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.”


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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