10 January 2022

白居易 Bai Juyi: 春詞 Song of Spring

Following my English rendition of 劉禹錫 Liu Yuxi's 春詞 和樂天 "Song of Spring: In Reply to Bai Juyi" posted here on 13 December 2021 (the last post), I am, today, posting my English rendition of 白居易 (style name 樂天) Bai Juyi's original poem 春詞 "Song of Spring".  

You will have noticed that: (1) I have failed to use the same English words to end the rhymed lines, in my translation of the line-end Chinese characters 樓, 愁 and 頭 in both poems.  For Liu's poem, I have used "descending", "tending" and "ascending", and for Bai's poem, "lodging", "showing" and "perching"; and (b) insofar as this (Bai's) poem is concerned, I have even failed to produce perfect feminine rhymes.  The first should not be regarded as a failure as it is well nigh impossible to achieve in translation.  The second  failure can be excused if, in search of perfect rhymes, sense is found to be sacrificed.  I believe one should be  prepared to accept assonance (same vowel sound) as near rhymes.  

I do hope you will find this, my English rendition of Bai Juyi's "Song of Spring" enjoyable.

Bai Juyi (772-846): Song of Spring


1            Flowerbeds in blossom, trees, a green sheen: her boudoir, a dainty   lodging.

2            Though spring is in the heart of her brows, her two eyes, a sadness   showing.

3            She stands by the railing, sidewise leaning, her back to the parrot stand,

4            Pondering on why she turns not her head, to face the bird, there,   perching.


28 December 2021 (revised 1.1.2022; 7.1.2022)

Translated from the original - 白居易: 春詞


1            低花樹映小妝樓

2            舂入眉心两點愁

3            斜倚欄杆背鸚鵡

4            思量何事不回頭




*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 original’s rhyme scheme is AAxA which is followed in this English rendition, not in the perfect rhyme words, but in the assonance of the unstressed “-ing”.


*Line 1:  低花 (low; flower) is rendered as “Flowerbeds in blossom” with the word “bed” added to translate 低花 as flowers blooming on the ground level, hence, in flowerbeds.  樹映 (tree: reflection of light or image of something in the light) is rendered as “trees, a green sheen”, with “sheen” to literally translate , and with “green” added to give the trees the colour of their leaves in the sun.  小妝樓 (little; put on make-up; building) is rendered as “her boudoir, a dainty lodging”, with “boudoir” and “lodging” to cover 妝樓, and with “dainty” (= small and elegant) to cover and to add a sense of elegance to the building concerned.


*Line 2:  春入 (spring; enters) is rendered as “Though spring is in” with “Though” added to lead to “sadness” at the end of the line.  I suggest reading “Though spring is in” with “spring” and “in” stressed (i.e., as 2 iambs, as daDum daDum).  眉心 (eyebrows; heart) is translated literally as “the heart of her brows”, rather than the academically proper word “glabella” (= the gap between the 2 eyebrows), in order to keep in this English rendition the emotive word “heart”.  (sorrow) is rendered as “a sadness showing”.  两點 (two; dots), in this context, obviously refers to the pupils of the two eyes, and not just two dots.  两點愁 is, therefore, rendered as “her two eyes, a sadness showing ”, with “eyes” used rather than “pupils” and with “showing” added to complete the meaning..


*Line 3:  斜倚欄杆 (slant; lean; railing) is rendered as “She stands by the railing, sidewise leaning” with the verb “stands” added to make it a 4-beat half-line; and 背鸚鵡 (back; parrot) is rendered as “her back to the parrot stand” with the noun “stand” (= a stand to hold the parrot) added to make the second half-line a 3-beat half-line, and to make a whole line of 7 beats, consistent with the other lines.


*Line 4:  思量何事不回頭 (think; consider; what; business; not; turn; head) is rendered as “Pondering on why she turns not her head”, after considering “Pondering for what …”  With this, although the meaning of the line is complete, this rendition falls far short of the 7-beat line-length requirement.  I have, therefore, added “to face the bird, there, perching” to end the line and the poem.  I hope you will find this addition neutrally descriptive of what is implied in the context, e.g.., my “to face” is more neutral than “to greet” or “to meet”, and my “perching”, more neutral than “talking’, “chattering”, or “waiting”.


*Alternative Rendition:  In the interest of satisfying the AAxA rhyme scheme requirement, I have attempted an alternative rendition using the perfect feminine rhyme of “-elling”, with “dwelling” instead of “lodging” to end line 1, “telling” instead of “showing” to end line 2, and “yelling” instead of “perching” to end line 4.  This I have abandoned as I find the line 4 rhyme word “yelling” a little contrived.  Parrots naturally squawk and screech and learn to talk and chatter through frequent exposure to human speech.  I suppose they might well learn to yell.  But the question is: would “yelling” be as normal as “chattering” and, even less so, as “perching”? 


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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