08 January 2020

李清照 Li Qingzhao: 蝶戀花 Die Lian Hua -- 離情 Separation Sentiments

Happy New Year 2020!

Posted here today is a new poem, different from the one posted here last month (December 2019). This and the last poem are both by Li Qingzhao and both written to the tune of "Die Lian Hua/ Butterflies Love Flowers".  The last one's title is "Gathering of Relatives ...".  The current poem is entitled "Separation Sentiments", a poem of sadness while her husband was posted away from home, a melancholia so beautifully versified.  I wish you joy in enjoying Li Qingzhao's sentiments and poetics which I hope I have been able to emulate in my English rendition of the poem..

Li Qingzhao (1084-1151): Die Lian Hua (Butterflies Love Flowers) --- Separation Sentiments

1   Cordial showers, sun-bathed breezes, the snow, frozen, now thawing;
2   Willow leaf eyes, plum blossom cheeks,
3   Already, I sense: the heart of Spring is stirring.
4   Wine and rhyme, my prime past-time, but with whom could I be sharing?
5   O tears melt my remaining make-up, my head-dress, heavy, weighing.

6   I try on my Spring dress threaded in gold, a gown with a fine silk lining;
7   Slanting, leaning on a mound of pillows,
8   My hairpin’s head of phoenix, thereby deforming.
9   O all alone, steeped deep in sorrow, sweet dreams not in the making;
10 Late in the night, still sit aside, fiddling with the lamp wick, a-trimming.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
12 December 2019 (revised 14.12.19; 16.12.19; 17.12.19; 18.12.19; 20.12.19; 23.12 19)   
Translated from the original - 李清照: 蝶戀花 --- 離情

1   暖雨晴風初破凍
2   柳眼梅腮
3   已覺春心動
4   酒意詩情誰與共
5   淚融殘粉花鈿重

6   乍試夾衫金縷縫
7   山枕斜欹
8   枕損釵頭鳳
9   獨抱濃愁無好夢
10 猶剪燈花弄


*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 離情 (Separation Sentiments), 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 a tetrameter (4 beats), and the 5-character (penta-syllabic) lines, in pentameter (5 beats).  To further emulate the original, a mid-line caesura (pause) is provided after the fourth beat for the six 7-beat lines, and after the second beat for the two 4-beat lines.  As for the two 5-beat lines, I have not been able to strictly follow the original.  For line 3, it is located after the second beat as in the original, but for line 8, it is moved to after the third beat.  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 “-ing” ending of words for rhyme, a slant rhyme.

*Line 1:  (warm) (rain) is rendered as “Cordial showers” after considering “Genial …” and “Sweet …”.  (sunny) (wind) is rendered as “sun-bathed breezes” with “sun-bathed” used to spell out the warmth in the wind to match the warmth of “Cordial showers”.  (first) (break) (cold) is rendered as “the snow, frozen, now thawing” with “now” to render and “the snow, frozen … thawing” to render 破凍 after considering “the frozen snow/ the ice and snow/ the icy snow”.

*Line 2:  (willow) (eyes) is understood as “eyes like new willow leaves” and is rendered as “Willow leaf eyes” after considering “Willowy eyes”, and (plum) (cheeks), understood as “cheeks as rosy as plum flowers” and rendered as “plum blossom cheeks” after considering “… flower/ petal ...”  These two are descriptive of the season of Spring and are also metaphors of a beautiful lady and her yearnings for love and company, leading on to “the heart of Spring” in line 3.

*Line 3:  (already) (aware or feel) is translated literally as “Already, I sense” after considering “... “feel/ know/ ‘m aware”.  (Spring) (heart) (move) is translated rather literally as “the heart of Spring is stirring”.

*Line 4:  (wine) (idea or desire) (poetry) (passion or sentiment) is rendered as “Wine and rhyme, my prime past-time” with “Wine and rhyme” (in assonance) to render and , and “my prime past-time” (with a “p” alliteration and a prime/ time internal rhyme) to collectively render and (who) 與共 (together/ share with) is rendered as “but with whom could I be sharing” with “but” added and “could” used to make clear this is a rhetorical question.

*Line 5:  (tears) (melt) is translated literally as “O tears melt”, and (remains) (powder or make-up), also literally, as “my remaining make-up” after considering “… remnant …”  (flowery) (pronounced ‘dian’ not ‘tian’, meaning head ornaments) (heavy) is rendered as “my head-dress, heavy, weighing” to convey the meaning of “sorrow weighing down my head”.

*Line 6:  (first or suddenly) (try) is taken to mean trying on a dress to see if it suits the climate and is rendered simply as “I try on”.  夾衫 (lined, dress) is rendered as “a gown with a fine silk lining” with “fine silk” added (after considering “… satin/ lighter/ thinner”) to dispel the possible impression of a heavy lining which would run contrary to the context of the approach of Spring.  This is moved down to end the line.  (gold) (thread) (sew), which ends the line in the original, is rendered as “my Spring dress threaded in gold”, with “Spring dress” added to spell out the kind of dress being tried on, and moved up to the beginning of the line to follow “I try on”.

*Line 7:  (mountain) (pillow) is taken to mean “a pile of pillows” and not “a mountain shaped pillow” and is rendered as “on a mound of pillows”.  斜欹 (slant, lean) is translated literally as “Slanting, leaning”.

*Line 8:  (pillow) (damage) is rendered as “thereby deforming”, with (1) “deforming” to literally translate (after considering “warping/ breaking/ damaging”) and (2) “thereby” to render which I had originally considered rendering as “against the pillows”.  I have decided that “thereby” is more than adequate without having to repeat “pillows” as it refers to the previous line 7 in its entirety which includes the pillows leaned on and, more importantly, the leaning action.  To further my interpretation, the word is, in addition, a verb which refers to the pillowing/ leaning action.  枕損 therefore does not mean “the pillows doing damage” but “damage done by leaning against the pillows”.  This is moved down to end the line.  (hairpin) (head) (phoenix) is literally translated as “My hairpin’s head of phoenix” (after considering “My hairpin’s head, the phoenix”, “My hairpin’s head, a phoenix”, “The phoenix head of my hairpin” and “My hairpin’s phoenix head”, and is moved up to begin the line.

*Line 9:  (alone) (carry) (thick) (sorrow) is rendered as “O all alone, steeped deep in sorrow” with and translated literally and “steeped deep in (sorrow)” to render 抱濃().  (no) (good) (dream) is rendered as “sweet dreams not in the making”.

*Line 10:  (night) (late or end) is translated literally as “Late in the night”.  (still) is rendered as “still sit aside” with “sit aside” added to spell out the poet is not yet in bed, to pave the way to the trimming of the lamp wick.  (cut or scissor or trim) (lamp) (wick, not flower) is rendered as “the lamp wick, a-trimming”.  (pronounced ‘nong’ not ‘long’, means play or fiddle or fumble) is rendered as “fiddling with” which means “doing something not really for the purpose of doing it” or “trimming not for trimming’s sake”.  For the second half of the line, I had originally penned a more faithful version of “trimming the lamp wick, a-fiddling”, but have now decided for “fiddling with the lamp wick, a-trimming” with the order of “trim” and “fiddle” reversed.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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