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”. 


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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