10 February 2020

李清照 Li Qingzhao: 點绛脣 Dian Jiang Chun -- 天真 Naivete

Ray Heaton, a friend on the web though we have never met, has kindly alerted me to an article in "The World of Chinese" on "The Talent of Li Qingzhao" in which is cited Li Qingzhao's tune lyric poem Dian Jiang Chun or Red Lips translated by E.C. Chang.  Here is the link for those who wish to see Chang's rendition: https://www.theworldofchinese.com/2015/07/the-talent-of-li-qingzhao/

I happen to have recently translated the same and am posting it here today for all to share.  Unlike most of Li Qingzhao's other poems, there is nothing melancholic.  It must have been written when she was a talented teenager, or written much older recalling, reminiscing her younger days.  I have rendered it in the past tense, and in the third person to make it possible for the poem to be interpreted to generally cover all young girls of a certain upbringing.

I give you this delightful, beautiful little poem.

Li Qingzhao (1084-1157): Dian Jiang Chun (Touching Up the Red Lips) --- Naivete

1   Having had fun, she stepped off the swing,
2   And rose to slowly stretch and flex her slender, tender hands.
3   Like dense dewdrops on thin flowers cram,
4   Her sweat, though slight, still through her play clothes ran.

5   On seeing someone coming in,
6   Unshod, in socks, her gold hairpin slip-ped,
7   Wearing a shy face, she fled.
8   Yet she leaned by the gateway, turned her head,
9   Feigning, as if, she was sniffing green plums instead.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
29 January 2020 (revised 30.1.2020)
Translated from the original - 李清照: 點绛脣 --- 天真

1   鞦韆  
2   起來   
4   衣透   

5   見有人來   
9   却把青梅齅      


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a tune lyric poem or ‘ci’ to the tune of Dian Jiang Chun 點絳脣 (Touching Up the Red Lips) entitled 天真 (Naivete), which is in two stanzas totalling 36 characters (single syllable words), the first stanza of 4 and the second of 5 lines of varying line lengths with a line-length pattern of 4-7/ 4-5// 4-5-3/ 4-5//.  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) line is rendered in heptameter (7 beats), the 5-character (penta-syllabic) lines, rendered in pentameter (5 beats), the 4-character (tetra-syllabic) lines, in tetrameter (4 beats), and the 3-character (tri-syllabic) line, in trimeter (3 beats).  To further emulate the original, a mid-line caesura (pause) is provided after the fourth beat for the one 7-beat line, and after the second beat for all the shorter (i.e. 5-, 4-, 3-beat) lines.  Although, in this English rendition, I have been unable to strictly follow the rhyme scheme of the original, which is a single rhyme for all lines except the opening line of each stanza (i.e. lines 1 and 5), I have been able to rhyme the 2 stanzas separately with 2 different rhymes,  thus xA/ AA// xBB/ BB (instead of the original xA/ AA// xAA/ AA//).  The A rhyme for the first stanza is the assonance of the “a” sound as in h[a]nds, cr[a]m, and d[a]mp.  The B rhyme for the second stanza is the “ed” rhyme as in -p[ed], fl[ed], h[ead], and inst[ead].

*Line 1:  (step) (completed) 鞦韆 (the swing; popularly simplified as 秋千) is rendered as “Having had fun, she stepped off the swing” with “Having had fun” added to begin the poem by pointing out this is her play time and to make it a 4-beat line to emulate the original’s 4-character line.

*Line 2:  起來 (rise) is translated literally as “And rose” after considering “To rise”.  (lazily or tiredly) (put in order, or fix) is rendered as “to slowly stretch and flex” after considering “… loosen, straighten”.   (slender) (hands or arms) is rendered as “her slender, tender hands” with the replication of  rendered as the internally rhymed “slender, tender”.

*Line 3:   (dew) (dense) (flowers) (thin) is rendered as “Like dense dewdrops on thin flowers cram” after considering “… jam”, with “Like” added to turn the line into a simile to create a closer link between lines 3 and 4, and “cram” used to further translate in the sense of “dense”.

*Line 4: (thin) (sweat or perspiration) is rendered as “Her sweat, though slight” after considering “Her light perspiration”.  (light or thin) (clothes) refers to casual wear ( is taken to mean 輕便 casual) and is rendered as “her play clothes”.  (penetrate, or through, or go out of, or come out from) is rendered as “still through … ran” after considering “still made … damp” and “still seen on … stamped”.

*Line 5: I had originally taken  (see) 客 (have) 人 (man) (come) to be the proper version and rendered as “Seeing a guest entering the grounds”.  I have now decided for the 見有人來 version and have revised the line to read “On seeing someone coming in” which can ambiguously point to some young gentleman which is precisely what the poem is all about..

*Line 6:  (socks; long been simplified to ) (reduced to) is taken to mean “reduced to socks” or “only in socks” and is rendered as “In socks, unshod”.  (gold) (hairpin) (slip) is rendered as “her gold hairpin slip-ped” (after considering “… drop-ped”), with “slipped” presented as the 2-syllable “slip-ped” to begin the “ed” rhyme of the second stanza.

*Line 7:  (and or with) (shyness) (go) is rendered as “Wearing a shy face, she fled” after considering “Shyly, away she fled”.

*Line 8:  (lean) (door or gate), in this context, should not be taken to literally mean “leaned against the gate”, but to mean “stopped at the gateway (to lean against something unspecified)” as no one can lean without stopping.  I had, in fact, originally penned “Yet she stopped at the gateway …”, but have now decided for “Yet she leaned by the gateway …” with “leaned” to literally translate and “by the gateway” to translate .   (turn back) (head) is translated literally as “turned her head”.

*Line 9: 却把青梅齅 is rendered as “Feigning, as if, she was sniffing green plums instead”.  The first word (but, or yet) is translated literally as “Yet” and moved to begin line 8 of my English rendition, but with the addition of “Feigning, as if” and “instead” in line 9 itself to complete the true meaning of the word in the context of these 2 lines. (green) (plum) (smell or sniff; long been simplified as ) is translated literally as “she was sniffing green plums”.  As for the second word (hold; let), in my view, it is inserted not for any substantive meaning such as “holding a green plum”.  Not being a grammarian of the Chinese language, I can still confidently say that one usage is its insertion reverses the order of the verb  and the noun 青梅 turning it from “ (to sniff) 青梅 (green plums)” to “ (let) 青梅 (green plums) (be sniffed)” , not unlike “穿上 (putting on) 衣服 (clothes)” and “ (let) 衣服 (clothes) 穿上 (be put on)”.  To satisfy those who insist on having covered, I can alternatively pen it as “Feigning, as if, she was green plums a-sniffing instead” using the prefix “a-“ before the verb “sniffing” to translate the original’s 把  before the noun 青梅 to result in the original’s “noun first, then verb” order.  This is also very much to my liking.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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