07 March 2022

吳錦祥 Ng Kam-Cheung Stephen: 無題 Untitled

Today, I am posting a quatrain written by Stephen Ng Kam-Cheung (吳錦祥) together with 2 translations of the quatrain done by William Sit Yu (薛瑀) and my humble self.  All 3 of us were residents of Ricci Hall in our undergraduate days at the University of Hong Kong.  We call ourselves "Riccians".  And in fact it is from messages in the WhatsApp chat-group "Riccians of the 1960s" of which all 3 of us are members, that I know of this poem and its translation.  With the author's and translator's kind permission, I am posting here on my blog; (1) Stephen Ng's quatrain, (2)William Sit's translation, and (3) my own translation (3) as follows:-

(1) Stephen Ng's original quatrain:

      吳錦祥: 無題





(2) William Sit's translation:

      Stephen Ng: Untitled

Twilight gilds panes on fire.

Sun woos skyline, dozy sea.

As night falls, full moon’s higher.

Urge not, want not, next day be.

(3) Andrew Wong's translation:

    Ng Kam-Cheung Stephen: Untitled

 Evening clouds like on fire aglow, dazzling my eyes, my window.

To the edge of the sky, the sun retires, the sea soon restful also.

A wheel of a full and silvery moon ascends as night descends.

 I seek not, covet not, rid of desires: content, as ever, tomorrow.

Without venturing into a comparison of the merits and/or demerits of the 2 translations, which I will defer to readers' decision, I will simply make a general observation that, insofar as versification is concerned, William's style and mine are radically different. For prosody, William counts the number of syllables, his lines above are all hepta-syllabic (7 syllables), a prosody known as syllabic verse which accords well with a syllabic language like French.  But as English is an accentual language, for prosody, it should be more natural to count the number of stresses or stressed syllables or beats, my lines are all in hepta-meter (7 feet or beats = 7 accented or stressed syllables), a prosody known as accentual verse.  For a fuller exposition, please consult the Epilogue to my book "60 Chinese Poems in English Verse".

I now return to my regular format and present to you my rendition of Stephen Ng's beautiful poem together with my translation notes.  I hope you will enjoy it.  

Ng Kam-Cheung Stephen: Untitled


1            Evening clouds like on fire aglow, dazzling my eyes, my window.

2            To the edge of the sky, the sun retires, the sea soon restful also.

3            A wheel of a full and silvery moon ascends as night descends.

4            I seek not, covet not, rid of desires: content, as ever, tomorrow.


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

14 February 2022 (revised 15.2.2022; 17.2.2022; 20.2.2022; 22.2.2022; 25.2.2022)

Translated from the original - 吳錦祥: 無題


1            晚霞如火耀窗前

2            日落天邊海欲眠

3            朗月一輪隨夜上

4            無求無欲又明天




*Form, Metre, and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain 七言絕句 with a caesura or pause 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 followed in this English rendition not with prefect rhyme words but with the assonance of the unstressed ‘ou’ sound.


*Line 1:  晚霞如火 (evening or night: rosy clouds; like; fire) is rendered as “Evening clouds like on fire aglow’, with “aglow” to cover the reddish, rosy colour of the evening clouds.  For the second half line 耀窗前 (dazzle; window; before), I have translated 耀 literally as “dazzling”, and have interpreted 窗前 (= before my window) to be inclusive of 眼前 (= before my eyes) and have, hence, rendered it as “(dazzling) my eyes, my window”.  This half line does not mean “brightening the front of my window” but should be taken to mean “a dazzling sight before my eyes viewed through my window”.


*Line 2:  日落天邊 (sun; descend: sky; edge) is rendered as “To the edge of the sky, the sun retires”, with “retires”, rather than “descends”, to translate , saving the word “descends” for its internal rhyme with “ascends” in the second half line.  海欲眠 (sea; wish; sleep) is rendered as “the sea soon restful also”, with “restful” (echoing “retires) to translate (sleep), and with “also” added for the “window (1)”, “also (2)”, “tomorrow (4)” assonance rhyme.  Here, the sixth character should not be taken to mean “wish” or “desire”, but to mean “about to” or “soon” or “on the verge of” as in the saying 搖搖欲墜 (= on the verge of falling).  欲眠 is, therefore, rendered as “soon restful”.  I suggest reading “soon” unstressed.


*Line 3:  朗月一輪 (clear; moon; one; wheel) is rendered as “A wheel of a full and silvery moon”, with “silvery” chosen to translate rather than “clear”.  隨夜上 (follow; night; rise) is translated literally as “ascends as night descends”.


*Line 4:  無求無欲 (no; seeking; no; desiring) is rendered as “I seek not, covet not”, to which I have added “rid of desires” to amplify “seek and covet not”, hinting at the idea of 知足 "content", a word used in the second half of my line in translation to link up the 2 half lines.  This second half line 又明 (again or in addition or in continuation or also ; next; day) is rendered as “content, as ever, tomorrow”, with “content” added to link up the 2 half lines as explained earlier, and with “as ever” used to render in the sense of “also or to continue”.  Furthermore, “as ever” best provides a link between the future “tomorrow” and the present and past, at least the present past, to mean that the state of mind of contentment is to continue.     


Classical Chinese Poems in English


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