11 December 2012

李白 Li Bai: 秋浦歌 17首 其15 (1- 白髮三千丈) Song of Qiupu 15 of 17 (1-:My hoary hair, a full three-furlong)


China's poet immortal Li Bai of the Tang dynasty had written in his early fifties (around 753) a total of 17 Songs of Qiupu while visiting Qiupu (in current day Anhui province).  In August 2011, I posted my rendition of his rather unusual Song XIV (14th) on the subject of smelters (Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky). Li Bai: Song of Qiupu 14 (Their furnace fire illumes both earth and sky)  I do hope you had enjoyed it.  Today, I am posting my rendition of his most popular Song 15.  This beautiful little poem is on his melancholia.  As you will see, if my rendition has done him justice, the way his sentiments are expressed is subdued, subtle, yet lasting.  

Li Bai (701-762):  Song of Qiupu 15 of 17 (1- My hoary hair, a full three-furlong)

1    My hoary hair, a full three-furlong,
2    Its cause, my sorrow, equally long.
3    O autumn frosts in my mirror clear, from  
4    Where have you come, my hair to throng?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)     譯者: 黃宏發
11th June 2012 (revised 12.6.12; 13.6.12; 11.12.12)
Translated from the original - 李白秋浦歌 17首 其15 (1- 白髮三千丈)

1   白髮三千丈
2    缘(離)愁似
3    不知明鏡裏
4    何處得秋霜

Notes:-

*    This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*    Line 1:  三千丈 “three thousand zhang” equals 9.9 kilometres (1,000 zhang measures 3,300 metres) is obviously a hyperbole out of all proportions.  I have reduced this length to 3 furlongs which is slightly less than half a mile or slightly more than half a kilometre (1 furlong being 220 yards or roughly 200 metres) though primarily for the rhyme, but should be an acceptable hyperbole for the length of any person’s hair.  Instead of penning it as “three furlongs”, I have used “a full three-furlong” without the “s” to complete the “furlong-long-throng” rhyme, stealing from Shakespeare’s “Full fathom five thy father lies” in “The Tempest”.

*    Line 2:  I had considered “likewise” but have now decided for “equally” which gives a better alliterative effect.

*    Lines 3 and 4:  I have scrambled these 2 lines in my rendition: first, by moving 秋霜 “autumn frosts” (echoing the “hoariness” in line 1) from the end of line 4 to the beginning of line 3 to be associated immediately with the person in the 明鏡  “clear mirror” (which being a synecdoche for the person, hence “my clear mirror”), and second, by translating 不知 “know not” (line 3) and 何處 “where” (line 4) as a rhetorical question: “O …, from (line 3)/ Where have you come (line 4) …?”

*    Line 4:  Following from the previous note, I had considered the term 何處 "from/ Where" to mean 何時 "since/ When" but have decided to stick to the literal meaning.  I had considered translating 得 "acquired" as "to me belong" but have decided for the more expressive and straightforward "my hair to throng" with the implied word "hair" added.


  

05 November 2012

杜牧 Du Mu: 寄楊州韓綽判官 Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou


This is a re-posting of my October post (6.10.12) of this Du Mu poem which I inadvertently deleted while trying to enlarge the font yesterday (4.11.12).  Here, I have put down a fictitious date of 31.10.2012 in the hope that it will appear on the blog as my October post replacing the deleted one.  Below is the introduction to my original post:-
Here is yet another beautiful little poem by the late Tang dynasty poet Du Mu. As I have said in my notes, Han Chuo and Du Mu were great friends and fellow officials when Du was in post in Yangzhou, and 玉人 here refers to Han Chuo and means "handsome fellow", not "beautiful lady". What I have not mentioned in my notes was the story that Du and Han used to frequent pleasure houses together. This known, does line 4 refer to the noble pleasure of teaching flotists (flutists) or other pleasures? I do hope my translation has done Du Mu justice. Please enjoy this ambiguity.
In my original post, my rendition of the poem ran:-
1    In haze the green hills half hidden, to afar the waters flow; 
2    Though late in autumn in Southland, its grass is yet to yellow.
3    A night of bright moonlight o'er Bridges Twenty-Four, just
4    Where are you flaunting your flute, my handsome good fellow.
Subsequently, I made some revisions in the "Comments" section.  These and other comments are reproduced below:-
My own 24.10.12 - Although I am still awaiting a comment on my "flaunting your flute" (line 4) from my pub friend Bill Late, I must now ask him to also kindly comment on my decision to revise it to read "paying your pipers" (meaning: calling your tunes) which accords more with my interpretation of 教 (please see my note on line 4).  I also take this opportunity to revise line 1 to read "Green hills in haze half hidden, waters to afar do flow," which formulation better accords with the original Chinese. I have effected these revisions on the post. 

My own 25.10.12 - I have decided to revise the first half of my line 2 to read "This Southland though late in autumn" which sounds better. In so foing, I have inverted the order of 秋盡(autumn end) and 江南(river south). I have effected the revision in my post.
 
Frank 31.10.12 hi, andrew,  thank you for your rendition and i like the first 3 lines of your rendition best.  allow me to be v frank: i must say i find your translating (玉人何處) '教吹簫' as (Where are you) 'paying your pipers' most odd, if not totally inappropriate. from my high school dictionary, 'pay the piper (and call the tune)' means 'bear the cost of an undertaking (and have control of what is done)'. to me, this appears to be 風馬牛 to '教吹簫'。  i sincerely hope you'll perhaps kindly re-consider using your former version for line 4.

Frank 31.10.12 - and, having given you a broadside, i'm now sticking out my neck with my attempted translation below (for you to have a chance at getting even with me!) ... hehe!
  
    青山隱隱水迢迢,  
    秋盡江南草未(木)凋。 
    二十四橋明月夜, 
    玉人何處教吹簫。
    Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou -- by Du Mu   

    With green hills blurred by mists, the stream flows afar forever;  
    Autumn grows old but the grass is still green south of the River.  
    At the Bridges-Twenty-Four City beneath the bright Moon,  
    My handsome friend --somewhere-- is teaching someone the flute's tune.

Frank 31.10.12 - o in order not repeat the word "green" on both lines 1 and 2 of my rendition, i'd like to revise line 1 thereof to read:  With blue hills blurred by mists, the stream flows afar forever

My own revisions are now consolidated in the rendition below.  The notes have also been revised to reflect the revisions:-


Du Mu (803-852):  Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou

1        Green hills in haze half hidden, waters to afar do flow;
2        This Southland though late in autumn, its grass is yet to yellow,
3        A night of bright moonlight o’er Bridges Twenty-Four, just
4        Where are you paying your pipers, my handsome good fellow?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
20th August 2012 (revised 6.10.12; 24.10.12; 25.10.12)
Translated from the original - 杜牧:  寄楊州韓綽判官

1        青山隱隱水迢迢
2        秋盡江南草未()
3        二十四橋明月夜
4        玉人何處教吹簫

Notes:
*    Title:  判官 in Tang dynasty China was a high ranking staff officer under the Provincial Governor (辭源: 地方長官的僚属,佐理政事) and is, here, translated as “Magistrate” not in the sense of a judge but of a high ranking official.  (Shorter Oxford: Magistrate - a civil officer charged with the administration of the laws, a member of the executive government.  Middle English)
*    Line 1:  I had considered but abandoned “lie hidden” as I take 隐隐 to mean 若隱若現, hence, “half hidden” which makes more sense than “lie/all hidden”.  I have added “in haze” (not in the original) to make a 6-foot line and to make this sense possible.  To translate the repeated sounds of 隱隱 and 迢迢 I have used the alliteration of “h” (hills, haze, half, hidden) and “f” (afar, flow) respectively.
*    Line 2:  I have adopted the version (草未凋 grass not withered yet) which makes more sense than the version (草木凋 grass and trees all withered) and have added “though” to accompany “yet” to complete the sense.  .  I have taken 秋盡 to mean “approaching” and not quite “the end of autumn”, hence “late in autumn”. I had considered but dropped the alternative of “’Tis the end of autumn in Southland …”  江南 can be transliterated as “Jiangnan” but is, here, translated as “Southland” in the interest of those who do not know means “south”.
*    Line 3:  二十四 “Twenty-Four” is not taken to be the name of one single “Bridge” but as numerals referring to the “Twenty-Four Bridges” of Yangzhou city which name, by tradition, stands for Yangzhou.  I have capitalized “Bridges Twenty-Four” to make clear the line refers to the city of Yangzhou.
*    Line 4:  玉人 is not taken to mean “beautiful girls” but a “handsome man”.  Du Mu wrote this poem in jest to Han Chuo who was his fellow official when Du was in post in Yangzhou and was his good friend, hence, “good fellow” (Shorter Oxford: “boon companion”).  In 教吹簫 “teaching how to play the flute”, the idea of “teach” is deliberately omitted as can also mean 使  “to make, let” as. in 金昌绪 春怨 莫教枝上啼” Jin Changxu  A Spring Plaint “Not to (let it) trill on my garden boughs all day”.  This omission, in effect, preserves the ambiguity of the original which many believe is of a sexual nature.  I had originally rendered it as “flaunting your flute” meaning “showing off your flute skills”, but have now decided for “paying your pipers” meaning “calling your tunes”.  (He who pays the piper calls the tune.)



  

01 November 2012

李白 Li Bai: 怨情 Plaintful Sentiments


Following my July 2012 post of Li Bai's 玉階怨 "Sentiments on the Steps of Marble", I now present to you another beautiful little "plaint" or "complaint" by that great Tang poet Li Bai.

In my July post, I gave you Ezra Pound's rendition of 玉階怨 which he entitled "The Jewel Stairs' Grievance" for comparison with mine.  In this post of Li Bai's 怨情, I would like to give you the rendition of this poem by the great Chinese translator Prof. Xu Yuan-Zhong 許淵冲 (aka XYZ) of Peking University.  The following is found on p. 127 of a translated anthology "300 Tang Poems - A New Translation" (Commercial Press, 1987):-

Waiting in Vain    Li Bai    Tr. X.Y.Z.
1    A lady fair uprolls the screen,
2    With eyebrows knit she waits in vain.
3    Wet stains of tears can still be seen.
4    Who, heartless, has caused her the pain?

What a beautiful rendition!  XYZ is indeed a true master of the art of translation.  I do not intend to enter into a long discussion of whether his or mine or any other's is a better translation, but simply wish to bring out some of the words/phrases he and I have added or omitted, varied or explicated, so that one may begin to appreciate the very difficult choices the translator faces:- 

Line 1:  While XYZ prefers "lady fair" for 美人, I have omitted 美 "fair" as I take 美人 to simply mean a woman or lady.  XYZ has rendered 珠簾 as "screen" omitting 珠 "beads" (perhaps regarding it as inconsequential)  while I have used "beaded curtain" as I regard "beaded" to be of significance and do like the sound of "curtain" more than XYZ's "screen" or other alternatives, e.g. "drape" .
Line 2:  XYZ has altogether omitted 深坐 (my rendition "For long she sits") and has added "waits in vain" (which is also his translation of the title).  He must have taken 深坐 to mean "sitting for long, waiting" with "in vain" inferred from the next 2 lines.  I am grateful to XYZ for inspiring and inviting me to the idea of "waiting" which I have added in my own rendition.
Line 3:  但見 is hard to interpret.  XYZ has taken it to mean 仍可見 "can still be seen" while I take it to be 只見 "Seen ... are but".  While I have added "on her face" after "Seen" and have omitted translating   濕 "wet", XYZ's rendition has succeeded in not having to add "on her face" and keeping the word "wet".  This is probably due to our different interpretation of 但見.
Line 4:  This line is where XYZ and I differ the most.  XYZ's rendition of line 4 bears no resemblance to the original.  心 "her heart" is varied into "the heartless person" and 恨誰 "who ... she hates" is explicated as "Who ... has caused her the pain".  Yet, XYZ is able to retain all the ambiguities of the original.  What a great master!

With this tribute to XYZ, may I invite you to enjoy his rendition above and mine below:- 

Li Bai (701-762):  Plaintful Sentiments

1  The lady rolls up her beaded curtain;
2  For long she sits, brows knit, she waits.
3  Seen on her face are but traces of tears,
4  Know not who, in her heart, she hates.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者黃宏發
25th June 2012 (revised 26.6.12; 27.6.12; 30.10.12)
Translated from the original - 李白:  怨情

1  美人卷珠簾
2  深坐蹙()娥眉
3  但見淚痕濕
4  不知心恨誰

Notes:-

*    This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 metrical feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*    Line 1:  I had considered “Fair lady” but have decided for “The lady”.  I had first penned “bead strung” but have now decided for “beaded”.

*    Line 2:  In my view, the word should be taken to mean “for a long time” and not “deep inside the room”.  I have added “waits” (not in the original) primarily for the “waits-hates” rhyme, but also to paint a picture of “a lady rolling up the curtain, sitting for long, unhappy, obviously because she is waiting without success for the return of her husband/lover”.  娥眉 refer to “eyebrows” and both  and  mean “frowning” or “knitting (the eyebrows)”.  Of these 2 words, I prefer pronounced as (Pinyin “cu”, Cantonese “tsuk”) which sounds better than pronounced as (Pinyin “pin”, Cantonese “pan).

*    Line 3:  I have translated 但見 “can only see” as “Seen … are but traces of tears” with “on her face” added “.  This, though not in the original is.  I have not literally translated “wet” but have hoped that “tears” would suffice.

*    Line 4:  I have translated the whole line rather literally, with translated simply as “hates”, thereby, retaining all the ambiguities.  She might be “hating” the husband who left home seeking fame and/or fortune or, even, for another woman, but still wanting him to come home.  She might “hate” the emperor for sending her husband to war, or even God, the gods, fate, or the heavens that her husband should be away no matter for what.  She might even “hate” herself for having been unkind, unloving to her husband no matter how few a time.  I agree with 喻守真 who said, “This poem in on the word ‘hate’.  As for whom to hate and what to hate, it is for the interpreter (reader) to interpret (read) for himself.” 此詩寫個恨字,恨誰恨甚麽?在解人自解。  This is the magic of ambiguity.  My literal translation of as “hate/hates” is, therefore, imperative.

   

31 October 2012

杜牧 Du Mu: 寄楊州韓綽判官 Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou

This is a re-posting of my October post (6.10.12) on this poem by Du Mu which I inadvertently deleted while trying to enlarge the font yesterday (4.11.12).  My apologies.  Although I am doing this re-posting in November, I am dating it 31.10.2012 hoping it can appear on the blog as my October post.  Below is the introduction in the original post:-

Here is yet another beautiful little poem by the late Tang dynasty poet Du Mu. As I have said in my notes, Han Chuo and Du Mu were great friends and fellow officials when Du was in post in Yangzhou, and 玉人 here refers to Han Chuo and means "handsome fellow", not "beautiful lady". What I have not mentioned in my notes was the story that Du and Han used to frequent pleasure houses together. This known, does line 4 refer to the noble pleasure of teaching flotists (flutists) or other pleasures? I do hope my translation has done Du Mu justice. Please enjoy this ambiguity.

And on 6th October, my original rendition ran:-

Du Mu (803-852):  Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou

1    In haze the green hills half hidden, to afar the waters flow;
2    Though late in autumn in Southland, its grass is yet to yellow.
3    A night of bright moonlight o'er Bridges Twenty-Four, just
4    Where are you flaunting your flute, my handsome good fellow?

Subsequently, I made some revisions in the "Comments".  These and others are reproduced below:-

My own 24.10.12:  Although I am still awaiting a comment on my "flaunting your flute" (line 4) from my pub friend Bill Lake, I must now ask him to also kindly comment on my decision to revise it to read "paying your pipers" (meaning: calling your tunes) which accords more with my interpretation of 教 (please see my note on line 4).
I also take this opportunity to revise line 1 to read "Green hills in haze half hidden, waters to afar do flow," which formulation better accords with the original Chinese.  I have effected these revisions on the post.

My own 25.10.12:  I have decided to revise the first half of my line 2 to read "This Southland though late in autumn" which sounds better. In so doing, I have inverted the order of 秋盡(autumn end) and 江南(river south). I have effected the revision in my post.

Frank 31.10.12:  hi, andrew,  thank you for your rendition and i like the first 3 lines of your rendition best.  allow me to be v frank: i must say i find your translating (玉人何處) '教吹簫' as (Where are you) 'paying your pipers' most odd, if not totally inappropriate. from my high school dictionary, 'pay the piper (and call the tune)' means 'bear the cost of an undertaking (and have control of what is done)'. to me, this appears to be 風馬牛 to '教吹簫'。  i sincerely hope you'll perhaps kindly re-consider using your former version for line 4. 

Frank 31.10.12:  -and, having given you a broadside, i'm now sticking out my neck with my attempted translation below (for you to have a chance at getting even with me!) ... hehe

青山隱隱水迢迢,
秋盡江南草未(木)凋。
二十四橋明月夜, 
玉人何處教吹簫。

Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou -- by Du Mu 
With green hills blurred by mists, the stream flows afar forever;
Autumn grows old but the grass is still green south of the River.
At the Bridges-Twenty-Four City beneath the bright Moon,
My handsome friend --somewhere-- is teaching someone the flute's tune. 

Frank 31.10.12:  o in order not to repeat the word "green" on both lines 1 and 2 of my rendition, i'd like to revise line 1 thereof to read:
With blue hills blurred by mists, the stream flows afar forever;' 

What I am posting now is my rendition with my revisions consolidated.  The notes have also been revised accordingly.  Having had this chance to take a further look at my rendition as revised, I am beginning to doubt if I had really improved it.  Specifically, (1) is "half hidden" better than "lie hidden", particularly when I already have "hills" for the alliteration, (2) does the inverted order in the first half of line 2 really sound better, doesn't "Though late in autumn in Southland" give a better link to "its grass is yet to yellow", and (3), thanks to Frank's insistence, should I revert to "flaunting your flute"?  I shall be grateful for your comments, kind or otherwise, but please be frank.

Du Mu (803-852):  Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou

1        Green hills inn haze half hidden, waters to afar do flow;
2        This Southland though late in autumn, its grass is yet to yellow,
3        A night of bright moonlight o’er Bridges Twenty-Four, just
4        Where are you paying your pipers, my handsome good fellow?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
20th August 2012 (revised 6.10.12; 24.10.12; 25.10.12)
Translated from the original - 杜牧:  寄楊州韓綽判官

1        青山隱隱水迢迢
2        秋盡江南草未()
3        二十四橋明月夜
4        玉人何處教吹簫

Notes:
*    Title:  判官 in Tang dynasty China was a high ranking staff officer under the Provincial Governor (辭源: 地方長官的僚属,佐理政事) and is, here, translated as “Magistrate” not in the sense of a judge but of a high ranking official.  (Shorter Oxford: Magistrate - a civil officer charged with the administration of the laws, a member of the executive government.  Middle English)
*    Line 1:  I had considered but abandoned “lie hidden” as I take 隐隐 to mean 若隱若現, hence, “half hidden” which makes more sense than “lie/all hidden”.  I have added “in haze” (not in the original) to make a 6-foot line and to make this sense possible.  To translate the repeated sounds of 隱隱 and 迢迢 I have used the alliteration of “h” (hills, haze, half, hidden) and “f” (afar, flow) respectively.
*    Line 2:  I have adopted the version (草未凋 grass not withered yet) which makes more sense than the version (草木凋 grass and trees all withered) and have added “though” to accompany “yet” to complete the sense.  .  I have taken 秋盡 to mean “approaching” and not quite “the end of autumn”, hence “late in autumn”. I had considered but dropped the alternative of “’Tis the end of autumn in Southland …”  江南 can be transliterated as “Jiangnan” but is, here, translated as “Southland” in the interest of those who do not know means “south”.
*    Line 3:  二十四 “Twenty-Four” is not taken to be the name of one single “Bridge” but as numerals referring to the “Twenty-Four Bridges” of Yangzhou city which name, by tradition, stands for Yangzhou.  I have capitalized “Bridges Twenty-Four” to make clear the line refers to the city of Yangzhou.
*    Line 4:  玉人 is not taken to mean “beautiful girls” but a “handsome man”.  Du Mu wrote this poem in jest to Han Chuo who was his fellow official when Du was in post in Yangzhou and was his good friend, hence, “good fellow” (Shorter Oxford: “boon companion”).  In 教吹簫 “teaching how to play the flute”, the idea of “teach” is deliberately omitted as can also mean 使  “to make, let” as. in 金昌绪 春怨 莫教枝上啼” Jin Changxu  A Spring Plaint “Not to (let it) trill on my garden boughs all day”.  This omission, in effect, preserves the ambiguity of the original which many believe is of a sexual nature.  I had originally rendered it as “flaunting your flute” meaning “showing off your flute skills”, but have now decided for “paying your pipers” meaning “calling your tunes”.  (He who pays the piper calls the tune.)   

06 October 2012

杜牧 Du Mu: 寄楊州韓綽判官 Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou


Here is yet another beautiful little poem by the late Tang dynasty poet Du Mu.  As I have said in my notes, Han Chuo and Du Mu were great friends and fellow officials when Du was in post in Yangzhou, and 玉人 here refers to Han Chuo and means "handsome fellow", not "beautiful lady".  What I have not mentioned in my notes was the story that Du and Han used to frequent pleasure houses together.  This known, does line 4 refer to the noble pleasure of teaching flotists (flutists) or other pleasures?  I do hope my translation has done Du Mu justice.  Please enjoy this ambiguity.

Du Mu (803-852):  Sent to Magistrate Han Chuo in Yangzhou

 (In haze the green hills half hidden, to afar the waters flow;)
Green hills in haze half hidden, waters to afar do flow; 
(revised  24.10.12)
2  (Though late in autumn in Southland, its grass is yet to yellow,)
This Southland though late in autumn, its grass is yet to yellow.  
(revised 25.10.12)
3  A night of bright moonlight o’er Bridges Twenty-Four, just
4  (Where are you flaunting your flute, my handsome good fellow?)
Where are you paying your pipers, my handsome good fellow?  
(revised 24.10.12)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
20th August 2012 (revised 6.10.12)
Translated from the original - 杜牧:  寄楊州韓綽判官

1          青山隱隱水迢迢
2          秋盡江南草未()
3      二十四橋明月夜
4          玉人何處教吹簫

Notes:
*    Title:  判官 in Tang dynasty China was a high ranking staff officer under the Provincial Governor (辭源: 地方長官的僚属,佐理政事) and is, here, translated as “Magistrate” not in the sense of a judge but of a high ranking official.  (Shorter Oxford: Magistrate - a civil officer charged with the administration of the laws, a member of the executive government.  Middle English)
*    Line 1:  I had considered but abandoned “lie hidden” as I take 隐隐 to mean 若隱若現, hence, “half hidden” which makes more sense than “lie/all hidden”.  I have added “In haze” (not in the original) to make a 6-foot line and to make this sense possible.  To translate the repeated sounds of 隱隱 and 迢迢 I have used the alliteration of “h” (hills, haze, half, hidden) and “f” (afar, flow) respectively.
*    Line 2:  I have adopted the version (草未凋 grass not withered yet) which makes more sense than the version (草木凋 grass and trees all withered) and have added “Though” to accompany “yet” to complete the sense although “Though” can be replaced by “’Tis”.  I have taken 秋盡 to mean “approaching” and not quite “the end of autumn”, hence “late in autumn”.  江南 can be transliterated as “Jiangnan” but is, here, translated as “Southland” in the interest of those who do not know means “south”.
*    Line 3:  二十四 “Twenty-Four” is not taken to be the name of one single “Bridge” but as numerals referring to the “Twenty-Four Bridges” of Yangzhou city which name, by tradition, stands for Yangzhou.  I have capitalized “Bridges Twenty-Four” to make clear the line refers to the city of Yangzhou.
*    Line 4:  玉人 is not taken to mean “beautiful girls” but a “handsome man”.  Du Mu wrote this poem in jest to Han Chuo who was his fellow official when Du was in post in Yangzhou and was his good friend, hence, “good fellow” (Shorter Oxford: “boon companion”).  教吹簫 “teaching how to play the flute” is rendered as “flaunting your flute” to mean “showing off your flute skills”.  The idea of “teach” is deliberately omitted as can also mean 使  “to make, let” as in 金昌绪 春怨 莫教枝上啼” Jin Changxu  A Spring Plaint “Not to (let it) trill on my garden boughs all day” .  This omission, in effect, preserves the ambiguity of the original which many believe is of a sexual nature.   

04 September 2012

李煜 Li Yu: 相見歡/烏夜啼 秋懷 (1– 無言獨上西樓) Xiang Jian Huan/Wu Ye Ti (Happy Together/Crows Caw at Night) (1- Alone, in silence, up the west tower I go)


This is yet another well-known great long-short-lined poem by Li Yu 李煜 or Li Houzhu 李後主, the last Emperor of the Southern Tang dynasty.  Just for information, although there is a claim that this was written by Meng Chang 孟昶 (919-965) the last Emperor of  the Later Su dynasty 後蜀後主, most believe Li Yu to be the author.  

You may also be interested to read Li Yu's other poem of the same 調 tune title, (first line: Flower groves have shed their spring red halo 首行: 林花謝了春紅) which I posted here in May 2011  http://chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.hk/2011_05_01_archive.html.  You may wish to note that the 6-character lines were there rendered in tetrameter (4 beats/feet), they are here in pentameter (5 bests/feet) while the 3-character lines are in trimeter in both poems.

Li Yu (937-978): Xiang Jian Huan/Wu Ye Ti (Happy Together/Crows Caw at Night) Autumn Sentiments (1- Alone, in silence, up the west tower I go)

1        Alone, in silence, up the west tower I go:
2        The moon is like a bow,
3a  The autumn leaves of that desolate tree, the phoenix,
3b  locked deep in the courtyard below.

4        O threads I can’t cut through,
5        In a tangle I can’t undo!
6        Such is my  parting sorrow---
7a  A taste that tastes so odd, so strange that my heart   
7b  nev’r ever before did know.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)         譯者: 黃宏發
3rd March 2011 (revised 7.3.11; 8.3.11; 4.9.12)
Translated from the original - 李煜相見歡/烏夜啼 秋懷 (1- 無言獨上西樓)

1        無言獨上西樓
2        月如鉤
3a   寂寞梧桐深院
3b   鎖清秋

4        剪不斷
5        理還亂
6        是離愁
7a   別是一般滋味
7b   在心頭

Notes:-
*    The original poem is in 2 stanzas of long and short lines with two rhymes, thus:
“6A/ 3A/ 9A(or 6X+3A)// 3B/ 3B/ 3A/ 9A(or 6X+3A)//” with numerals standing for the number of characters, and alphabets for the rhymes (X meaning unrhymed).  This English rendition follows a similar length pattern and the same rhyme scheme, thus:
“5A/ 3A/ 8A(or 5X+3A)// 3B/ 3B/ 3A/ 8A(or 5X+3A)//” with numerals standing for the number of beats/feet, and alphabets for the rhymes.  I am greatly indebted to David Hawkes for his rendition of this poem which the editor has entitled “To ‘Crows Cry in the Night’ No. 2” in Alice W. Cheang (ed.) “A Silver Treasury of Chinese Lyrics” Hong Kong: The Chinese University 2003, p. 28.  From him I have borrowed the rhymes of “bow, below” and “cut through, undo”.
*    Line 2:  Instead of using the literal “hook” for , I have borrowed “bow” from David Hawkes (supra) to describe the shape of the moon.  I was very much tempted to add “waned” (as it is unlikely that the poet is referring to a new “waxing” moon), but have decided against it.
*    Lines 3a and 3b:  For , instead of the literal “lonely”, I have used “desolate” to produce the image of one bald and bare tree, the tree 梧桐 being deciduous.  The Chinese 梧桐 (which is not the same as the “plane” tree known in Chinese as 法國 French 梧桐) is taller and is known as the “parasol” or “phoenix” tree and I have picked the latter which symbolizes royalty.  清秋 is hard to interpret as can have a lot of different meanings.  Instead of “cold, chilly, cool”, “clear, lucid, bright”, “pure, clean”, “quiet, peaceful”, etc., I have chosen to interpret it along the lines of 清瘦 or 清癯 being “thin, lean” and have used “autumn leaves” (which have fallen, balding the tree) to create the image of a thin and lean (not luscious) autumn.   I have moved 清秋 “The autumn leaves” up to 3a and 深院 “deep in the courtyard” down to 3b, as I have interpreted line 3 (a and b) to mean “the desolate tree, its falling/fallen leaves and autumn (and the poet himself), all locked deep in the courtyard”.  The word “below” borrowed from David Hawkes is added for the rhyme.
*    Lines 4 and 5:  This metaphor of 剪不斷 理還亂 is difficult to translate.  I have here adapted David Hawkes’ formulation of “A knot I can’t cut through,/ A tangle that I can’t undo” (supra) to form my “Threads I can’t cut through/ In a tangle I can’t undo”. 
For reference, I cite below some solutions by other translators:- 
(1)   John A. Turner (my mentor, my high school English Literature master) (p. 87 “A Golden Treasury of Chinese Poetry” HK: The Chinese University 1989): “Shearing will not sever, no,/ Nor sorting disentwine their woe”;
(2)   Xu Yuanzhong 許淵冲 (pp. 181-2  “譯筆生花鄭州: 文心 2005); “Cut, it won’t break;/ Ordered, a mess ‘twill make”;
(3)   Ditto: “Cut, it won’t sever;/ Be ruled, ‘twill never”;
(4)   Ditto: “Cut, it won’t break;/ Ruled, it will make/ A mess and wake”;
(5)   Tony Barnstone (p. 228 “The Anchor Book of Chinese Poetry” New York: Anchor Books 2005): “Cut, it won’t break,/ straightened, it stays tangled”.
*    Lines 7a and 7b:  In order to fill out the length of 8 beats/feet to translate the 9- character line, I have in line 7a, used “a taste that tastes” to translate 滋味 and two similar (if not synonymous) words “odd” and “strange” for 別是一般.  I had consider using “bitter” instead of “odd”, but have decided against it as the “bitter taste” is only implied in the original poem.  Line 7b bears no correspondence to the original and is added to complete the rhyme and the poem.  I had considered adding “finds hard to ever swallow” but have decided for a formulation along the lines of “never before did know” which can be taken to be just an elaboration of 別是一般 without adding too much to the meaning.  I had considered penning the line as simply “never before did know” or “not ever before did know”, but have in the end decided for “nev’r ever before did know”.