Resentment – Li Bai

Resentment

Yes, she is beautiful, as she opens the pearl curtains,
But, oh how troubled she looks,
Whose tears leave tracks upon her face.
Do you not know a heart that hates?

fashion-chinese-girl-curtain

The heart of a beautiful woman

Li Bai’s poem 怨 情 has been variously translated as Bitter Love, Resentment, or Lament. Literally, the two characters translate as blame the situation. This points out the difficulty of translation as compound character often become metaphors for single ideas.

In the case of Li Bai’s poem, we have a beautiful woman (蛾眉, éméi) who lives in a rich apartment.  One can imagine Li Bai wandering the streets of Chang’an, the capital of the Tang Dynasty. It is night. Li Bai has had too much to drink. Perhaps he is returning home, or on his way to an encounter.

There, above the street, he spies a beautiful woman at the window of her apartment as she unfurls her pearl curtains (珠 簾, pearl or pearl-like, beaded). Li Bai observes the troubled face – fresh tears stain her complexion, as he imagines the hate in her heart (心 恨 誰, I have used hate, but resentment could be substituted) for her lonely situation.

Whether she feels resentment, or lament, or hate, or bitterness is an open question.

Li Bai wrote several poems about the Emperor Xuanzong’s beautiful and beloved Yang Guifei, the favorite royal consort. This could not be one of those without exposing Li Bai to the Yang Guifei’s or the emperor’s wrath.

At some point in Li Bai’s career, Yang Guifei would take offense at Li Bai’s poetry and he would be banished from the royal court.

Original Chinese

怨 情

美 人 捲 珠 簾
深 坐 蹙 蛾 眉
但 見 淚 痕 濕
不 知 心 恨 誰

Pinyin

Yuàn qíng
měirén juǎn zhū lián
shēn zuò cù éméi
dàn jiàn lèihén shī
bùzhī xīn hèn shuí

Pearls of Wisdom

Li Bai’s poetic inclusion of pearl or pearl-like curtains is no accident. Immediately, the reader knows that Li Bai is speaking of  a woman who is not only beautiful but rich and well-kept, perhaps a courtesan, which in Li Bai’s time was an honored profession, but not without its obvious drawbacks. The pearl is a symbol of many other things, including the moon, which, itself, is a lonely object of beauty and contemplation.

painting in Gu Lang Yu museum, Xiamen, Fujian, China

early 19th c. painting of Li Bai in Gu Lang Yu museum, Xiamen, Fujian, China

 

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Zhang Jiuling – Thoughts I

high flying goose zhang jiuling thoughts

How the mighty have fallen

Zhang Jiuling experienced a fall from power. Once high counselor to the Emperor Xuanzong, possessing the honorific title of Count Wenxian of Shixing, he found himself the subject of palace intrigue, and, by 737, demoted and sent to distant Jingzhou (荆州), on the banks of the Yangtze River, in Hubei, China.

Zhang died three years later, but not before giving us his thoughts on his fall from his lofty perch.

Thoughts, First of Four
A lonely swan comes from the sea
Not daring to land on lake or pond
Looking aside, he spies a pair of kingfishers
Nesting on a three-pearled tree
Bravely resting at the tree’s summit
Have they no fear of slingshots?
Beautiful clothes invite pointing fingers
And, the high and wise face an evil god
For what is there for hunters to admire?

Original Chinese Characters

感遇四首之一

孤鴻海上來
池潢不敢顧
側見雙翠鳥
巢在三珠樹
矯矯珍木巔
得無金丸懼
美服患人指
高明逼神惡
弋者何所慕

Pinyin

Gǎn yù sì shǒu zhī yī

gū hónghǎi shànglái
chí huáng bù gǎn gù
cè jiàn shuāng cuì niǎo
cháo zài sān zhūshù
jiǎo jiǎo zhēn mù diān
dé wú jīnwán jù
měi fú huàn rén zhǐ
gāomíng bī shén è
yì zhě hé suǒ mù

Thoughts on Thoughts by Zhang Jiuling

Philosophers and poets imagine themselves as solitary swans (孤 鴻) flying high above the earth. They come from far away places, (海上來, coming from the sea) to serve the emperor. (Zhang himself was born in Guangdong, South China province, on the coast of the South China Sea.)

Having come from such a great body of water, how can the swan satisfy himself with a mere lake or pond?

The brightly colored kingfisher is common in China. Its colorful plumage makes it a popular subject of paintings, no doubt, looked at and admired greatly by an adoring public. The Three Pearl Tree (三珠樹) is a specific reference beyond my ability to identify. If I had to make an educated guess, it would be the Chinese Pearl-Bloom Tree with its beautiful white flowers.

The world is possessed of both good spirits and bad spirits. It is the bad spirits who admire (慕, admire, long for, desire) and hunt the high and the mighty (高明, literally those who are high and wise, clear-sighted). It is tempting to say “high and mighty” but that doesn’t quite express Zhang’s belief that one’s highest duty to the emperor is to behonest.

Note. A link to the Chinese Pearl-Blossom Tree.

Zhang Jiuling

Zhang Jiuling, (張九齡); Count Wenxian of Shixing (始興文獻伯), A Man of Much Substance (博物)

Thoughts 3 – Zhang Jiuling

Zhang Jiuling composed 4 Thoughts that were incorporated in the Book of 300 Tang Poems. Gentle reader, I give you two translation of Zhang Jiuling’s Thoughts 3:

Thoughts 3 – Zhang Jiuling
Alone in his abode, a quiet man, cleansed of care, composes his thoughts,
And projects them to the soaring goose, because it will bear his feeling.
Day and night, I conceive this empty prayer
Flying and falling, it is comfort enough that I am honest

Or something more poetic …

One man alone
Composes his thoughts, cleansed of care,
Then he projects them to the highest goose
To his distant Lord to bear.
Who will be moved by my sincerity,
By my daily prayer?
What comfort for my loyalty and honesty
When birds and the vile low-life are compared?

wild geese in a golden sky

Heed my warning, execute An Lushan

Some scholars reckon that this poem was written in 738 AD, two years before Zhang Jiuling died. If so, gentle reader, then these words have flown 1,280 years in time to you. Zhang could not have known that you would be reading his words. What poet does?

Alone in their rooms, alone with their thoughts, why do poets write?

When Zhang wrote these words, his career had soared high then crashed, flew then fell.

At the peak of his career, three years earlier, in 735, he was given the honorific title Jinzi Guanglu Daifu (金紫光祿大夫), the emperor’s close minister, and created the Count of Shixing. His nickname was Bowu (博物) meaning broadly knowledgeable and erudite. But nothing lasts forever, and success breeds jealousy and others plot.

One year before writing the poem, Zhang advised Emperor Xuanzong to execute General An Lushan for failing to follow orders. Zhang’s honesty cost him political favor, the Emperor disagreed, and Zhang was demoted and would die soon thereafter while visiting the tomb of his parents.

If the Emperor had only listened to the honest words of Zhang. General An Lushan, of course, is the one individual responsible for the devastating rebellion that would cover the years 755 to 763. Zhang’s foresight would have save the Tang dynasty form millions of deaths, famine and disorder.

In the midst of the rebellion, the emperor’s son, the new Emperor Suzong, would recall Zhang’s warning and issue an edict honoring his father’s old counselor.

Original Chinese

幽人归独卧, 滞虑洗孤清

持此谢高鸟, 因之传远情

日夕怀空意, 人谁感至精

飞沈理自隔, 何所慰吾诚

Pinyin

Yōu rén guī dú wò, zhì lǜ xǐ gū qīng,

chí cǐ xiè gāo niǎo, yīn zhī chuán yuǎn qíng.

Rìxī huái kōng yì, rén shéi gǎn zhì jīng

fēi chén lǐ zì gé, hé suǒ wèi wú chéng

Notes

As always, I am the first to say that there may be errors in my translation. A broad understanding of language, history, and culture are necessary to achieve a modicum of success.

Line one, 幽人, is often translated as “hermit” but I think solitary man is more accurate. Clearly, Zhang is writing this poem, having been demoted for being honest, and expressing his personal feelings.

Line two, 高鸟, high bird, is sometimes translated as wild goose. Here, it is likely a metaphor for the emperor who soars high above his subjects. One could substitute a wild goose, but that matter, it could be an eagle or a crane, both of which achieve high altitudes in flight.

Line three, 日夕, day and night. “Always” works too.

Line three, second stanza, I admit taking some liberties with the Chinese characters. Google says, “People who feel the essence,” but that seems to me an interpretation lost in translation.

Line four, 飞沈, to fly and fall, is a bit confusing. 飞沈, Perhaps it is a simple as to rise and fall in one’s career.  What compares to the thrill of the bird in flight, rising and falling? 飞沈理自隔, 何所慰吾诚,

I need to give this final thought more thought.

Zhang Jiuling

Zhang Jiuling, (張九齡); Count Wenxian of Shixing (始興文獻伯), Tang Dynasty poet, and honest chancellor to Emperor Xuanzong

Farewell Poem 送別 詩

Wang Wei died in 759, and thus did not outlast the devastating events of the An Lushan Rebellion (755–759).

In 756, the capital of Chang’an, causing great loss of life. Wang was captured by rebel forces and held as a prisoner but managed to escape. For this, he suffered a fall from the emperor’s grace. Grieving over the earlier deaths of his wife and mother, Wang retired to his home on the Wang River to study Buddhism, play musical instruments, paint and write poems.

The question – to whom is Wang Wei saying farewell?

Farewell Poem
Here in the hills, we bid farewell
The twilight fades as I close my twig door
Should the grass be green again next spring
Grandson, shall I see you once more

王維
Wang Wei
送別 詩
Farewell Poem

山中相送罷
日暮掩柴扉
春草明年綠
王孫歸不歸

Sòngbié
Shānzhōng xiāng sòng bà
rìmù yǎn cháifēi
chūncǎo míngnián lǜ
wángsūn guī bù guī

Notes on Wang Wei’s Farewell

Andrew W.F. Wong has given us a fine translation of two of Wang Wei’s Farewell Poems including this one. As it is short and straightforward, I thought I would give it a try. But then nothing good is ever straightforward.

Sòngbié, sòng bà

Sadly, rhyme and alliteration is often lost in translations.

The twist, if there is one, comes in line four. 王孫歸不歸, wángsūn guī bù guī, ends with a form Shakespeare would later adopt, to be or not to be, to come back or not. The question I ask is whether 王孫  wángsūn (王 wang, 孫grandson ) refers to a noble of the emperor’s house, as it is often translated, or to Wang’s grandson?

One other possibility exists. Wang Wei is obliquely addressing his younger brother 王縉, Wang Jin, one of the emperor’s chancellors.

In looking back, I notice that this translation is quite different from my earlier effort.

fuchun Chinese landscape pen and ink

Orchid and Orange, 2

wall-tangerine-2

Zhang Jiuling’s title for this poem 感 遇 (gǎn​ yù) means a sigh, a lament in gratitude for good fortune, and not, as it is given, Orchid and Orange. There is an orange tree in the poem and a peach and a plum, but no orchid, so go figure.

I cannot argue with a thousand years of tradition, but I think the title should be, Gratitude for Good Fortune. A few other notes can await a reading of Zhang’s poem.

Gratitude for Good Fortune, 2

Here, in Jiangnan, grows a red orange tree.
Through the winter its leaves are green,
Could it be the soil is warm?
Or perhaps because it has a heart that’s cold
Can you suggest my honorable guest
Why this is so profound?
One’s fate is only chance
And an endless circle is not what we should seek
It is to no avail, I say, to plant your peach tree or your plum
And forget these trees are hidden by the shade

Chinese and Pinyin

感遇(其二)

江南有丹橘,
经冬犹绿林

岂伊地气暖
自有岁寒心

可以荐嘉客,
奈何阻重深?

运命惟所遇,
循环不可寻

徒言树桃李,
此木岂无阴

Jiāngnán yǒu dān jú,
jīng dōng yóu lùlín

qǐ yī dì qì nuǎn?
Zì yǒu suì hánxīn

kěyǐ jiàn jiā kè,
nàihé zǔ zhòng shēn?

Yùn mìng wéi suǒ yù,
xúnhuán bùkě xún

tú yán shù táolǐ,
cǐ mù qǐ wú yīn

Notes

One wonders whether the orange, the peach and the plum are diminished or nourished by the taller trees.

Line one is beautifully phonetic, Jiāngnán yǒu dān jú, a slight play on words for, in Jiangnan, one is lucky and wealthy as the color red is a symbol of wealth. One cannot miss the phonetic similarity between the poet’s name Zhang Jiuling and Jiāngnán yǒu dān jú.

Zhang is lucky. Unfortunately, his luck would change and he would fall out of favor with the emperor. Alas, fate is only chance.

A couple of other points.

Line one states that the author is in Jiangnan. Literally, this is South of the River. In China it is a specific place name. The river is the mighty Yangtze and the place is Jiangnan, which includes several provinces and the city of Shanghai and Zhenjiang. Here the people are wealthy, the weather warm.

For the New Year, one plants an orange before your door. Recall, in Chinese, the word for orange, 橘 jú, sound like the word for luck 吉 jí. The plum and peach are also symbolic. The plum is winter’s friend, the peach a symbol of immortality, together they represent youth.

To Minister Zhang While Gazing at Lake Dongting

Note. Minister Zhang Jiuling held several important posts under Emperor Xuanzong, including head of the imperial library, minister of public works, and commandant of various prefectures. The ancient reader of this poem, acquainted with the history of the imperial court, would know that Minister Zhang fell from favor with the emperor and was dismissed.

Thus, a brilliant master like Zhang could not always count on a life of ease.

Zhang was himself a noted poet. Five of his poems are included in the anthology of Three Hundred Tang Poems. See for instance Orchid and Orange I.

To Minister Zhang while gazing at Lake Dongting 

The lake is full in the eighth moon,
The water blends with the sky
The march mist rises in a cloud-like dream,
While waves pound against Yueyang’s walls
Alas, I have no boat with which to cross.
A brilliant master is shamed with a life of ease
Still I sit and watch an angler release his hook,
And envy those the fish they catch.

fog and mist and rolling waves

Notes on the Meng Haoran’s translation; or what is wisdom to a hungry sage?

August is a rainy month in most of China. Meng does not mention this, but it is also the time of the Mid-Autumn Festival.

Yueyang (岳陽) is both a city and a prefecture located in Hunan province on the eastern shore of the Yangtze River bordering Dongting Lake in the south. Dongting Lake is a shallow flood basin whose size depends on the time of year. Yueyang Tower is a well known site, standing at the west gate of the Yueyang city wall, looking down at Dongting Lake, and linking the Yangtze River to the north with the Xiangjiang River to the south.

Line six, 聖明, may be translated as enlightened sage, august wisdom, and brilliant master, this last choice probably applies to Minister Zhang, the person Meng is addressing. Meng wrote at least three other poems in which the name Zhang appears. From the poem, To Zhang, Climbing Orchid Mountain on an Autumn Day, and other poems, we may conclude they shared fish and a drink or two.

Original Chinese and Pinyin

望洞庭湖贈張丞相

孟浩然

八月湖水平
涵虛混太清
氣蒸雲夢澤
波撼岳陽
欲濟無舟楫
端居恥聖明
坐觀垂釣者
徒有羨魚情

Wàng dòngtíng hú zèng zhāng chéngxiàng

Mèng Hàorán

bā yuè hú shuǐpíng
hán xū hùn tài qīng
qì zhēng yún mèng zé
bō hàn yuèyáng chéng
yù jì wú zhōují
duān jū chǐ shèngmíng
zuò guān chuídiào zhě
tú yǒu xiàn yú qíng

Other translations

I am intrigued by the wide variation in translations of Tang poetry. Here is a translation for comparison. There are others.

An English translation by E. C. Chang

lake china

Song of the Spring Palace – Wang Changling

Princess Pingyang of Tang Dynasty

Princess Pingyang, Lady Warrior of the Tang Dynasty

Song of the Spring Palace
Last night,
The first peach blossoms were revealed by a warm wind
And the moon shone high above old Weiyang palace
Where Princess Pingyang danced and sang
Then asked for a silk gown for a cold spring

春 宮 曲

昨 夜 風 開 露 井 桃
未 央 前 殿 月 輪 高
平 陽 歌 舞 新 承 寵
簾 外 春 寒 賜 錦 袍

Chūngōng qū

zuóyè fēng kāi lù jǐng táo
wèiyāng qián diàn yuè lún gāo
píngyáng gēwǔ xīn chéng chǒng
lián wài chūnhán cì jǐn páo

Princess Pingyang, Lady Warrior

Princess Pingying (598-623), daughter of Li Yuan, the founder of the Tang Dynasty, raised an army of women, to help overthrow the Sui Dynasty and capture its capital Chang’an. She died in childbirth at the age of 23, celebrated as warrior, dutiful daughter, and devoted wife.

Line two, 未央, Weiyang Palace, literally, endless or never ending, the palace at Chang’an, called the “Endless Place” because of its size.

Wang Changling

During the catastrophic An Lushan Rebellion (755-763), Wang Changling (698–756),  was  minister of Jiangning County, which included the important city of Nanjing on the Yangtze River. His death in 756 is not explained.

The Title 春 宮 曲

The title is straight forward, 春 spring, 宮 palace, 曲 song.

Poetical Paradox

Arthur Koestler, in his book The Act of Creation, observed that new ideas are the juxtaposition of paradoxical concepts.

Peach blossoms and warm winds signify the spring season, the renewal of life. In China, the peach is a symbol of immortality. Yet, the beautiful and young Princess Pingyang will soon die. In line three of the poem, the princess sings and dances, 歌 舞, then receives as a favor, 承 寵, chéng chǒng, a silk gown, which we know know, could not fend off the cold touch of death.

The rhyming association of the princess Pingyang and the palace Weiyang is more than coincidental. The transitory beauty of the immortal peach tree and its beautiful blossoms, the forever Weiyang Palace, and our heroine Princess Pingying, all symbolize the fragility of beauty and life itself.

In real time, rebel forces were destroying the Tang capital at Chang’an along with its many palaces including Weiyang.

Wang Changling did not know it, but spring would return to the Tang dynasty. The rebel forces would eventually be defeated, the rule of the Tang Dynasty would continue, but not forever.

Wang Changling by Kanō Tsunenobu (1636-1713)

 

Spring Thoughts – Li Bai

Draft – simple thought, tough poem to tackle, let me come back and get it right.

delphinium in the field

Spring Thoughts

In fields, Delphinium blossoms like blue silk threads
In Qin, it is said, emerald green mulberry leaves hang low
Somewhere, a husband thinks of returning home
To his saddened wife who
Feels the spring breeze strange
As it slips unseen through her silk curtains

春思

燕草如碧絲
秦桑低綠枝
當君懷歸日
是妾斷腸時
春風不相識,
何事入羅幃

Yàn cǎo rú bì sī
Qín sāng dī lǜ zhī
Dāng jūn huái guī rì
Shì qiè duàn cháng shí
Chūn fēng bù xiāng shí
Hé shì rù luó wéi

My Thoughts on Spring Thoughts

Spring is the time to make war. It is also the time when flowers blossom in far-flung fields.

Back home in Qin, the ancient Chinese homeland, a wife longs for her absent husband. Low hanging mulberry leaves, upon which the silk worms feast, have recently unfolded in colors of emerald green, symbolizing sadness. A western wind slips though the wife’s silk curtains and she senses a strange emotion with the breeze that is felt but not seen.

In this short poem about the separation of husband and wife, Li Bai has managed to repeat the “shi” sound five times in six lines. Sadly, these homophonic puns do not translate well into English. Now, add the additional rhymes of “bi”, “di”, “gui”, “ri”, “qie”, and “he”.

This cornucopia of rhymes makes for a poem, whose meaning conveys, but whose beauty is obscured in translation:(

 

delphinium in the field

Cheering Up Oneself – 自遣

Cheering Up Oneself or Self Consolation – 自遣

When I win, I sing loudly, when I lose, I rest promptly
Woes and regrets are the unending way to sorrow
Today, drink and be drunk, this wine is still mine,
If worries come, as worries will, worry not until tomorrow

A win I sing, a loss I am sullen,
Worries and regrets linger far too long.
If there is wine today, then today get drunk,
Worry about tomorrow when tomorrow comes.
(Tomorrow there is time enough to worry)

 

“What Me Worry” would be the title if written by Mad’s Alfred E. Newman.

moon_water

Luo Yin

Tang poet, Luo Yin, was by all accounts, ugly and difficult to get along with. He had much to complain of. He failed the imperial examinations ten times, and therefore gave himself the pseudonym Yin, meaning “dormant”. So ugly he was, that the following story is told. The imperial court’s grand councilor Zheng Tian had a young daughter who enjoyed Luo Yin’s poems, frequently reading them out loud to her father’s annoyance. He had her attend court and peek out from the curtains at Luo Yin’s ugly face.

She never read another one of his poems.

This poem is translated often by those more competent than myself. The nuances are slight but significant.

Luo’s rhyming pattern is abab. He uses internal repetition of words like today and tomorrow, and sorrow. Line two is a good example, speak out loud and listen – duō chóu duō hèn yì yōuyōu.

The title is most often given as Self Consolation. That works, but it might be more accurate to use, Cheering Up Oneself, a type of toast to a cup of wine.

自遣

得即高歌失即休
多愁多恨亦悠悠
今朝有酒今朝醉
明日愁來明日愁

Zì qiǎn

dé jí gāogē shī jí xiū
duō chóu duō hèn yì yōuyōu
jīnzhāo yǒu jiǔ jīnzhāo zuì
míngrì chóu lái míngrì chóu

hands forming a heart with the setting sun in the background

To One Unnamed – Li Shangyin

Hurriedly I translate Li’s poem, no doubt I make mistakes, is liulang (line 7) young liu, Master Liu, or have I let my homeless thoughts wander far beyond Pengshan mountain? Who writes this quick note, I cannot quite read the faded words, is it she or he?

Li Shangyin’s poem paints a picture of pleasure and grief, desire and failure, of the bitter sweetness of togetherness and loneliness. It is not known to whom these love poems refer and that is part of Li’s magic.

To one unnamed

Yes come, you said, and still you vanished without a trace
Than the moonlight glancing off the tower
At the bell-sounding of the fifth watch hour
To dream so far apart and as I cannot call, I cry
As hurriedly I write these lines, in ink not quite dry
A flickering candle palely casts its light
That shines from its blue green and gold cage
A hint of deer musk gathers on the lotus embroidered curtains
Homeless I am, wandering beyond Peng mountain
You on the other side, ten thousand peaks away

Original Chinese characters

無 題 之 一
來 是 空 言 去 絕 蹤
月 斜 樓 上 五 更 鐘
夢 為 遠 別 啼 難 喚
書 被 催 成 墨 未 濃
蠟 照 半 籠 金 翡 翠
麝 熏 微 度 繡 芙 蓉
劉 郎 已 恨 蓬 山 遠
更 隔 蓬 山 一 萬 重

Notes on the translation

Twelve centuries have passed since Li Shangyin composed these lines to an unnamed beauty. To get a sense of the meaning is not an easy thing. In English, the task would be comparable to translating the Venerable Bede’s 7th century Saxon into modern English. (“For þam nedfere | næni wyrþeþ” gives one a taste of the task, from Bede’s Death Song). The meaning of words change, grammar changes, cultural and historical context is misplaced or lost.

Still we labor on, hoping to find a light in the dark.

The poet’s unnamed muse has gone and the poet writes from his room in the flickering light of a candle, hurried words, trying to catch her before she is gone to far, and yet, it is to late. Some translators say she writes. Some translators call Peng Mountain the Enchanted Mountain, who knows.

Pinyin

Wútí zhī yī
lái shì kōngyán qù jué zōng
yuè xié lóu shàng wǔ gèng zhōng
mèng wèi yuǎnbié tí nán huàn
shū bèi cuī chéng mò wèi nóng
là zhào bàn lóng jīn fěicuì
shè xūn wēi dù xiù fúróng
liú láng yǐ hèn péng shān yuǎn
gèng gé péng shān yī wàn zhòng

light-lantern