31 July 2022

王昌齡 Wang Changling: 春宮曲 A Song of Spring in the Palace

This was first posted on 23 June 2022, but was inadvertently deleted today (31 July 2022).  Here, I am re-posting it.

Wang Changling (698-757): A Song of Spring in the Palace


1                Last night, to Dew Pond came vernal breezes, sending peach-blooms a-blow.

2                Tonight, at the front of Undying Palace, a full moon, from on high, shines so.

3                The emperor’s sister’s song-dance lady, now his majesty’s newfound love,

4                For the odd spring chills from out of the screens, a brocaded robe to bestow.  


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

15 October 2021 (revised 18.10.2021; 20.10.2021) (polished 20.6.2022)

Translated from the original - 王昌齡: 春宮曲


1                昨夜風開露井桃

2                未央前殿月輪高

3                平陽歌舞新承寵

4                簾外春寒賜錦袍




*Form, Metre, and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain 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 followed in this English rendition.


*Line 1:  (wind) is rendered as “came vernal breezes”, with “breezes” used and “vernal” added to soften the winds and to state it is springtime.  I suggest reading the word “came” unstressed.  The third character (open) means 開花 (bloom or blow), and the seventh character (peach) refers to peach flowers (not peach trees nor their fruits), thus, is rendered as “sending peach-blooms a-blow”.  露井 (uncovered, or dew; water well) is taken to refer to an uncovered well, but which can be as extensive as a pond, hence, (i) uncovered? and (ii) to collect dew and rainwater? I wonder!  I have, therefore, decided to include in my rendition the meaning of both “uncovered” and “dew”, and have turned the common noun 露井 into a proper noun, not transliterated as “Lujing”, but rendered as “Dew Pond”, with the word “Dew” to cover the meaning of as “dew” and with the word “Pond” to hint at the meaning of as “uncovered” because of the size of the uncovered well to be named “Pond”.


*Line 2:  未央 (no; demise) (pronounced “Weiyang”) is the name of a palace in the Han dynasty (BCE 206 -CE 220) and is rendered as “Undying Palace” rather than transliterated as “Weiyang Palace”.  前殿 (front; chamber) refers to the front chamber of the said palace and is rendered as “at the front of (Undying Palace)”.  月輪 (moon; wheel) means “a full moon” (the moon is round like a wheel) and is rendered as such, and (high) is translated literally as “from on high”.  To begin the line, I have added “Tonight” to clarify the poem’s 2-night timeframe as I see it.  And to end the line, I have added “shines so” (which meaning is implied) to fit the rhyme scheme.


*Line 3:  This line, in effect the whole poem, is an allusion to the love story of Emperor Wudi 武帝 (BCE 156-87) of the Han dynasty and the emperor’s sister’s songstress Wei Zifu 衛子夫 who was favoured and called to the palace by the emperor.  歌舞 refers not to “singing and dancing”, but to the person performing the song and dance, and is rendered here as “song-dance lady”.  平陽 (level; sun) refers to Princess Pingyang 平陽公主 who was Emperor Wudi’s elder sister, the princess being married to the Marquis of Pingyang 平陽侯.  For clarity, 平陽 is here not transliterated as “Princess Pingyang”, but rendered as “The emperor’s sister('s)”.  新承寵 (newly; receiving; grace) is rendered as “now his majesty’s newfound love” after considering “newfound mate”.


*Line 4:  春寒 (spring; cold) is translated literally as “spring chills”.  簾外 (screen; outside) is not taken to mean “chills outside the screens” (= chills outdoors), but interpreted to mean “chills from outside the screens” (= chills from outside coming indoors).  簾外春寒 is, thus, rendered as “For the odd spring chills from out of the screens”, with “from” added to accord with this interpretation, and “odd” (= irregular, hence, infrequent) added to heighten the emperor’s grace.  賜錦袍 (bestow; brocade; robe) is translated literally as “a brocaded robe to bestow”, with an unstressed syllable “-ded” added between “brocade” and “robe”, to produce a better flow of stressed and unstressed syllables.


杜牧 Du Mu: 將赴吳興登樂遊原一絕 Shall Proceed to Wuxing, I ascend the Leyou Heights: A Quatrain

Today, I am posting my rendition of 杜牧 Du Mu's "Shall Proceed to Wuxing, I Ascend the Leyou Heights: A Quatrain".  Differing interpretations of the poem abound.  My own interpretation which is apparent in my rendition itself and the accompanying notes is:  The poet regards himself as a man of ability, stuck in a junior position in officialdom, though enjoys his pastimes, longs to better serve the Empire.  Now that he is being posted to the southeast of the Empire, he ascends the Leyou Heights to pledge his loyalty to the Empire symbolized by the tomb of the great Emperor Taizong.

I do hope you find my interpretation preferable and my rendition more beautiful.  Here we go:

Du Mu (803-852): Shall Proceed to Wuxing, I Ascend the Leyou Heights: A Quatrain


1                No duties on hand, I embrace my pastimes, O do I lack ability?

2                Lone clouds I love, idling at ease, bonzes I befriend for tranquility.

3                Now I am about to fly my banners, where the sea and rivers meet,

4                On the Leyou Heights, northwest I look, to Mound Illuminantility.                                


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

15 November 2021 (revised 18.11.2021; 23.11.2021; 25.11.2021)                               

Translated from the original - 杜牧: 將赴吳興登樂遊原一絕


1                清時有味是無能

2                閒愛孤雲靜愛僧

3                欲把一麾江海去

4                樂遊原上望昭陵




*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 a 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 “-ility”.


*Line 1:  I have interpreted 清時 (clear; time) not as “in times of peace” (late Tang dynasty was not that peaceful) but as “in a post in the capital with nothing or not much to do”, the poet was in a junior post in the Ministry of Personnel.  I have, thus, rendered it as “No duties on hand” after considering “no tasks on hand”.  有味 (possess; tastes or interests) is rendered as “I embrace my pastimes”, after considering “I pursue my interests”.  The apparent statement 是無能 (is or am; no; ability) is interpreted to be a rhetorical question and is, thus, rendered as “O do I lack ability?” to effectively say “not because I lack ability”.


*Line 2:  The first word (idle or free) is translated as “idling at ease”.  The fifth word  (still or silent) is interpreted to mean “still” only, not “silent” and is, thus, rendered as “for tranquility”.  For the word (love) which appears twice in the line, the first is translated literally as “I love”, and the second is rendered as “I befriend” for variety.  孤雲 (solitary or single; cloud) is interpreted to refer to scattered clouds (not numerically one single piece of cloud) and is, therefore, rendered in the plural as “Lone clouds”.   (Buddhist monk) is translated literally as “bonzes” which word, etymologically, came from French “bonze” and Portuguese “bonzo” originally came from Japanese 梵僧 (pronounced) “bonso” which came from Chinese 梵僧 (pronounced) “fanseng”.


*Line 3:  The first word is interpreted not to mean “wish or desire” but to mean “it is imminent” or 即將 (immediate; shall) which echoes the 將赴 “Shall Proceed” in the title.  It is, therefore, translated as “Now I am about to”.  把一麾 (hold; one; banner) is taken to mean “given the warrant to govern (a territory)” and is rendered as “fly my banners”.  江海   (river; sea) refers to the place the poet is posted to, i.e., “Wuxing” 吳興 mentioned in the title, which is present day Huzhou 湖州 in Chejiang 浙江 province on China’s Southeastern  seaboard and which is where rivers and the sea meet.  (go to) is translated literally as “to” which is taken as covered by the “to” in “Now I am about to”, and 江海去 is, thus, rendered simply as “where the sea and rivers meet”.


*Line 4:  樂遊 (pleasant; travel or visit) is transliterated as “Leyou” while (plain or plateau) is rendered as “Heights” as 樂遊原 is a piece of elevated land, after considering “plateau” and “highland”.  is translated literally as “On”.  昭陵 (pronounced Zhaoling) is the name of the royal tomb of the second emperor Taizong 太宗 of the Tang dynasty reputedly the greatest of all Tang emperors.  The tomb is located at Jiuzong Shan 九嵕山 some 70 kilometres (source: https://baike.baidu.hk/item/昭陵/3849) to the northwest of the capital Chang’an 長安 (present day Si’an 西安).  The question arises as to whether the tomb can be seen from the Leyou Heights (on the southeast of Chang’an) which must be more than 70 kilometres away but, given the vast size of the grounds of the tomb (about 200 kilometres square, same source) and the peak behind it (elevation 1,188 metres, same source), I suppose it is possible to establish the general direction of where the tomb is.  I have, therefore, rendered the word (look or gaze) (which follows 樂遊原上) as “northwest I look, to …”, spelling out the direction to the tomb which is not on the Leyou Heights.  昭陵 (clear or bright; hill or tomb) is rendered not in transliteration but as “Mound Illuminantility” with (hill or tomb) rendered as “Mound” (= burial ground) and (clear or bright) rendered as “Illuminantility”.  Please note, the word “Illuminantility” cannot be found in dictionaries.  It is a word coined by me by combining “illuminant” (lighting up, or something which illuminates, source: Shorter Oxford) and “-ility” (“-ty” as suffix = expressing the state or condition something is in, same source) to mean “in a state of illuminating”.  I suggest reading “Illuminantility” with these 2 syllables “-lu-“ and “-ti-“ stressed  This coined word is needed to complete the “-ility” rhyme.



Classical Chinese Poems in English


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