Friday, September 26, 2008

Du Mu: To Celebrate the New Year at Huzhou

To Celebrate the New Year at Huzhou with Scholar Li Ying
                  Du Mu (803-853 Tang Dynasty)
Merry-making needs a right time and the time is now too late,
Drinking should be accompanied with songs and songs fail us.

A thousand peaks of dusky mountains are shrouded in green shades,
One brook of ice-cold water is visibly deep and limpid.

The people who have transcended the mundane are busy with getting drunk,
Nothing in this floating world can achieve a fame as solid as making poems.

It can be seen that the sprouts of duckweeds are sure to bloom soon,
Isn’t the visit better than walking when it is done by a snow-covered rowboat?

  The place "Lake South" (Hunan) should be Huzhou (Lake Prefecture) in Zhejiang, where Li Ying also wrote about in a poem. Li Ying's poem recorded the time of their meeting as the Winter Solstice (December 21, 22 or 23), therefore in this poem the Chinese New Year (at least in late January) meeting is rendered in the future tense. Another place name in the poem is "white duckweed," which may also refer to the White Duckweed Bar or White Duckweed Pavilion. Du Mu used this as a pun. Du was a cousin of another great Late Tang poet Li Shangyin, while Li Shangyin had also written a poem about Li Ying’s going to Suzhou.

Original Chinese poem by Du Mu:


Word-to-word Exegesis:

湖lake南south正January初first招treat李郢Li Ying秀才county-level exam passer
行make 乐merry 及seize 时time 时time 已already 晚late
对in front of 酒wine 当should 歌sing 歌sing 不not 成accomplish
千thousand里li (half a km) 暮dusk 山mountain 重double 叠multiple 翠green
一one 溪brook 寒cold 水water 浅shallow 深deep 清clear
高high 人man 以take…饮drinking 为as 忙busy 事thing
浮floating 世world 除except 诗poetry 尽all 强forced 名fame
看著look at 白white 苹duckweed 芽sprout 欲about to 吐shoot
雪snow 舟boat 相访to meet 胜better 闲idle 行walk


行xing2 乐le4 及ji1 时shi2 时shi2 已yi3 晚wan3
对dui4 酒jiu3 当dang1 歌ge1 歌ge1 不bu1 成cheng2
千qian1 里li3 暮mu4 山shan1 重chong2 叠die2 翠cui4
一yi1 溪xi1 寒han2 水shui3 浅qian3 深shen1 清qing1
高gao1 人ren2 以yi3 饮yin3 为wei4 忙mang2 事shi4
浮fu2 世shi 除chu2 诗shi1 尽jin4 强qiang2 名ming2
看kan4 著zhe 白bai2 苹ping2 芽ya2 欲yu4 吐tu3
雪xue3 舟zhou1 相xiang1 访fang3 胜sheng4 闲xian2 行xing2
  Some points to make about this poem. The opening couplet contains the repetition of one word (one sound) that brings a rhythmic pause to each line. The pause obviously achieves its purpose. The last three words of the following two lines are not usual in that they are three individual characters juxtaposed. Therefore, they are alos read slowlier than the usual 1+2 or 2+1 phrasal structure. The fifth and sixth lines reflect the poet's state of mind and his socio-political context. Part of the reason for the ingenuity and exquisiteness in Late Tang poetry may be because by that time poets did not enjoy the status of social advocate. Therefore, the last two lines appear to be a desire to escape from the society.
Back-translation into Contemporary Chinese 当代汉语回译:






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