04 December 2008

李白 Li Bai: 夜思 Night Thoughts



POSTSCRIPT 2 (8.12.2008):  I have further revised my new translation of Li Bai's Night Thoughts. The poem now reads-

Li Bai (701-762): Night Thoughts

1  Before the well, the moonlight so bright,
2  Be it frost aground?  I suppose it might.
3  I raise my eyes towards the silvery moon, then
4  Lower them, musing: I'm homesick tonight.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者:黃宏發
27th November 2008 (revised 28.11.08; 4.12.08; 5.12.08; 8.12.080

Notes:-
* Line 1: The word 床 should mean “railings of the well”, not “bed”, as in line 4 of another poem also by Li Bai, i.e. “遶床弄青梅” or “Round and round the well we pelted each other with green plums” in 長干行 Ballad of Changgan, translated by Innes Herdan, p. 108 of her three Hundred Tang Poems, Taipei: Far East, 1973, 2000. In that context, only “well” makes sense. Even here, “well” makes better sense as one’s bedside rarely gets frosted. But I have to say that to bow to the popular “bedside” interpretation is understandable. “Before my bed” is, therefore, also acceptable. 
* Line 2: The first “it” can be deleted from between “Be” and “frost” but I prefer its retention. I had considered “guess” but have decided for “suppose”.
* Line 3: I have chosen to translate 頭 “head” as “eyes” to make it possible for me to compress the pentameter (5 feet) “I raise my head to eye the silvery moon, then” which is what the original poem says, into a tetrameter (4 feet) “I lift my eyes towards the silvery moon, then”
* Line 4: I had used “brooding” which is on the dark side, but have now decided for “musing” which is natural, neutral and ambiguous.

POSTSCRIPT 1 (5.12.2008):  I now have second thoughts on this new translation and have revised lines 2, 3 and 4. The poem now reads:-

1  Before my bed, the moonlight so bright,
2  Be it frost aground, I suppose it might.
3  I raise my head, the moon for to behold, then
4  Lower it, brooding -- I'm homesick tonight.

Sorry, I have now deleted the word "for" in line 3 which now reads: "I raise my head the moon to behold, then".

ORIGINAL POST (4.12.2008)

The following is probably the most popular Chinese quatrain. It is by Li Bai (or Li Po) of the Tang dynasty. The title is "Night Thoughts" or "Thoughts at Night". My first attempt was in June last year which I found unsatisfactory. This is my second attempt (the first attempt is in the notes).

Li Bai (701--762): Night Thoughts

1  Before my bed, the moonlight so bright,
2  Be frost on the ground, I suppose it might.
3  I raise my head and the moon I behold, then
4  I lower it, brooding: I’m homesick tonight.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
27th November 2008 (revised 28.11.08)
Translated from the original - 李白: (靜)夜思

1  床前明(看)月光
2  疑是地上霜
3  舉頭望明(山)月
4  低頭思故鄉

Notes:-
* The original poem is in 5-character lines. This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 metrical feet). The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original. Below is an older translation of mine penned last year in June and revised in December. It is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) and features two couplets (rhyme scheme AABB):-
Li Bai (701--762): Thoughts in the Still of the Night
1 So luminous is the moonlight on the floor before my bed,
2 And so white that, apparently, the ground is frosted instead.
3 I raise my head to gaze at the moon, o’er the hilltop, so bright;
4 I drop it in thoughts of my homeland, in the still of the night, tonight.
translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
6 June 2007 (revised 9.6.07; 3.12.07; 5.12.07)
* Title and lines 3 and 4 of the old translation: Popularly entitled 夜思, but older versions entitle it 靜夜思, with the additional character 靜 (still, quiet, silent, etc.), hence, the old title “Thoughts in the Still of the night” and the addition of “in the still of the night, tonight” to line 4 of the old translation. Older versions of the poem feature 山月(hill + moon) instead of 明月(bright moon). The old translation of line 3 covers both meanings.
* Line 2: The word “it” appeared twice in draft. I have now deleted the “it” between “Be” and“frost”. I had considered “guess” but have decided for “suppose”.
* Line 4: I had considered “musing” but have decided for “brooding”.