03 November 2020

王建 Wang Jian: 十五夜望月/ 寄杜郎中 Beholding the Moon on the Night of the Fifteenth/ Sent to Secretary Du

Here is yet another poem I translated years ago, posted on the HKEJ 信報 website on 17 September 2010 but never posted here on blogspot. I have now somewhat polished it. Here we go: 

Wang Jian (766?-830?): Beholding the Moon on the Night of the Fifteenth/ Sent to Secretary Du
1 The ground in mid-yard whitens, tree boughs, crows embower, 
2 Dewdrops stealthily gather, dampening the osmanthus flower. 
3 Tonight, the moon shines bright, for one and for all to behold, yet 
4 I know not my autumn feelings are shared in who else’s bower.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發 
24th March 2009 (revised 25.3.09; 26.3.09; 3.4.09; 8.6.09; 10.6.09; 19.6.09; 9. 9.10; 3.11.2020)
Translated from the original - 王建: 十五夜望月/ 寄杜郎中 

1 中庭地白樹棲鴉 
3 今夜月明人盡望 
4 不知秋思落誰家 


* The original is in 7-character lines. This English rendition is in hexameter (6 feet or beats). The rhyme scheme is AAxA as in the original. * Title and Line 4: The Mid-Autumn Festival falls on the 15th of the 8th lunar month on which night the moon is the fullest, brightest. This has been taken to symbolize: (a) full union for those who are together which calls for celebration, and (b) yearning for reunion for those who are apart. This, I hope, explains the “autumn feelings” in line 4. 

* Line 1: I have coined “mid-yard” to translate 中庭 in line with common usage of “backyard”, “back yard”, “rear yard”, “front yard”, etc. 

* Line 2: I have chosen “stealthily” over the literal “silently”. I have dropped the word 冷 in the translation because “dew” is by nature “cold” and because expressions like “cold dew” or “cool dew” sound odd. I have added the word “gather”, which implies that the night is getting cooler or colder, to partially compensate for the loss of the word “cold”. I had used “moisten” but have now decided for the harder and colder word “dampen”. I think “osmanthus” is the correct name for 桂花 and not “cassia” which is 桂皮.
* Lines 3 and 4: I have changed the expression “for one and all” which means “all” or “everyone” into “for one and for all” to quicken the pace of the line and to subtly (less than subtle would be “for me and for all”) pave the way to my interpreting line 4 not as a simple question of “whose” but as “who else’s”, i.e. in addition to the poet’s family reunion sentiments. I had originally used “Who knows” to translate 不知 in line 4, but have now decided to use the literal “I know not”. For 秋思, I had used “autumn yearnings/ sentiments” but have now decided for “autumn feelings”. For 落, I had considered “fall ”, “descend” and even “shower” (which rhymes with “bower” but, unfortunately, it seldom rains in autumn), and have decided to render it as “are shared in”.


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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