13 December 2021

劉禹錫 Liu Yuxi: 春詞 和樂天 Song of Spring: In Reply to Bai Juyi

Today, I am posting my rendition of 劉禹錫 Liu Yuxi's 7-character quatrain 春詞 "Song of Spring".  This was written in reply to 白居易 Bai Juyi's original quatrain of the same title and the same end-rhyme (in fact, the same end-line characters).  For ready reference, I reproduce below the original poem by Bai Juyi (772-846) (which I have not translated) and Liu Yuxi's harmonizing reply:

白居易: 春詞                 劉禹錫: 春詞 和樂天

低花樹映小妝樓     1     新妝宜面下朱樓    

春入眉心兩點愁     2     深鎖春光一院愁

斜倚欄杆背鸚鵡     3     行到中庭數花朶

思量何事不回頭     4     蜻蜓飛上玉搔頭


Liu Yuxi (772-842): Song of Spring: In Reply to Bai Juyi


1             Rouged and powdered befitting her face, from her crimson bower descending.

2             A scenic springtide locked deep in the courtyard, therein to a sadness, tending.

3             Strolling the courtyard, on arriving mid-court, she stops to count the flowers.

4             Ah, there flies a darting, hovering dragonfly, to her hairpin of jade ascending.


Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發

3 December 2021 (revised 6.12.2021; 7.12.2021 9.12.2021; 10.12.2021; 11.12.2021; 13.12.2021)

Translated from the original - 劉禹錫: 春詞 和樂天


1                新妝宜面下朱樓

2                深鎖春光一院愁

3                行到中庭數花朶

4                蜻蜓飛上玉搔頭




*Form, Metre, and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character  quatrain 七言絕句 with a caesura after the fourth character.  This English rendition is in heptameter (7 beats or feet) with a caesura after the fourth beat.  The rhyme scheme of the original is AAxA which is adhered to in this English rendition with the perfect feminine rhyme of “-ending”.


*Title:  春詞 (spring; verse) is rendered as “Song of Spring”. The word (harmonize) when placed before the name of another poet indicates it is a poem written to harmonize with a poem written by the other poet.  The harmonizing poem shares with the original poem the same title and rhyme.  樂天 (pronounced “letian”, meaning “optimistic”) is the style or courtesy name of  白居易 Bai Juyi.  和樂天 is, hence, rendered as “In Reply to Bai Juyi”.


*Line 1:  新妝 (new; makeup) should, in my view, be taken to mean “just finished putting on her makeup” rather than “putting on a new dress” and is, therefore, rendered here as “Rouged and powdered” with the past participle tense to translate (new).  宜面 (suit; face) is translated literally as “befitting her face”.  (go down) is rendered as “from … descending”, to begin the “-ending” rhyme.   朱樓 (red; building with at least one more floor upstairs) is taken to mean her room (hence, bower) is upstairs in the red (hence, crimson) building and is, therefore, rendered as “her crimson bower”.


*Line 2:  春光 (spring; light or scenery) is taken not to mean ”light”, but “scenery” as in the phrase 湖光山色 (lake; light; mountain; colour) where the words (light) and (colour) are used to  refer to the beautiful scenery of the lake and the mountains.  春光 is, therefore, rendered as “A scenic springtide”.  深鎖 (deep; lock) is translated literally as “locked deep”, after considering “locked fast”.  I have also, for this phrase, considered but abandoned coining a word “y-locked”, with the prefix “y-“ to give the past participle “locked” a perfective and intensifying force making “y-locked” to mean the same as “locked fast” or “locked deep”.  I have, however, chosen to be more literal; and to my “locked deep”, I have added “in the courtyard” to indicate the location.  一院愁 (one or whole; courtyard; sad) is rendered as “therein to a sadness, tending” with “therein” to translate一院 without repeating “courtyard”, and with “to a sadness, tending” (= tending to a kind of sadness without naming it) to translate and for the “-ending” rhyme.


*Line 3:  行到中庭 (walk; reach; middle; courtyard) is rendered as “Strolling the courtyard, on arriving mid-court”, with “Strolling” to translate , “arriving” to translate , “mid-court” to translate 中庭, and the addition of “the courtyard” after “Strolling”.  數花朶 (count; flower) is rendered as “she stops to count the flowers”, with “stops” added.


*Line 4:  蜻蜓 (dragonfly) is rendered as “a darting, hovering dragonfly” with  “darting, hovering” added to make it possible for the line to be of 4 beats followed by 3 beats.   飛上玉搔頭 (fly; up; jade; hairpin) is rendered as “flies … to her hairpin of jade ascending”.  The addition of the 2 words “darting” and “hovering” is not simply for their being descriptive of the dragonfly’s ability to fly fast and to hover.  My rendition of the whole line as “Ah, there flies a darting, hovering dragonfly, to her hairpin of jade ascending” gives a motion-picture-like scene: “A dragonfly flying quickly and slowly to the flowers and the persona, hovering over the flowers, then ascending to the persona’s jade hairpin.”

10 November 2021

朱慶餘 Zu Qingyu: 宮中詞 A Verse on Life Inside the Palace

Here is my latest English rendition of Tang dynasty quatrains on the theme of life in the imperial palace.  The original is clearly a palace plaint 宮怨 but subtly made through the words of a third person who simply describes the situations the 2 ladies concerned are in --- (i) line 2: in a small, splendid side-hall, (ii) line 1: no one comes to their flowering courtyard-garden whose gates are  closed, (iii) lines 3 and 4: wishing to talk about palace affairs but dare not in the presence of the parrot.  I have, in my English rendition, added the words "their plaints" to make plain this poem is a palace plaint.


Zhu Qingyu (early 800’s): A Verse on Life Inside the Palace


1                Quiet, so quiet, the flowering garden, its doors and gates all closed.

2                Two beauties, there stand side by side, in a small, splendid side-hall.

3                Feelingly wishing to fully share --- their plaints of palace affairs,

4                But before the mimicry, chattery parrot, they dare not speak at all.


Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發

26 October 2021 (revised 28.10.2021; 1.11.2021; 9.11.2021)

Translated from the original: 朱慶餘: 宮中詞


1       寂寂花時閉院門

2       美人相並立瓊軒

3       含情欲說宮中事

4       鸚鵡前頭不敢言




*Form, Metre, and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain 七言絕句 with a caesura after the fourth character.  This English rendition is in heptameter (7 feet or beats) with a caesura after the fourth beat.  The original’s rhyme scheme is xAxA which is followed in the English rendition.


*Line 1:  The reduplication of (quiet) is rendered as “Quiet, so quiet"   after considering “Quietly quiet”.  花時 (flower; time or season) is rendered simply as “flowering” (after considering “blossoming” and “blooming”) with the present continuous tense to cover the idea that this is 花時 the flowering season.   (courtyard) is an enclosed open space outside the building(s) which can serve as “garden” and is rendered as such.  The half line 閉院門 (close; courtyard; doors) is, thus, rendered as “the … garden, its doors and gates all closed”.


*Line 2:  美人 (beautiful; human) is rendered as “Two beauties”, with “Two” added which is implicit in the context.  相並 (mutual; together) is literally translated as “side by side”, and   (stand) also literally, as “there stand”.  The word (fine jade) in 瓊軒 comes from (jade) but used as an adjective to mean beautiful, resplendent, exquisite, etc., to qualify the architectural structure called (a room/ chamber/ hall which is smaller in size and is not the main one , or a long corridor/ passage way).  Here, I have rendered 瓊軒 as “in a small, splendid side-hall”, after considering “in a splendid chamber, small”.  In the context of (i) two ladies (not many ladies), (ii) standing side by side, (iii) chatting or about to chat, and (iv) in the presence of a parrot (probably caged or chained), my interpretation of as “small room/ chamber/ hall” makes better sense than “long corridor/ passage way”.


*Line 3:  含情 (have; feelings) is literally translated as “Feelingly”.  欲說 (wish or want; speak) is rendered as “wishing to fully share”, with “share” to translate , and with “fully” added to heighten the feelings in their hearts.  宮中事 (palace; middle or inside; matters or affairs) is rendered as “their plaints of palace affairs”, with “palace affairs” to translate 宮中事 and with “their plaints” added, as complaints must be part, if not the whole, of what they wish to talk about on palace affairs  I had originally considered to deploy words like “gossips” and “rumours”, but have decided that these are all covered by “palace affairs”.


*Line 4:  不敢言 (not; dare; speak) is translated literally as “they dare not speak at all” to complete the “side-hall (line 2)” – “all (line 4)” rhyme.  鸚鵡前頭 (parrot; front; head) is rendered as “But before the mimicry, chattery parrot”, with “mimicry, chattery” added to lay bare why “they dare not speak at all” and to make the line a 7-beat line.

18 October 2021

李益 Li Yi: 夜上受降城聞笛 At Night, Ascending the Walls of Victory City and Hearing a Pipe in Tune


Here is a border song that subtly conveys anti war sentiments.  Victorious or defeated, the men on both sides, for home and homeland, pining!  I hope you like the poem and my rendition of it.  Here we go:-

Li Yi (748-829): At Night, Ascending the Walls of Victory City and Hearing a Pipe in Tune


1                Beyond the Peak of Happy Returns, the desert, white as snow.

2                Outside the walls of Victory City, the moon, frostily, shining.

3                Know not whence goes a pipe of reed, in tune so sadly sweet.

4                O ‘tis a night, we warriors all, for home and homeland, pining.


Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發

24 September 2021 (revised 8.10.2021; 14.10.2021; 18.10.2021)

Translated from the original - 李益: 夜上受降城聞笛


1                迴樂峰前沙似雪

2                受降城外月如霜

3                不知何處吹蘆管

4                一夜征人盡望鄉




*Form, Metre, and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain 七言絕句 with a caesura after the fourth character.  This English rendition is in heptameter (7 beats or feet) with a caesura after the fourth beat.  The rhyme scheme of the original is xAxA which is faithfully followed in this English rendition.  Please note “shining (line 2)” and “pining (line 4)” are perfect feminine rhymes, i.e., rhyming as “-ining” with the last syllable “-ing” unstressed.


*Lines 1 and 2:  For the names of places, instead of transliterating the sound, I have rendered them in comprehensible English.  迴樂峰 (return; happy; peak) in line 1 is literally translated as “Peak of Happy Returns”; and 受降城 (accept; surrender; city) in line 2 is semantically rendered as “Victory City”.  (sand) in line 1 is taken to mean 沙漠 (desert).  Although “desert” can also be expressed in English as “sands”, I have decided to render it as “the desert” (rather than “the sands”) to make it unambiguous.  月如霜 (moon; like; frost) is rendered as “the moon, frostily shining”.


*Line 3:  (blow or play) is rendered as “in tune”.  I have added “so sadly sweet” (which is not in the original) to bring out the hidden meaning that the pipe of reed makes a sad sound, and to make it a 7-beat line consistent with the form of this quatrain.  I suggest reading the first hemistich (half line) “Know not whence goes a pipe of reed” with the word “goes” read unstressed, thus read as “Dumda Dumda daDum daDum” or “Dumda Dum dadaDum daDum”. 


*Line 4:  征人 (expedition; men) is literally translated as “we warriors”.  盡望鄉 (all; look to or long for; homeland) is rendered as “… all, for home and homeland, pining”. 

17 September 2021

劉方平 Liu Fangping: 春怨 A Plaint on the Passing of Spring

Here is my most recent rendition of quatrains.  This is a quatrain by Liu Fangping 劉方平 of the High Tang 盛唐 period (713-766).  After failing to join officialdom through the imperial examinations, Liu Fangping decided to live like a hermit, and is lauded by posterity as a master of the quatrain. 

In my last post (in early September 2021), I announced I have published a book entitled "60 Chinese Poems in English Verse".  A more accurate description of the content of the said book is "60 Tang Dynasty Quatrains Translated in English Verse".  Although this quatrain is not in that collection,  I still hope you will find time to acquire a copy and leaf through the pages.   

Liu Fangping (circa 758): A Plaint on the Passing of Spring


1                Through my gauzed window, a setting sun, evening O now nearing;

2                In my gilded quarters, my lord absent, tears on my face appearing.

3                Still and desolate, the deserted courtyard, spring is about to pass;

4                Fallen pear-flowers aground abound, no one, to my door, is coming.


Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發

30 August 2021 (revised 31.8.2021; 1.9.2021; 2.9.2021; 3.9.2021)

Translated from the original - 劉方平: 春怨


1                紗窗日落漸黃昏

2                金屋無人淚痕

3                寂寞空庭春欲晚

4                梨花滿地不開門



*Form, Metre, and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain 七言絕句 with a caesura (pause) after the fourth character.  This English rendition is in heptameter (7-beat lines) with a caesura after the fourth beat.  The original’s rhyme scheme is AAxA which is followed in this English rendition although only in the assonance of the “-ing” syllable and not in perfect rhymes.

*Line 1:  紗窗日落 is translated rather literally as “Through my gauzed window, a setting sun”. 漸黃昏 (gradually; evening) is rendered as “evening O now nearing”.

*Line 2:  金屋 (gold; house), translated literally as “In my gilded quarters”, refers to the persona’s well-appointed living quarters.  This is an allusion to the quarters of a queen/ concubine, attributed to Emperor Wu Di 武帝 of the Han dynasty, which can be extended to the quarters of a lover/ mistress.  無人 (no; man) should be read as part of the first half-line (hemistich) of 金屋無人 which is followed by a pause (caesura), and then by the remaining 見淚痕 half-line.  It is a phrase which stands alone and is not part of a possible phrase 無人見 (no man sees) which ignores the presence of a caesura between and .  Hence, 無人 should be taken to mean “alone, in no one’s presence”, and not “no one sees”.  To make it well suited to the “gilded quarters”, I have made the lack of presence specific, and have rendered 無人 as “my lord absent”.  (see, or appear), which begins the 見淚痕 hemistich, is taken to mean (appear) and is rendered as “appearing” which ends the English line.  淚痕 (tears; traces or stains) is rendered as “tears on my face” (after considering “traces of my tears”), with rendered as “on my face” rather than “traces” or “stains”.

*Line 3:  I have used “Still and desolate” to translate 寂寞 to cover its two meanings of (a)  “quiet” and (b) “lonesome”.  空庭 is translated literally as “a deserted courtyard”.  in should, in context, be taken to mean “is about to” or “is just going to”, and not “wish” or “desirous”.  and , in the same context, should be taken to mean “late” and “spring”.  This half line 春欲晚 is, hence, rendered as “spring is about to pass”.

*Line 4:  梨花滿地 is rendered as “Fallen pear-flowers aground abound” with (a) the choice of “aground” – “abound” for the “-ound” internal rhyme, and (b) the addition of “Fallen” for the “f” alliteration of “Fallen” - “-flowers”.  不開門 (not; open; door) is taken to mean “用開門 (no need to open the door).  My interpretation of “” as “不用”, though speculative, is based on the usage of “” for “不用”, such as in “不謝” which means “不用謝” (no need to thank me = you are welcome).  As for why there is no need to open the door, the context of the poem (line 2: 無人 “my lord absent”; line 3: “deserted”) dictates it is because no one will come.  So, to say不用開門 “no need to open the door” is to subtly say 無人會來 ”no one will come”.  不開門 is, thus, taken to mean 無人會開門進來 and rendered as “no one, to my door, is coming”.


28 August 2021

My recent publication --- "60 Chinese Poems in English Verse" 《英韻唐詩六十首》

Brief Description 

This book by Andrew W.F. Wong (the last President of Hong Kong's Legislative Council before sovereignty reverted in 1997 to China) is a collection of 60 Tang dynasty (618–907) Chinese quatrains (4-line poems) he has rendered into English in verse form.  These are all new translations, never published before in book form.

The English verse form he has chosen is that of  “accentual verse” (much like that of hymns, ballads, and nursery rhymes) which counts only the stressed syllables both for the rhythm and for the length of the poetic lines.  This has made his renditions melodious to the English ear --- English being an accentual language.  And so, accentual, must verse in English be.

Melody and rhythmicity are further enhanced by his end-rhyming lines 1, 2, and 4 or just lines 2 and 4, as the case may be in the original, and by the provision of a caesura or pause in or near the middle of the line.

Just listen to his reading of any of these poems, particularly ones of 6-beat or 7-beat lines, to experience the music of this poetry. Please use the QR Code on the top right-hand corner of the poem to gain access to his reading. 


20 August 2021

權德輿 Quan Deyu: 玉臺體 十二首 其十一 A Poem in the Jade Terrace Style, XI of Twelve

Today, I am posting my rendition of the last of the thirty-seven 5-character quatrains 五言絕句 in the most popular anthology "300 Tang Dynasty Poems" 唐詩三百首.  This poem is by Quan Deyu 權德輿, a Mid-Tang poet, and is the only poem by him collected in the anthology.  Hope you like it,  Here we go:-

Quan Deyu (759-818): A Poem in the Jade Terrace Style, XI of Twelve


1         Last night, in sleep, my nightwear’s girdle came loose,  

2         Now dawn, come ladybirds --- be omens of bliss, I pray.

3         My rouge, my powders: my make-up I shan’t neglect,

4         ‘Cos my man is returning and may well be home today.


Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發

6 July 2021 (revised 7.7.21; 8.7.21; 9.7.21; 13.8.21; 16.8.21; 18.8.21; 19.8.21)

Translated from the original - 權德輿: 玉臺體 十二首 其十一


1            昨夜裙帶解

2            今朝蟢子飛

3            鉛華不可棄

4            莫是藁砧




*Form, Metre, and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character Chinese quatrain (or jueju絕句) with a caesura after the second character.  The 4 lines are rhymed xAxA.  This English rendition is a quatrain in 5-beat lines with a caesura after the second beat and rhymed as in the original.

 *Lines 1 and 2:  These 2 lines in the original simply depicts two omens of bliss.  At the end of line 2 of this English rendition, I have added “be omens of bliss” (not in the original) to make them readily understood as such.  To end the line, I have further added “I pray” which heightens the persona’s expectation.  In line 1, I have translated (skirt) as “nightwear” which is more appropriate for the occasion.  In the same line, I have added “in sleep” (not in the original) to make clear the persona did not consciously loosen her girdle as, if she did, it no longer qualifies as an omen.  In my translation of line 2, I have abandoned the imagery of 蟢子 (a long-legged spider) as, although sounds the same as (happiness), a literal translation of it as “spider” may give rise to unpleasant connotations.  I have, therefore, changed the imagery to “ladybirds” (= ladybugs) which is an omen of good luck in English.  The last word (fly) is rendered as “come”.  This is based on my interpretation of this second omen as the good luck insects “fly to come” to the persona” in which interpretation, the implicit “coming” is much more meaningful than the aimless “flying”.  Further, I suggest reading the word “come” unstressed to keep the line within 5 beats.

 *Line 3:  鉛華 (face powder made of white lead) is rendered as “My rouge, my powders: my make-up”, with “rouge” and “make-up” added.  Here, is not taken to literally mean “throw away” or “discard”, but understood as “put aside” or “not put to use”.  Hence, 不可棄 means “must not be put aside” or “must be put to use” and is rendered as “I shan’t neglect”.

 *Line 4:  藁砧 is an allusion to an ancient quatrain in the anthology 玉臺新詠 “New Songs from the Jade Terrace” compiled by 徐陵 Xu Ling (507-583).  The quatrain is a riddle in which  藁砧 in line 1 stands for “husband”, and I have rendered it here as “my man”.  In the context of lines 3 and 4, I have interpreted the phrase莫是 (not; is) as identical, in both meaning and phrasing, to 要不是 (if not for or but for) in Modern Chinese.  It can, therefore, be best understood as 因為 (because), either with “Because” or “For” or “’Cos” to begin the line, or even without the word.  Briefly, these 2 lines convey this message: I must not neglect my make-up all because my man is coming home soon.  Line 4 is, therefore, rendered as “’Cos my man is returning and may well be home today”, with “and may well be home today” (not in the original) added to make it a 5-beat line and to complete the “I pray (line 2) – today (line 4)” rhyme.  I had originally considered the more literal alternative of “No, my man is returning and may well be home today”, with the word “No” to translate “” and to echo “I shan’t” in line 3, and with the word “is” to translate “”, but have rejected it as the word “No”, even if read unstressed, distracts and detracts.      

25 July 2021

劉長卿 Liu Changqing: 送方外上人 Farewell to the Venerable Buddhist Monk

Here is another beautiful little poem (a 5-character quatrain) by Liu Changqing.  I hope you will enjoy both the original poem and my rendition of it.  

Liu Changqing (714-790): Farewell to the Venerable Buddhist Monk


1                A solitary cloud, a crane in the wild,

2                How would you ever, among folks, abide?

3                I pray you buy not: the hills in Wozhou

4                Where folks profane, already reside.  


Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發

28 June 2021 (revised 29.6.2021; 2.7.2021)

Translated from the original - 劉長卿: 送方外上人


1                孤雲將野鶴

2                豈向人間住

3                莫買沃洲山

4                時人已知處




*Form, Metre, and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain with a semantic pause after the second character.  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 feet or beats) with a medial caesura (or pause) after the second beat.  The rhyme scheme is xAxA as in the original.


*Title:  方外 means “not of (outside) the secular world” and is rendered as “Buddhist Monk”.  上人 (upper; man) is rendered as “the Venerable”.


*Line 1:  is taken to be the conjunction “and”, and not the verb “to carry”.  It is simply rendered with a comma between “cloud” and “crane”, which obviates the word “and”.  Both the “cloud” and the “crane” are metaphors referring to the Buddhist Monk (the “you” in line 2).  Line 1 can also be rendered as “You’re a solitary …” discarded for brevity.


*Lines 3 and 4:  In line 3, I have rendered 沃洲山 (Wozhou; mountain) as “the hills in Wozhou”.  In line 4, I have rendered 時人 (men of the current time) as “folks profane”, with “of the current time” taken as understood and not translated, and with “profane” (which means “secular, lay, common” -- Shorter Oxford) added.  and in line 4 are readily understood respectively as “already” and “know”.  in line 4 can be understood as either the noun “place” or the verb “to dwell, live, or inhabit”.  Taking as “place”, the advice in lines 3 and 4 can be interpreted as: (i) Don’t buy those “places” in Wozhou which are already known to men of the world! or (ii) Don’t buy any hill in Wozhou, as Wozhou is a “place” already known to men of the world!  The key word in these 2 interpretations of line 4 is the word “know” which does not seem to fit into the context of the poem which is about “to abide” or “to dwell” (see line 2).  Now, taking as “to dwell”, the advice in the same two lines can be interpreted as: (iii) Don’t buy those hills in Wozhou which are already (known to and) inhabited by men of the world! or (iv) Don’t buy the hills of Wozhou, as Wozhou is already (known to and) inhabited by men of the world!  For this rendition, I have decided for (iii) and have rendered line 4 as “Where folks profane, already reside” without translating the word “know” as “to reside” presumes and embodies “to know”.   


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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