Pity the Farmer (Peasant)

Pity the Peasant
Hoeing cereal in the midday sun
His sweat drops and nourishes the grain and the earth
But few people know his supper
Is nothing but hard work

Li Shen’s poem is usually titled Pity the Farmer. Parents teach this poem to their  children to remind them to eat everything on their plate. Sound familiar?

agriculture-china

Original Chinese

悯 农

鋤禾日當午
汗滴禾下土
誰知盤中飧
粒粒皆辛苦

Title

The original Chinese title is:

悯 农

And it is often translated as Toiling Farmers. This does not seem to me an adequate translation. First of all, , is literally the Chinese character for “pity” and Li Shen, the poet, is using his poem as a supplication. Take sorrow on, or take pity for the peasant who puts food on your table. The second character , translates as either farmer or peasant. I like peasant for obvious social and phonetic reasons. Then again, Mao’s Communist Revolution extolled the peasant, so maybe farmer is the better choice.

Rhyme

The rhyme is aaba.

The pinyin translation:

Chú hé rì dāng wǔ
hàn dī hé xià tǔ
shuí zhī pán zhōng sūn
lì lì jiē xīn kǔ

The verse

is the Chinese character for cereal grain. The character is used in both the first and second lines, but I have chosen to vary the word selection because Li Shen intends to convey the meaning of all cereal grains and not just one type of grain like rice or wheat.

Literally, the last line should be “each and every granule is hard work.” It begins with the repetition of  , which suggests to me that the peasant struggles mightily to grow and harvest each and every granule. And ends with 辛 苦, which can be interpreted as bitter work or hard work.

I suppose the child gets the point that the peasant does not always eat or that the fruits of his labor are sometimes bitter.

French Translation

 

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Goose, goose, goose

Ode to the Goose

By Luo Binwang

Goose, goose, goose
Neck bent, singing to the sky
White feathers floating on green water
Red feet paddling clear waves

goose

Luo Binwang

One of the first poems learned by Chinese children, Ode to the Goose was written by Luo Binwang at the age of seven. His goose is the domestic goose that is found about the household and on the village pond.

The pinyin for goose is a long “e” which would mimic the sound of the goose to a child’s ear. The Chinese character for clear is 清, which may also translate as pure, clean, or still, giving a deeper meaning to the poem that does not readily translate to English.

Again sadly, poetic resonance is lost, as shown by the pinyin translation:

É, é, é
Qū xiàng xiàng tiān gē
Bái máo fú lǜ shuǐ
Hóng zhǎng bō qīng bō

Original Chinese Characters

鹅 鹅 鹅
曲项向天歌
白毛浮绿水
红掌拨清波

Compare the English with the French translation.

French Translation

Oie, oie, oie
Cou plié, chantant au ciel
Plumes blanches flottant sur l’eau verte
Pieds rouges, pagayer, clair, vagues

too young to know what sorrow is

horse

in her quiet window

wang changling

too young to know what sorrow is, and
dressed for spring, to her bedroom chamber she climbs, and
as the budding green willow wounds her heart
she wonders why, just for a title, she sent him to war

The actual title is, in her quiet window, but I like too young to know what sorrow is.

A young wife encourages her new husband to join the Tang army and go off and fight the enemy at the border. The expectation is that he will return with honors. Most likely, the enemy were the Tibetans at the far west of the Chinese Empire or the Tartars to the north, but there were other enemies both foreign and internal with which the emperor had to dear with.

Wang Changling, the Tang poet, deals with the contradictory emotions of love and pride. The young wife’s pride in the rank and title her husband achieves if he is heroic is balanced with the risk in his death.

I have played around with the words and the rhyme and though incomparable with Wang Changling’s poetic gift, I hope I conveyed some sense of his meaning. Wang’s use of the willow is symbolic. In China, the willow branch is used to ward off evil spirits. More ominously, mourners carry willow branches with them on the way to the cemetery during the Qingming Festival, which, like our poem, takes place in early spring. It is a festival that loosely translates as Tomb-Sweeping festival.

Then too, in Mandarin, “willow” sounds the same as “to stay”.

Does she care?

Original Chinese

闺怨

王昌龄

闺中少妇不知愁
春日凝妆上翠楼
忽见陌头杨柳色
悔教夫婿觅封侯

Read French translation of in her quiet window

A lonely wild goose

A strange comparison indeed, Cher sings, Sooner or later, We all Sleep Alone, and Cui Tu’s poem, A Solitary Wild Goose, the story of a wandering wild goose, woefully crying, seeking a home.

A lonely wild goose

line after line after line after line
flies back over the border
and you, by yourself, saying its fine
as it rains
evening comes and you call
with no answer
so, you alight at night, slowly
on an icy and frozen pond, above
faster than you clouds, heavy and wet, move
towards the mountains and wintry moon…
if you suffered the archer’s arrow and streamer,
could it be worse than going alone?

Cui Tu (traditional Chinese) was born in 854. His death went unrecorded. His lifetime spanned the events leading up to the end of the Tang dynasty in 907, natural disasters — alternate floods and drought – accompanied by major rebellions.

Twice yearly, Cui Tu must have observed the annual migration of the wild geese. In the spring, when the weather warms, the geese fly north, line after line, beyond the mountains, beyond the northern borders, beyond the purple passes to a foreign land, to a place beyond the ken of the poet. This migration is then repeated in the winter when the geese return, and fly south in search of a warmer and safer home.

Woe, the solitary goose cries out to his fleeing companions and attempts to bear the cold northern winds alone.

Original Chinese Characters –

孤雁

几行归塞尽
片影独何之
暮雨相呼失
寒塘欲下迟
渚云低暗渡
关月冷相随
未必逢矰缴
孤飞自可疑

Pinyin

Jǐ xíng guī sāi jǐn,

piàn yǐng dú hé zhī?

Mùyǔ xiāng hū shī,

hán táng yù xià chí.

Zhǔ yún dī àn dù,

guān yuè lěng xiāng suí.

Wèibì féng zēng jiǎo,

gū fēi zì kěyí

An examination of the pinyin, reveals an abundance of rhyme that is lost in translation. I have also abandoned form and structure in a attempt to give the poem some of Cui Tu’s resonance.

What, you ask, does any of this have to do with Cher? It is obvious to the wild goose and Cher.

beach_sit