02 December 2013

李商隱 Li Shangyin: 夜雨寄北(內) Written on a Rainy Night - A Letter to the North (My Wife)

Here is my rendition of a beautiful poem by Li Shangyin (late Tang dynasty poet) which I translated some 3 years ago.  I hope you will enjoy it.

Li Shangyin (813-858): Written on a Rainy Night - A Letter to the North (My Wife)

1  You asked of my date of return, I alas have none to tell,
2   In Bashan night rains in autumn, the pools and puddles swell.
3   How I long to be with you, your west wing candles to trim, and  
4   To talk of the times and hours when in Bashan night rains fell.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
2nd November 2008 (revised 3.11.08; 5.11.08; 6.11.08; 17.11.08; 19.2.09; 26.6.09; 20.10.10; 22.10.10; 25.10.10; 26.10.10)
Translated from the original - 李商隱: 夜雨寄北()

1  君問歸期未有期
2  巴山夜雨漲秋池
3  何當共剪西窗燭
4  却話巴山夜雨時

* Meter and rhyme:  The original poem is in 7-character lines.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet).  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.  I am indebted to 施穎洲 for the “tell(1) -swell(2) - fell(4)” rhyme of his rendition of the same poem which he has entitled “Lines for Home in Rainy Night” in his ”Tang and Song Poetry: Chinese-English” (中英對照讀唐詩宋詞), Taipei: Chiuko (台北: 九歌), 2006, pp. 156-157.
* Title and interpretation:  There are 2 versions to the title, “to the North” 寄北 and “to My Wife” 寄內, giving rather different interpretations to the poem.  Although “to the North” is the preferred title, “to My Wife” is the preferred interpretation of most Chinese scholars as the contents of the poem, albeit ambiguous, conveys an intimacy which can only be marital.  My rendition is similarly ambiguous although I have taken “to the North” in the title as there are strong grounds for this, as by the time the poet was posted to Bashan (present day Chongqing 重慶 until recently the eastern part of Sichuan 四川), his wife had already passed away.  The addressee must therefore be someone very close to the poet; and it has been suggested that a possible addressee is Wen Tingyun (812-870) 温庭筠, a poet who had exchanged poems with the poet. 
* Line 1:  I had considered “day” but have decided for “date” to translate .
* Line 2:  I had used “puddles and ponds do swell” and “pools and ponds do swell” but have now decided for “pools and puddles swell”.
* Line 3:  For 何堪共 I had considered but rejected “O how I long to be home with you” as this would make the poem unambiguously a letter to the wife (please see my note on title and interpretation above).  I had then considered “how I long/wish we’re together/I’m with you/to join you/to be with you” and have decided for “How I long to be with you” (the word “with” read stressed).  For 剪西窗燭 I had considered “by the west window candles to trim” and the whole line as “How I long to trim with you, candles by the window to the west”.  Now that I have come to interpret 西窗 “west window” as a synecdoche for 西廂 “west wing/room/suite”, I have decided for “your west wing candles to trim”.
* Line 4:  I had first penned the line as “To speak of our lonesome times when in Bashan night rains fell”, but       have now decided against adding “lonesome” (which is not in the original) and have changed it to “To           talk of the times and hours when in Bashan night rains fell”.