who, where, and why?

Parting

Dismount my friend, let me offer some wine
May I ask, where are you going?
Friend, you say, I have no purpose
To the Southern Mountains I depart
So, ask no more for
White clouds drift forever

送別

下馬飲君酒 問君何所之?
君言不得意 歸臥南山陲
但去莫復聞 白雲無盡時。

Sòngbié

Xiàmǎ yǐn jūn jiǔ, wèn jūn hé suǒ zhī?
Jūn yán bù déyì, guī wò nánshān chuí.
Dàn qù mò fù wén, báiyún wújìn shí.

白雲 báiyún, White Clouds



We are like the Clouds 云 yún, forever forming, then disappearing. 云 yún sounds the same as 运 yùn ‘luck, fortune, fate’. 時 Shí, time, endless, sounds like 诗 poem.

Please come down from your horse to have one last drink, dare I ask where you go? You said, because you have no purpose, no meaning in life, you will retire to the Nanshan Mountains. So go, I’ll ask no more, good poems, like white clouds are timeless.

The where and why are the easiest questions to answer:
歸臥南山陲 guī wò nánshān chuí, banished to (retiring to) the Southern Mountains’ frontier.

Who?

君 jūn, friend or colleague.

Perhaps, it is best to leave at that, an unnamed friend. One could guess Li Bai 李白 ( the banished immortal and well-known tippler). In 759, Li Bai was exiled by the emperor to Yelang in what is now Guizhou, a mountains region in southern China. In no hurry to reach Yelang, Li wandered much and wrote poetry, delaying so much that a pardon reached him before he arrived in far-off, frontier Yelang.

Wang Wei was likewise found in disgrace by the troubles of the An Lushan rebellion. His brother, a high imperial official, came to his defense, and Wang made his way into retirement.

Tang poet Li Bai on a Summer’s Day (19th c.), Gu Lang Yu Museum, Xiamen, Fujian, China

Mother’s Day Again

Mother’s Day is one day away, so I reprise Meng Jiao’s Song of the Wandering Son. The poem is like a multi-faceted gem, viewed differently from different angles.

The thread in the hands of a loving mother
Making clothes for her wandering son;
Carefully she stitches and sews,
Fearing delays that will keep him from home.
But how does inch-long grass
Repay the sun for three months of sunlight in spring?

pine tree on rocky mountain

The wandering son

Our wandering son is most likely a soldier called up by the emperor to campaign in the spring and the summer against the Tibetans in the far west or the Mongols to the north. The weather is bleak, the spring and summer short, winter is long and cold. The soldiers travel to a faraway land of high, grass plateaus, steep ravines, and snow-capped mountains. The sparse rains fall, gathering and forming the three of the great rivers of Asia – the Yellow, the Yangtze, and the Mekong.

The Tang soldiers confront tribesmen who are fierce warriors and splendid horsemen born to the saddle. They live upon herds of yaks, cliff-dwelling sheep, horses and the plunder they take from the caravans bound to and from China.

A loving mother

Our mother silently goes about her work closely stitching the warm coat he will need, knowing and fearing the long delay before he returns.

Notes on translation

How does the high plateau grass repay the sun for its sunlight, how does a son repay a mother for her nurturing love?

The last two lines of Meng’s poem which begins with 谁 言 Shéi yán, who said, has become a metaphor for a mother’s love.

谁 言, 寸 草 心, 报 得 三 春 晖
Shéi yán, cùn cǎo xīn, bào dé sān chūnhuī

green grass hillside solitary tree

Mother’s Day 2019

Mother’s Day is Sunday, so I thought it appropriate to repost a transaltion of Meng Jiao’s Song of the Parting Son. Some changes have occurred. I will let you decide if they appropriate.

Song of the Departing Son

The thread, in a mother’s loving hand
Sewing a coat for her departing son
Stitch by stitch, alas
Fearing his late late return

Who said, a mother’s kindness
Can’t be repaid
Or even discussed

Chinese and Pinyin

慈母手中线,
游子身上衣。
临行密密缝
意恐迟迟归
谁言寸草心
报得三春晖

Címǔ shǒuzhōng xiàn,
yóuzǐ shēnshang yī
lín xíng mì mi fèng,
yì kǒng chí chí guī.
Shéi yán cùn cǎo xīn,
bào dé sān chūnhuī.

Notes on translation

Line one, thread is an obvious metaphor for spring’s tender grass.

Lines three and four contain repetitions of characters. Line three, 密密, stitch by stitch, may also refer to the tightly stitched garment, double seamed, so as to not come unraveled. Line four 迟迟归 concerns the mother’s worry and fear over the late, late, perhaps too late return.

Lines five and six of Meg Jiao’s poem contains the idiom, 寸草 and 春晖 , cùn cǎo chūn huī, which means that the heart of the tender grass can’t repay the deep feelings of the spring sun. It is a metaphor for the parents’ and a mother’s especially deep feelings for their children.

The last line inserts character for the number three, 三 san, which does double duty, first magnifying a mother’s love by three; second as a near-rhyme and homophone, for life, 身 Shēn.