Friday, October 19, 2007

Fan Jinghua: Nomenclature

   (after Li Shang-yin)

Will the difficulty of meeting bring an easier parting?
Can the wind from the east ever stop a flower from turning west?
A silkworm suffocates herself with the threads of her own life,
And candles will fuel the self-immolation till their blood is drained.
Maybe it is the cloud on the mirror that grays the black hair,
Surely it is the moonlight that chills the voice of the poet.
Any place, when namable due to your presence, is invariably near,
I gaze into your direction like a blue bird fluttering from the nest.
                July 9, 2004



Li Shang-yin (ca. 812-858) was one of the most famous and charming poets in Chinese literary history. He lived in late Tang period. My Favorite.

Original poem 原诗:
李商隐: 无题(相见时难)

  无no 题title
      By LI Shang-yin
相mutual 见meeting 时time 难hard 别parting 亦too 难hard
东east 风wind 无no 力strength 百hundred 花flower 残withered
春spring 蚕silkworm 到to 死death 丝silk 方eventually 尽end
蜡candle 炬torch 成become 灰ash 泪tear 始begin 干dry
晓morning 镜mirror 但only 愁worry 云cloudy 鬓hair/sideburns 改change
夜night 吟sing/compose 应should 觉feel 月moon 光light 寒chill
蓬山Peng Mountain 此here 去go away 无no 多much 路road
青blue 鸟bird 殷eager 勤frequent 为for 探enquire 看watch

Translation by James J. Y. Liu:

   Without Title

It is hard for us to meet and also hard to part;
The east wind is powerless as all the flowers wither.
The spring silkworm’s thread will only end when death comes;
The candle will not dry its tears until is turns to ashes.
Before the morning mirror, she only grieves that her dark hair may change;
Reciting poems by night, would she not feel the moonlight’s chill?
The P’eng Mountain likes not far away;
O Blue Bird, visit her for me with diligence!
     From The Poetry of Li Shangyin: Ninth-Century Baroque Chinese Poet

Except for the interpretation following the translation of each poem, Liu also elucidated in the section “Problems of translation” his difficulty with the example of the opening line of this poem:

Leaving aside the tone-pattern, which cannot be reproduced, we may note that the line consists of seven syllables with a caesura after the fourth (this is a common case in seven-character Chinese poems, my comments), and that the syllable 难nan (“hard”) occurs at the end of each half of the line:
     -- -- -- --*/ -- -- --*
Previously I translated this line as follows:
     Hard it is for us to meet/ and hard to go away.
This version contains seven stresses with a caesura after the fourth, but the word 别pieh (“to part”) was rendered as “go away” for the sake of rhyme. I have tried to remove this inaccuracy in the revised version, which now stands:
     It is hard for us to meet/ and also hard to part.
This still has seven stresses with a caesura after the fourth, and the repeated syllable “hard” occurs in the same position in both halves of the line. As for the meaning, the only addition is “for us,” which is implied by “mutual” in the original. This is the nearest I can get to the original both in meaning and in sound; whether it is the most satisfactory version as a line of English verse is, of course, a different question. (p.43)

The only "grudge" I have about the translation is that the third person singular female is added to the fifth and sixth lines as the subject, whereas in the original Chinese there is no subject. The original may imply that the subject may be the poet-I or the third person or both.

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