Zhou Bangyan: A Lad on the Road
Word-by-word Exegesis 逐字注：
周Zhou 邦彦 Bangyan
并Bing (prefecture) 刀knife如like (adj.) 水water
吴Wu (prefecture) 盐salt 胜better than 雪snow
纤fine, slender 手hand 破open, break up 新new, fresh 橙orange
锦brocade 幄curtains (as a partition) 初beginning to温 warm
兽beast 烟 (incense)smoke 不not断 stop
相对opposite to坐sit 调adjust 笙bamboo panpipe
低low 声voice 问ask 向to 谁who 行go 宿dwell
城city 上over 已already 三the third更 two-hour unit of the night (five in one night)
马horse 滑slip 霜frost 浓 thick不no如better休not去go
直really 是there are少few 人people 行walking
A Lad on the Road
Zhou Bangyan (1056-1121 Song Dynasty) tr. Fan Jinghua
A knife from Bing is waterlike, salt from Wu is whiter than snow,
Slender hands cut clean a fresh orange.
Brocade curtains are warming, incense is curling up from the beast-head,
The two sit opposite, tuning a panpipe.
One whisper asks: To whom are you going?
Upon the city predawn dark is falling.
Frosty road is slippery for the horse; better not go now,
There are few souls on the road.
Tang Dynasty was noted for its poems (such as five-character or seven-character quatrain or regulated eight-line poems, rhymed), while the succeeding Song Dynasty was famous for its lyrics to set tunes. This title is itself a tune, to which lyrics were “filled” (as Chinese distinguish between “filling in a ci-poem aka lyrics and composing a poem). Hence, while a poem may usually have a title of its own (of course it can be titled as "untitled"), the title of a ci-poem (lyrics) usually appears in the form of a tune with the first few words of the poem.
Zhou Bangyan (1056-1121 Song Dynasty) was very famous lyrist. This is one of the best example of restraint and simplicity of a love poem, although my translation may appear to be a little overdone. The first part is the time when a woman is welcoming the man. But the welcome is done with low-keyed in terms of “action.” The woman does not say anything, but takes out the best things. Using a particular knife and particular salt to prepare fresh oranges. The only decisive action is her “cutting clean” an orange, and this implies her neat and quick character. Her intention and efforts are also shown in the setting. Since it is a cold season, there has been an oven to warm the room, and there is also an exquisite incense burner of a beast-head shape. In the rococo setting are sitting two people, face to face, no words, alternatively tuning a bamboo panpipe. Everything and everyone seem to be what they should be, like a genre painting.
The second part suddenly turns to a very late time, and the in-between time is omitted. We do not know what they have been doing, or maybe they have been playing music, without much to say to each other. The woman who is perhaps quite quick and decisive is now whispering to ask, hesitating, as if she only wants to pick up a small talk. Then she makes a few cautions: it is dark, cold and late, the road too slippery, and the horse risky. At last she suddenly blurts out: Do not go.