Spring Night (after Wang Wei)

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Spring Night (after Wang Wei)

Among falling devilwood blossoms, I lie
on an empty hill this calm spring night.
The moon lunges above the hill, scaring the birds,
but they’re never quiet in this spring canyon.

Another try at an old favorite…

I consider this adaptation rather than translation, but perhaps appropriation or even remaking might be more accurate.

Here’s the transliteration from chinese-poems.com:

Person idle osmanthus flower fall
Night quiet spring hill empty
Moon out startle hill birds
Constant call spring ravine in

So many choices, none of them exactly right, none of them entirely wrong. How does one imply idleness, what words to use for “flower” (blossom? petal?), or for that matter, “fall” (descend, flutter, spiral)? And how to describe a moonrise that scares the constantly calling birds? My first attempt began:

“I lie among the falling petals”

but it seemed vague. The word “osmanthus” fattened my tongue, or so it felt, but the osmanthus americanus, otherwise known as devilwood or wild olive, grows in parts of Texas. So I brought the poem closer to home.

I considered naming the birds (quail came to mind) but decided against. In this case the specificity felt somehow intrusive.

My hope is that I’ve managed to amplify, in some small way, previous iterations, and that while the edges are still a bit blurred in morning’s first light, perhaps they’ll become slightly crisper by the evening.

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“Spring Night” last appeared here in May 2016.

Huazi Ridge (After Wang Wei)

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Huazi Ridge

Limitless birds merging
with the autumn-colored hills
all along Huazi Ridge
this sadness, too, without end

Another adaptation. I hope that I’ve not strayed too far from the original’s tone.

The transliteration on Chinese-Poems.com offers:

Fly bird go no limit
Join mountain again autumn colour
Up down Huazi Ridge
Melancholy feeling what extreme

 

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“Huazi Ridge” last appeared on the blog in June 2016.

Stone Path (after Tu Mu)

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Stone Path (after Tu Mu)

High up the cold mountain a stone path rises
to the village in the white clouds.
I stop the carriage and inhale the evening fragrance,
its red, frosted maple leaves richer than any spring flower.

I may have inserted a bit more of myself into this adaptation than is my usual custom. I hope it does not intrude.

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Far on cold mountain stone path slant
White cloud live place be households
Stop carriage because love maple forest evening
Frost leaf red than second month flower

* * *

This adaptation first appeared  in October 2014.

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Night Journey (after Tu Fu)

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First posted in March, 2014.

This is not a translation, but rather a version, my “take” on a famous Tu Fu poem. I claim no abilities in translation, neither speak nor read Chinese, and instead depend upon the skills of those who have ventured into these difficult reaches. This is where the poem carries me, a middle-aged Texas hill county dweller, in the Year of the Horse, 2014.

Night Journey (after Tu Fu)

Wind bends the grass along the road.
A lonely truck passes by.
Stars reach down to touch these hills
and the moon drifts behind.

No one will ever know my poems.
I am too old and ill to work.
Circling, floating, who am I
but a vulture looking down.

Here’s a literal translation of the piece (or so I believe), found on chinese-poems.com:

Nocturnal Reflections While Traveling

Gently grass soft wind shore
Tall mast alone night boat
Stars fall flat fields broad
Moon rises great river flows

Name not literary works mark
Official should old sick stop
Flutter flutter what place seem
Heaven earth one sand gull

My goal was to retain the mood, as I understand it, of the original, and to place it into my personal context. An interesting exercise.

Translations with Recordings in Cantonese

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Mary Tang has graciously translated several of my poems and provided recordings of them in Cantonese. I cannot tell you how touched and pleased I am to see and hear her versions of my work. Thank you, Mary!

http://lifeisbutthis.com/2015/05/15/the-color-of-water/

http://lifeisbutthis.com/2015/05/02/the-echo-is-neither-sound-nor-hope/

http://lifeisbutthis.com/2015/04/24/translating-robert-okajis-bread-into-chinese/

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Lake Pavilion (after Wang Wei)

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Lake Pavilion

The boat carries the honored guest
so regally across the lake.
We look out over the railing and sip our wine.
Lotus blossoms, everywhere.

As is nearly always the case, I had more questions then answers when I first considered this adaptation, beginning with “what is happening here?” Yes, someone crosses a lake to meet a guest, they drink wine and see flowers in the water. But what does this signify? From my 21st century Texan viewpoint, the poem seems to be a piece about spiritual passage, and I colored my version with this in mind, using visual references to capitalize on and support the theme – crossing a body of water, looking outward, and of course, observing the lotus flowers, which hold great symbolism in Chinese and Buddhist culture.

The Chinese-poems.com transliteration:

Small barge go to meet honoured guest
Leisurely lake on come
At railing face cup alcohol
On all sides lotus bloom

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Another Farewell (after Wang Wei)

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Another Farewell (after Wang Wei)

We pause at the hill to say goodbye
and I close the willow gate
as dusk falls.

The grass will turn green again
next spring, but will you,
my friend, see its return?

The transliteration on Chinese-poems.com reads:

Hill at mutual escort stop
Day dusk shut wood door
Spring grass next year green
Prince offspring return not return

I’ve taken a few liberties, chief among them employing “willow” rather than wood, for its specificity and for its cultural significance (broken willow symbolizing departure). A little knowledge is dangerous…but I believe it works here.

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