15 October 2008

李商隱 Li Shangyin: 登樂遊原 Ascending the Pleasurable Plateau

Below is my latest translation which is my first attempt at a poem by Li Shangyin of the late Tang Dynasty. I hope you will enjoy it.

Li Shangyin (813-858): Ascending the Pleasurable Plateau

1 It’s late in the day, my heart’s not well at ease,
2 To the ancient plateau, up, in a carriage I go.
3 Sublime is the beauty of the sun while yet unset,
4 Too soon, alas, is dusky darkness to follow.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
9th October 2008 (revised 10.10.08; 13.10.08; 15.10.08)
Translated from the original - 李商隱: 登樂遊原

1 向晚意不適
2 驅車登古原
3 夕陽無限好
4 只是近黃昏

* This English rendition is in pentameter (5 metrical feet) to emulate the original 5-character lines. The rhyme scheme is XAXA which I surmise the original to be. I am grateful to Gabriel C.M. Yu 余志明 for pointing out to me that in the 文淵閣四庫全書電子版 明楊慎撰 古音獵要卷二: “昏 音玄…”. It should also be noted that “go” and “follow” here is an unstressed (feminine) rhyme.
* Line 1: I had considered “my mind is ill at ease”, but have decided for “my heart’s not well at ease”.
* Line 2: I had considered “plateau of old” and “by carriage”, but have decided for “ancient plateau” and “in a carriage”.
* Line 3: I had considered “boundless” versus “sublime” versus “infinite”, and “beauty” versus “splendour”, and have decided for “sublime is the beauty”. I had also considered “ere it sets”, “before it sets”, “about to set”, “soon to set” and “as yet unset”, but have decided for “while yet unset”.
* Line 4: I had considered “dusk and darkness”, “dusk then darkness” and “dusky evening”, but have decided for “dusky darkness”, an unusual expression coined to remind us that “dusk” is “the darker stage of twilight at night or in the morning” (Shorter Oxford Dictionary) which, in this context, leads on to dark night. For the expression 黃昏 which means evening, not dawn, I have chosen to use 昏=dark only, and not 黃=yellow. A superb alternative, albeit at the expense of the alliteration in “dusky darkness”, is “dusky evening”.