12 April 2020

韋莊 Wei Zhuang: 金陵圖 / 臺城 A Landscape of Jinling/ The Capital City

POSTSCRIPT (23.4.2020):  Thanks to Ray Heaton's Comment of my rendering 鳥 (birds) as "roosters" 公雞, I have decided to reinstate in my Note on Line 2 a reference to 祖逖 who was instrumental in warding off offences from the North between the end of the West and the beginning of the East Jin Dynasty

ORIGINAL POST:  Here is a 7-character quatrain by the late Tang dynasty poet Wei Zhuang on a landscape painting of Jinling (present day Nanjing) which I have rendered into English in heptameter with a caesura after the 4th beat and rhymed AAxA.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Today is Easter Sunday, the day our Lord Jesus rose from the dead.  Let us pray we be rid of the novel coronavirus the soonest.  Amen. 

Wei Zhuang (836-910): A Landscape of Jinling/ The Capital City

1   The River in rain, in mizzling mizzles, her reeds in stretches grow;
2   Your Six Dynasties now gone like dreams, roosters in vain do crow.
3   Heartless, utmost, therein your City, the unfeeling willow trees, still
4   Veil and shroud the dyke for miles while their misty catkins blow.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)  譯者: 黃宏發
23 October 2019 (revised 24.10.19; 25.10.19)
Translated from the original - 韋莊: 金陵圖/ 臺城

1   江雨霏霏江草齊
2   六朝如夢鳥空啼
3   無情最是臺城柳
4   依舊煙籠十里堤


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is a quatrain in heptameter (7 feet or beats) to emulate the original which is a 7-character “jueju” 絕句 (quatrain).  To emulate the original, I have also given to each of the 7-beat lines a caesura (main pause) mid-line after the first 4 feet or beats.  The rhyme scheme is AAxA as in the original.

*Title and lines 2 and 3:  金陵 (present day: 南京 Nanjing) in the first title is rendered simply as “Jinling” in transliteration as the second title lay bare Jinling was “The Capital City”.  Jinling was the capital of the 4 successive Southern Dynasties of Song, Qi, Liang and Chen in the 南北朝 Northern and Southern Dynasties period (420-581) and their 2 southern predecessors, namely Wu (222-280) and 東晉Eastern Jin (317-420).  These 6 are collectively known as the 六朝 “Six Dynasties” referred to in line 2.  is rendered as “A Landscape (meaning landscape painting) of”.  Wei has another poem with the same title of 金陵圖 said to have been written after viewing 6 paintings of Jinling in the Six Dynasties which runs: 誰謂傷心畫不成/ 畫人心遂世人情/ 君看六幅南朝事/ 老木寒雲滿故城.  (I have yet to attempt a translation.)  The present poem was probably similarly inspired.  The other title 臺城 refers to the old royal palace which had fallen into disuse.  I have taken this to stand for the whole city, hence, rendered as “The Capital City” in the title and simply “City” (capitalized) in line 3.

Line 1:  江雨 (river, rain) is rendered as “The River in rain” with River capitalized to indicate it is the Yangzi River 揚子江 or Long River 長江 being referred to.  霏霏 has 2 completely different meanings: torrential rains and drizzles.  I have opted for the latter as it fits the tone of the whole poem and have, therefore, rendered it “in mizzling mizzles”.  The in 江草 is not repeated but replaced by and rendered as “her” (a personification of the River).  is rendered as “reeds” rather than sedges (for being too pretty) and grass (for being too general).  is not taken to mean “neat, tidy, trimmed, level”, but “uniform, unmixed”.  Hence, 草齊 is rendered as “in stretches (large and/or long patches of unmixed reeds) grow”.

Line 2: 六朝 is translated literally as “Your Six Dynasties” with “Your” added to personify Jinling.  如夢 is rendered as “now gone like dreams” with “now gone” added.  is taken not to refer to “birds” in general, but to “cocks or chicken of the masculine gender” and I have decided for “roosters” after considering “cocks” and “chanticleers”.  You may wish to put this speculation of mine in the context of the Chinese idiom 聞雞起舞 "hearing the cock crows, rise to practise swordsmanship" derived from 晉書 "The History of the Jin Dynasty" which records the biography of a man called 祖逖 Zu Di (266-321, between the end of West and beginning of East Jin) who when young rose to practise swordsmanship every day upon hearing the first crow of the cock.  空 (empty) is rendered as "in vain" after considering "to no avail" and “for naught”.  is translated literally as “crow”.

Line 3:  無情 (no feeling) is rendered as “Heartless”, and 最是 (the most) as “utmost”.  臺城
(elevated city) is rendered as “therein your City” with “City” capitalized to indicate it is the Capital city.  (Please see note on the Title.)  (willow) is rendered as “the unfeeling willow trees” with “unfeeling” added to reinforce the opening translation of 無情 as “Heartless”.  I have enjambed the line by adding at the end the word “still” to cover the translation of 依舊 (as of old) in the original’s line 4.

Line 4:  依舊 is moved up to line 3 and rendered as “still”. (smoke, or mist) (encage, cover) is rendered as “Veil and shroud”.  十里 (10 ‘li’ is about 3 miles) may well be just a hyperbole to say very long.  I have rendered it as “for miles” rather than “ten ‘li’s’” or “three miles”.  (embankment) is rendered as “dyke” after considering “embankment/ bank/ banking”.  And to end the poem and complete the rhyme, I have added “while their misty catkins blow” which is not in the original, but useful for an understanding of how willows work to produce the “misty” look.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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