Monday, August 11, 2008

Wang Han: Air of Liangzhou

  Air of Liangzhou the Garrison Town
        WANG Han (?687-726, Tang Dynasty)  tr. Fan Jinghua
The jape cups grow luminous and mellow with grape wine,
But we have to drink fast at the urge of lute from horseback.
Oh, do not laugh at those found lying on the battlefield, still drunk,
For how many have you seen return from battles sober and whole?

    唐·王翰 (687?-726?)

word-by-word English annotation:

  凉州Liangzhou (name of a frontier county) 词song/lyrics
葡萄grape 美fine 酒wine 夜night 光light 杯cup
欲about to 饮drink 琵琶pipa (a lute) 马horse 上on 催urge
醉drunk 卧lie 沙场battlefield (sand-field) 君you 莫not 笑laugh
古ancient 来since 征conquer 战battle 几few/how many 人people 回return

Pronunciation in Pinyin:

葡pu2 萄tao2 美mei3 酒jiu3 夜ye4 光guang1 杯bei1
欲yu4 饮yin3 琵pi1 琶pa 马ma2 上shang4 催cui1
醉zui4 卧wo4 沙sha1 场chang3 君jun1 莫mo4 笑xiao4
古gu3 来lai2 征zheng1 战zhan4 几ji3 人ren2 回hui2

      Chinese painting after the poem with calligraphy of the poem

About the poet:
  Wang Han 王翰 (?687-726) was an Early Tang poet, representative of a mode of writing labeled as 边塞诗 “Frontier Poetry,” which lasted for the entire Tang dynasty with many exquisite poems. Another famous poem under the same title was written by 王之涣WANG Chihuan (688-742). The title “Liangzhou Ci” (Liangzhou Lyrics) is also sometimes written as “Liangzhou Ge” (Liangzhou Song), which means that the title is not particularly about a specific place. Liangzhou lies in the western region of Tang kingdom, in the present Gansu Province. Grape is believed to be introduced from there, and now Xinjiang Uigur regions are famous for their grapes. Pipa as a musical instrument is also believed to be local from the region. Night-luminous cup 夜光杯was reported to be made of a certain type of jade in Xinjiang area. The wall of the cup might be made so thin and transparent that when it was filled with wine and the moonlight shone through it, the reflections became so clear and bright that it appeared to glow by itself.

        modern night-luminous goblet produced from Gansu

  Wang Han’s poem is considered by many anthologists as one of the handful best seven-character quatrains in Tang Dynasty. Even for this 28-word poem, there are differences in the interpretation. The first discrepancy of interpretation lies in the word 催 (urge) as to whether the lute (pipa) music is a call for arms or for drinking. The major interpretive disagreement lies obviously in the tone. Does the poem express pro-war heroism or anti-war hedonism? Or, maybe it is merely an antiphrasis, a kind of carpe diem under the veneer of meaningless looming death? The irony lies in the fact that their drinking seems to prepare them for the doomed death in drunkenness so that they might forget their lives. Anyway, even for the ostensible bravery, this poem does render the tone of the chivalric spirit. “Once gone, never back.”
  The third line of this poem even reminds me of Seamus Heaney’s “They buried us without shroud or coffin/ And in August the barley grew up out of the grave” from his “Requiem for the Croppies.” While Heaney’s speaker “us” may be taken to be the dead, the speaker in Wang’s poem is the dead-to-be. Underlining both is a heroism, no matter whether it is worthwhile or not.
  The rhyming words are well chosen in the poem. It is the required AABA scheme. The first and second end rhyme words are of high level flat tone while the last is of high rising level tone, indicating a kind of question. In the pinyin system, there are four tone symbols: high level flat tone 1, high rising level tone 2, low falling-rising tone 3, high falling short tone 4 and a neutral tone (such as the unstressed syllable in English, as illustrated in pipa here). The fourth tone usually has a sound effect of being cut short, while the level tones may suggest a kind of breadth and depth.

  我将第三行翻译成这样:Oh, do not laugh at those found lying on the battlefield, still drunk,啊,可不要嘲笑那些被发现躺倒在战场上的人仍然醉着。这个“仍然醉着”放在最后,用一个逗号隔开,是为了造成一种效果。一开始读到的是:不要嘲笑那些躺倒在战场上的人;也就是,不要嘲笑战死者;而突然发现这些躺倒的人仍然醉着,那么就有了一种很反讽的效果。当然,谁也不知道这些躺倒的醉汉到底死了没有。最后一句我翻译成:For how many have you seen return from battles sober and whole? 因为你看到过多少人从战场回来,清醒而完整呢?这里的sober一方面意思是清醒的、没有喝醉酒的,另一方面也是慎审理性的,这是相对应上文的喝醉酒以及“今朝有酒今朝醉”的心态,whole当然是完整的意思,也就是身体没有残缺,但同时whole也指心智健全的意思。
  王翰的这句诗令我想到爱尔兰诗人Seamus Heaney希尼的诗Requiem for the Croppies《平头匪挽歌》。所谓croppy是指一些剪平头的农民兵,他们在1919年的反英起义中,将大麦放在身上的衣兜里,作为行军时的干粮,结果很多人都被打死了,集体埋葬了。几个月后,大麦从坟墓中长了出来。这是一首十四行诗,最后的两行是:
   They buried us without shroud or coffin
   And in August the barley grew up out of the grave.
 这首诗是希尼最感动我的第一首诗。大麦barley是爱尔兰最常见的农作物,前几年还有一个英国人拍了一部电影叫做The Wind that Shakes the Barley《和风吹过大麦低》,讲的就是这一段事,而这名字又是因为当地的一首同名民谣而来的。这最后一行诗句中的“从坟墓中长出了大麦”就不仅仅是大麦这么简单,虽然这已经非常令人震惊而沉痛,犹如文革样板戏中的一句“仇恨入心要发芽”一样,这里长出来的大麦用我们的革命语言来说也就是仇恨的种子长出了革命的苗。


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