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.

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