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.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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