02 June 2020

李清照 Li Qingzhao: 鷓鴣天 Zhe Gu Tian -- 寂寞 Solitude

Today, I am posting my rendition of Li Qingzhao's tune lyric poem Zhe Gu Tian (Partridge Sky) -- Solitude as promised in my conversation with my learned friend Ray Heaton in the Comments section of my February 2020 post on Li's other tune lyric poem entitled Dian Jiang Chun -- Naivette.  For the full conservation, please go to the post.  It was indeed very kind of him to have given me a lead by sharing with me and all bloggers his rendition.  Here is Ray Heaton's rendition copied from his comment:

While awaiting your translation in the coming months Andrew, I though(t) I'd share mine....

鷓鴣天 Partridge/Sky

寒日蕭蕭上瑣窗* Cold/sun/dreary/dreary/up/patterned window
梧桐應恨夜來霜 Wutong/must/hate/night/arrive/frost
酒闌更喜團茶苦 Wine/finished/more/enjoy/tea-cake/bitter,
夢斷偏宜瑞腦香 Dream/broken/prefer/should/incense/fragrance
秋已盡 日猶長 Autumn/already/finished/days/still/long
仲宣懷遠更淒涼 Zhong Xuan/yearn for/distant/more/desolate/disheartened
不如隨分尊前醉  Not/surpass/as I please/casually/wine goblet/before/intoxicated,
莫負東籬菊蕊黃 Not/betray/east/fence/chrysanthemum/buds/yellow

Interpreted in my version as:


Drearily,  a wintry sun climbed the lattice window,
Overnight, the hoar frost disturbed the wutong tree.
Wine now finished, enjoying the bitterness of tea
My dreams broken, favouring the aroma of incense.

Autumn now gone, days yet long.
His longing for home made Zhong** so dispirited,
But why should I not drink to distraction,
Admiring the yellow flowers at the eastern hedge***?

This is a beautiful rendition in a format of 8-8/8-8// 3-3-8/8-8 words.  The only problem is "to distraction" does not at all translate 隨分, which, in fact, is the most difficult part of the poem.  I hope I have succeeded in tackling it.  Here goes my rendition:

Li Qingzhao (1084-1157):  Zhe Gu Tian (Partridge Sky) – Solitude    

1   A shivering sun in whistling winds, approaching my latticed window,
2   The phoenix tree should have hated, last night came frosts untold.
3   Wining till late, the more I savour --- the bitter taste of block tea,
4   My dreams broken, yet solace I find --- in the fragrant incense borneol.

5   Autumn, now spent and gone,
6   O the day, still long and slow.
7   The more nostalgic that poet of old, the graver his sorrowful woe.
8   I’d rather resign to my fateful lot, and imbibe before the bottle,   
9   Not to miss, at the eastside hedge, the chrysanthemum’s heart of gold.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
20 May 2020 (revised 23.5.20; 26.5.20; 28.5.20; 29.5.20)
Translated from the original - 李清照:  鷓鴣天 -- 寂寞

1   寒日蕭蕭上瑣窗    
2   梧桐應恨夜來霜    
3   酒更喜團茶苦    
4   夢斷偏宜瑞腦香    

5   秋已盡    
6   日猶長    
7   仲宣懷遠更淒涼    
8   不如隨分尊前醉    
9   莫負東籬菊蕊黃    

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a tune lyric poem or ‘ci’ to the tune of Zhe Gu Tian鷓鴣天 (Partridge Sky) entitled 寂寞 “Solitude”, which is in two stanzas (4 lines, then 5) totalling 55 characters (= single syllable words), with a line length pattern of 7-7/ 7-7// 3-3-7/ 7-7.  This English rendition follows the same line length pattern, but counting feet or beats (not words, nor syllables) for the length of lines.  The 7-character (syllable) lines are rendered in heptameter (7 feet or beats) with a caesura (pause) after the fourth foot or beat, and the 3-character lines in trimeter (3 feet or beats) with a slight pause after the first beat but, strictly, without any caesura.  This English rendition also strictly follows the rhyme scheme of the original, which is a single rhyme for 6 of the 9 lines, viz: AA/ xA// xAA/ xA//.  Unable to find perfect rhyme words, I have used the “ou” assonance of “window (1)”, “cold (2)”, “borneol (4)”, “slow (6)”, “woe (7)” and “gold (9)” for rhyme.  Though less than perfect, I hope this will somehow and somewhat retain the true beauty of the original.
*Line 1:  寒日 is rendered as “A shivering sun” after considering “… frigid …”  蕭蕭 (pronounced “xiao xiao”) is taken to be onomatopoeic of the sound of winds and is rendered as “in whistling winds” (after considering “in wintry winds”) with the “wh/ w” alliteration and the “i” assonance to emulate the reduplication of .  (up) is rendered as “approaching” after considering “comes/ climbs/ creeps up”, and  瑣窗 translated literally as “my latticed window”.
*Line 2:  梧桐 (“wutong” tree) is rendered as “The phoenix tree”, as I had done in my rendition of 李煜 Li Yu’s 相見歡 “Xian Jian Huan” [*無言獨上西樓 Alone, in silence …] posted September 2012, on the basis of the legendary claim that phoenixes rest on wutong trees only.  應恨 is translated literally as “should have hated”.  I suggest reading “should” stressed to make a 4-beat half line.  (night) (came) (frost) is rendered as “last night came frosts untold” with “untold” (= a lot or innumerable, implied in the context) added for the “ou” assonance rhyme.
*Line 3:  酒闌 is translated literally as “Wining till late”, 更喜 also literally as “the more I savour”.  (round) (tea) is defined in 辭源 as 以圓模製成的茶塊 “blocks of tea made in a round mold …” (my translation)  On “compressed tea”, Wikipedia says they are “blocks of whole or finely ground … tea … leaves that have been packed in molds and pressed into block form … called tea bricks, tea cakes or tea lumps … according to the shape and size …” Therefore, I have rendered it generically as “block tea” (rather than “compressed tea”) to denote it is a tea which comes in block form which must have been compressed.  I had considered and rejected “brick/ bricked tea” (wrong size and shape) and “cake/ caked tea” (right size and shape; but could be mistaken to refer to a piece of cake to go with tea).  I had similarly rejected others such as “packed tea” (packaged) and “pressed tea” (a way of brewing tea).  The last word  is literally translated as “the bitter taste of”.
*Line 4:   (dream) (severed) is rendered as “My dreams broken” which widens the coverage to the poet’s lot in life, after considering and rejecting “My dream disrupted” which covers only that one night.  (partial) (suitable) is rendered as “yet solace I find”.  瑞腦 (borneol) (fragrance or incense) is translated literally as “in the fragrant incense borneol”.
*Line 5:  秋已盡 is translated literally as “Autumn, now spent and gone” with “now” added to make it a better sounding 3-beat line.
*Line 6:  日猶長 is rendered as “O the day, still long and slow” with “and slow” (which is implied in the context) added for the “ou” assonance rhyme.
*Line 7:  仲宣 (pronounced “Zhongxuan”) is the style name (= the formal assumed name) of 王粲 Wang Can, one of 建安七子 the “Seven Great Literati of the Jian’an Period” (190-220) in the reign of the last Emperor of 東漢the East Han dynasty just before 三國時代 the Three Kingdoms Period.  Here, that poet’s name or style name is not transliterated but simply rendered as “that poet of old”.  (yearning for) (distant past and/or home) is rendered as “nostalgic”.  (more) 淒涼 (miserable) is rendered as “the more … the graver his sorrowful  woe”, after considering “… his miserable woe” and “… his misery, his woe”.
*Line 8:  (not) (equal) is rendered as ”I’d rather” after considering “I’d better”, “Rather” and “Better”.  (follow) is rendered as “resign to” after considering “be resigned/ pliant to”, “submit/ yield to”, “bear/ accord with”, and “follow/ embrace/ suffer/ endure”.   (fate or lot) is rendered as “my fateful lot” after considering “my fate, my lot”.  (= bottle or flagon) (in front) (taken to mean drink, not drunk) is rendered as “to imbibe before the bottle” after considering “to drink/ be drunk before the bottle”.  Please note the word “rather” in this line (with the associated idea of “than”) refers to line 7 and not line 9,  to mean “Rather than being  nostalgic and woeful like the poet of old (line 7), I would rather be resigned to my lot in life, to drink wine (the rest of line 8) in the company of blooming chrysanthemum flowers at the eastside hedge (line 9)”.
*Line 9:  (not) (fail) is translated literally as “Not to miss” after considering and rejecting “Than to miss”, as explained in the note above.   (east) (fence) is translated as “at the eastside hedge”.  (chrysanthemum) (heart of flower, to stand for flower) (yellow)  is rendered as “the chrysanthemum’s heart of gold” with “chrysanthemum’s” to translate , “heart” to translate , “of gold” to translate , and the expression “heart of gold” to portray the goodness, kindness (and beauty?) of the yellow chrysanthemum flowers.  
*Lines 8 and 9:  These 2 lines allude to the 20 poems entitled 飲酒 “Drinking Wine” by the Jin Dynasty poet陶潛 Tao Qian (circa 365-427) ( 渊明 style name Yuanming).  These 20 poems are about Tao Yuanming’s life in seclusion.  Lines 5 and 6 of poem Number 5 reads as follows: 釆菊東籬下/ 悠然見南山 “I pick chrysanthemums beneath the eastside hedge/ In peace, at ease the south mountain appears.” (my draft translation).  Chrysanthemum flowers, eastside hedge and wine drinking also appear in another tune lyric poem by Li Qingzhao.  Please see my June 2019 post of her 醉花陰 -- 重九 “Zui Hua Yin – Ninth of the Ninth”, lines 6 and 7 of which reads 東籬把酒黃昏後/ 有暗香盈袖 “Aft dusk, at the eastside ‘santhemum hedge: to our health, a cup I take,/ And up my sleeves, a faint sweet scent pervades.” (my translation).  The eastside hedge is where chrysanthemums are admired and where wine is consumed, in a life in solitude.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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