietly” and 寂寞 “poor (to mean lonely, i.e. unadmired)”, and is translated literally as “glowing … red” with “glowing” added to cover the additional use of the word as a verb to mean 開花 “blooming”.

*Line 3:  (white) (head) is properly rendered as “white-haired” rather than “white-headed”. 宮女 is translated literally as “some … palace ladies” (after rejecting “maids” for being too young), and is rendered in the plural to make sense of more than one lady sitting, chit-chatting in line 4.  is rendered as ”Here still reside” after considering “There in still live”.

*Line 4:  閒坐 is translated literally as “Sit idly”.   is rendered as “recounting” after considering “to talk/ tell/ speak of”.  玄宗 (Xuanzong) refers to 李隆基 Li Longji (685-762), the ninth Emperor of the Tang dynasty, who reigned for 44 years from 712 to 756 when he was “elevated” (deemed abdicated) by his crown prince 李亨 Li Heng to the position of 太上皇 “Senior Emperor”  He has come to be popularly known as唐明皇 “the Good (as in 明君) Emperor of Tang” and remembered well for his love for his concubine Lady Yang (玉環)貴妃.  (白居易 Bai Juyi has another famous 七言古詩old style poem entitled 長恨歌 “Song of Lasting Sorrow” on Xuanzong and Lady Yang.)  Xuanzong is a 廟號 “posthumous title in the ancestral temple” given to a monarch after his death.  (Please note, this is not just a 謚號 “posthumous title of honour” which may be given, upon death, to monarchs and subjects alike; you may also wish to note that Xuanzong’s 謚號 is 至道大聖大明孝皇帝.)  I had originally considered simply transliterating玄宗 to make the line end as “Xuanzong’s bygone hours”, but have now decided to make his status explicit.  I have, therefore, decided for “His Majesty’s bygone hours”, after considering “their/ the/ old/ the late Emperor’s bygone hours".  I have added “bygone hours” to complete the meaning and the rhyme.  I had originally considered qualifying “hours” with words such as “glorious/ majestic/ glamour/ joyous/ golden/ etc.", but have rejected them for adding too much to the original, while “bygone” is a more appropriate word as it simply refers to the past of the Emperor.  For the use of “bygone hours”and, in particular, the word “bygone”, I gratefully acknowledge my debt to Herbert Giles’ rendition.

12 September 2019

李清照 Li Qingzhao: 烏江/ 夏日絕句 River Wu/ Quatrain Written on a Summer Day

Today, I am posting a quatrain by Li Qingzhao which was probably written on a summer day when travelling pass River Wu where was located a shrine in honour of the Grand Lord of Western Chu, Xiang Yu (after the fall of the Qin dynasty) who lost the empire to the Lord of Han, Liu Bang.  The struggle between the two is immortalized on the Chinese chess board with the words 楚河 Chu River, 漢界 Han Boundary.  Here goes my rendition:

Li Qingzhao (1084-1151): River Wu/ Quatrain Written on a Summer Day

1    In life, among men, be a leader;
2    In death, of the dead, a hero be.
3    Till now, Lord Xiang Yu is still remembered:
4    In defeat, he’d rather die than flee.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
16th June 2019 (17.6.19; 18.6.19; 19.6.19)
Translated from the original - 李清照﹕烏江/ 夏日絕句

1    生當作人傑
2    死亦為鬼雄
3    至今思項羽
5    不肯過江東


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain or “jueju” 絕句 which is a 4-lined short poem.  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats or feet) largely iambic in metre.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Lines 1 and 2:  These 2 lines are exhortations.  I have taken in line 1 and in line 2 to mean “in living” and “in dying” (not “when alive” and “when dead”).  They are, therefore, rendered as “In life” and “In death” respectively.  (should) (be) (men) (outstanding) in line 1 is rendered as “among men, be a leader” (= be a leader of men), and (also) (be) (ghosts) (strong hero) in line 2 is rendered as “of the dead, a hero be” (= be a hero of the dead).

*Line 3:  至今 is translated literally as “Till now”.  I have taken (think) in this context to mean 思念(remember, in this case, the dead) and have, therefore, translated it also literally as “is still remembered”.  項羽, being a name, is transliterated with the word “Lord” added to hint at the fact that he was the Grand Lord of Western Chu 西楚霸() vying against the Lord of Han 漢王 Liu Bang 劉邦 for the Qin dynasty 秦朝 Chinese empire.  Although it was Xiang Yu who crushed the Qin army and ended the Qin dynasty in 206 BC and was the strongest of all lords, he was in the end defeated by Liu Bang, the Lord of Han, who successfully established the Han dynasty 漢朝 on Xiang Yu’s death in 202 BC.

*Line 4:  不肯(refuse) (to cross/go to) (river) (east) is rendered as “In defeat, would rather die than flee” with (a) “In defeat” added to give the context, (b) “he’d rather … than …” used to render 不肯, and (c) “(rather) die” and “(than) flee” introduced to tell the story of his refusal to take the escape boat to return to his homeland east of the river.  According to history, in defeat, Xiang Yu retreated to River Wu 烏江 (a tributary of the Yangzi River) where an escape boat was waiting; but he refused to board the boat, and took his own life by the riverside. 


16 August 2019

温庭筠 Wen Tingyun: 瑶瑟怨 A Plaint on the Jade Zither

Today, I am posting my latest rendition of a quatrain by the great Late Tang dynasty poet Wen Tingyun.  I suggest reading it out loud to begin to appreciate this subtle and restrained plaint of a lady whose husband is away.  The lady is sleepless and rises to play the zither to vent her plaint, hence, zither (not lute) in the title.

Wen Tingyun (812-870): A Plaint on the Jade Zither

1  An ice-cool mat, my silvery bedding, O sleepless, dreamless tonight;
2  The deep blue sky, supple like water, the night clouds, scanty and light.
3  Crying wild geese fly far to the south, to the Rivers of Xiao and Xiang,
4  Here in the land of Twelve Mansions, of itself the moon shines bright.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黃宏發
24 July 2019 (revised 29.7.19; 30.7.19)
Translated from the original - 温庭筠: 瑶瑟怨

1  冰簟銀床夢不成
2  碧天如水夜雲輕
3  雁聲遠過瀟湘去
4  十二樓中月自明


*Title:  This is the plaint of a lady whose husband is away from home.  In the poem, her grief is restrained and subtle, with the word “Plaint” appearing only in the title, and with only a hint of her grief in 夢不成 “sleepless, dreamless” in line 1 of the poem itself.  “se” is a 16 or 25 stringed musical instrument.  It has been translated by one and many as “lute”.  I am afraid this is incorrect as “lute” is shaped and played like a guitar while (and similarly the 7 stringed “qin” or 古琴 “guqin”) is shaped and played like a zither placed horizontally in front of the player.  is, therefore, rendered here as “Zither”.  You may wish to visit the web for an article written by John Thompson on the origins and popularity of translating and as “lute”, http://www.silkqin.com/11misc/lute.htm.  refers to fine jade decorating the zither, and is simply rendered as “Jade”.   

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character 七言 quatrain or”jueju” 絕句.  This
English rendition is a quatrain in heptameter (7 feet or beats) to emulate the original.  The
rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  (ice) (mat) is translated as “An ice-cool mat” after rejecting “ An icy mat” as the word is used here to describe the coolness, or even coldness, and not the iciness.   in 銀床 (silver, bed) can be taken literally as “silver” (made of or decorated with silver) and metaphorically as “moonlit” in the adjective “silvery” (appear silvery in the moonlight).  It is, therefore, rendered as “my silvery bedding” to cover both meanings, after considering “my moonlit bedding”.  (dream) (not) is rendered as “O sleepless, dreamless tonight” with “sleepless” and “tonight” added to account for what she does on that insomnious night (tonight): playing the zither, looking up the sky, listening to the wild geese, and thinking of her husband who must be looking at the same moon.

*Line 2: (blue) (sky) is translated as “The deep blue sky”; (like) (water) is rendered as “supple like water” with “supple” added after considering “soft” and “gentle”.  (night) (clouds) (light) is rendered as “the night clouds, scanty and light”.

*Line 3:  (wild geese) (cries) is rendered as “Crying wild geese” as I have taken “the cries of the wild geese” as a synecdoche for “the wild geese, flying and crying”.  (Xiao) and (Xiang) refer to the Rivers Xiao and Xiang (in present day Hunan 湖南 Province) which flow into 洞庭湖 Lake Dongting, then 長江 River Yangzi, all to the south of the capital city 長安 Chang’an.  瀟湘 is, therefore, transliterated and rendered as “the Rivers of Xiao and Xiang”   (far) (go, cross) … (to) is rendered as ‘fly far to the south, to …” with “the south” added to indicate the direction of flight (south) and, hence, the season (autumn).

*Line 4:  十二 (ten-and-two, twelve) (towers, mansions) refers to a place where the immortals or nobles live.  It should not be taken to mean a 12-storeyed tower or mansion or house as the ancient Chinese never built residential structures of more than a few storeys high.  十二樓 is, therefore, reasonably taken to mean a land named after its having 12 rather tall buildings, and is, hence, rendered as “land of Twelve Mansions” after considering “land of Towers Twelve” and “land of Towers Dodeca (Greek for twelve, 2 and 10)”.  (middle, in) is rendered as “Here in the …..”  (moon) (self) (bright) is translated literally as “of itself the moon shines bright”.  


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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