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

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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

Meeting Li Guinian at Jiangnan, (South of the River) – Du Fu

Meeting Li Guinian at Jiangnan

Often we met at Prince Qi’s Palace and
Many times I heard you at Lord Cui’s home and
Just now, at Jiangnan, when the earth is its finest
When blossoms are falling, we meet again, by chance

street-performer-guitar.jpg

Notes

Poetry, calligraphy, music and art all flourished in the Tang dynasty.

But then, glory and flame are fleeting. And chance plays a major part in whether we end up rich man or poor man, poet or recluse, court musician or street performer.

Du Fu was one of the Tang dynasty’s greatest poets. He was also a prominent civil servant who unfortunately found his star falling at the close of his life.

Li Guinian was a famous musician of the same time. Likewise, his fortunes, fell during the An Lushan Rebellion, and so he ended up as a street performer South of the Yangtze River, where the encounter described in the poem took place.

Title

A literal translation of the title is At Jiangnan Meeting Li Guinian. Jiangnan also translates as South of the River, but it is also a place name. Du Fu intended both meanings.

The poem’s date

A fateful event triggered a change in fortune. This was the An Lushan Rebellion, which began in 755 and ended 8 years alter.

The poem, therefore, can be dated after this and before Du Fu’s death in 770. It would not be too far a stretch to spot the time of the meeting between poet and musician to after 765, when Du Fu and his family sailed down the Yangtze, with the intention of making their way to Luoyang, Du Fu’s birthplace.

Prince Qi and Cui Jui

Prince Qi, named in the poem, likely refers to a brother of the Tang Emperor Xuanzong. Cui Jiu likely refers to a member of the Cui clan of Qinghe, and chancellor to the emperor. I confess to confusion in the translation of Cui Jui. Jui means 9th, but I doubt that Du Fu is referring to a 9th son. Rather, it is likely Cui Jui was a prominent person in the emperor’s entourage. Exactly who is a mystery. Other Tang poets like Pei Di have referred to Cui Jui, (see A Farewell to Cui Jiu), so one suspects there is more to the passing reference.

Jiangnan

Jiangnan (South of the River) is generally described as the to lands immediately to south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River. Most translations of Du Fu’s poem use the literal English South of the River, rather than the geographic place name, Jiangnan. There is an argument either way, Jiangnan is more sonorous, South of the River has a better implied connotation. Crossing the river and south of the river might both be metaphors for a tragic but happy or sad change in one’s fortunes.

Original Chinese

江 南 逢 李 龜 年
岐 王 宅 裡 尋 常 見
崔 九 堂 前 幾 度 聞
正 是 江 南 好 風 景
落 花 時 節 又 逢 君

Pinyin

Jiāngnán féng lǐ guī nián
qí wáng zhái lǐ xún chángjiàn
cuī jiǔ tángqián jǐdù wén
zhèng shì jiāngnán hǎo fēngjǐng
luòhuā shíjié yòu féng jūn

French

Li Guinian et moi, nous nous rencontrons
Au Palais du Prince Qi, souvent, nous nous sommes rencontrés
Chez le maître Cui, plusieurs fois, je vous ai entendu
Tout à l’heure, à Jiangnan, quand la terre est son meilleur
Quand la floraison tombe, on se retrouve, par chance

streets-guitar

Yearning – Wang Wei

Red berries born in the south

Whose branches are full in the Spring

A gentleman wishes you gather many

As a symbol of our love

Wang Wei

Wang Wei (王維, 699–759) is regarded as one of the three most admired poets of the Tang dynasty, the other two being Li Bai and Du Fu. But Wang has the distinction of also being a recognized painter and musician. Rising to the position of Chancellor of the Tang court, he fell in disfavor during the An Lushan rebellion.

What are we to make of this poem?

Surviving the rebellion, and grieving for the death of his wife and sister, he retired to the family estate along the Wang River. I think we may gather that this poem was written there, that it was an epitaph for his dearly beloved wife for whom he still longed.

The title of the poem, 相 思, Xiāngsī, is most often translated as yearning, but it is also the Chinese symbol for love-sickness. Wang fittingly concludes his poem with the same characters to emphasize the emotion. I simplified this to “love” in my translation.

adzuki beans

Red, red beans

For some reason Neil Diamond’s silly song Red, Red Wine comes to mind. Its repetitive lyrics are somehow relevant.

“Red, red wine, stay close to me
Don’t let me be alone
It’s tearing apart
My blue, blue heart”

Line one, 紅 豆, hóngdòu, the red berries that Wang refers to are Azuki beans, which make into a red paste commonly used in Chinese treats. Red is a symbol of joy and happiness, but also the color of ink for writing the names of the dead in China. I have found a reference to “red beans” as missing someone. This comes from an ancient story of a Chinese wife who missed her warrior husband. He never returned and she cried tears that watered the ground, hardened into red beans, and grew into vines that produced still more red beans, 紅 豆, hóngdòu.

In China today, red beans still symbolize love and fidelity. So, a husband would be happy and lucky for his loving wife to serve a steaming bowl of red pinto beans.

French

Baies rouges nées dans le sud
Au printemps, les branches sont pleines
Un monsieur, vous souhaite glaner de plus
Symbole de notre amour

Original Chinese

相 思
紅 豆 生 南 國
春 來 發 幾 枝
願 君 多 采 擷
此 物 最 相 思

Pinyin

Xiāngsī
hóngdòu shēng nánguó
chūn lái fā jǐzhī
yuàn jūn duō cǎixié
cǐ wù zuì xiāngsī

The Song of a Pure-hearted Girl, Meng Jiao

The Song of a Pure-hearted Girl

As Wutong-trees, live life as one
As Mandarin ducks, mate til death
As a virtuous woman loves only her husband
I swear in life, to be faithful forever
For a billowing wave cannot stir
A water-like-spirit in a timeless well

concentric waves

Original Chinese

烈 女 操

梧 桐 相 待 老
鴛 鴦 會 雙 死
貞 婦 貴 殉 夫
捨 生 亦 如 此
波 瀾 誓 不 起
妾 心 井 中 水

Pinyin

Wú tóng xiāng dài lǎo
yuān\yāng huì shuāng sǐ
zhēnfù guì xùn fū
shě shēng yì rúcǐ
bōlán shì bù qǐ
qiè xīn jǐngzhōng shuǐ

Meng Jiao

May I introduce you to Master Meng, the latest poet in my list of Tang poets.

One could say that Meng Jiao had both the good and bad fortune to be born in interesting times. Meng Jiao was born in 751 in the Chinese province of Huzhou. Soon after his birth, the Tang dynasty experienced major military defeats on its western and southern borders. Shortly thereafter followed the An Lushan Rebellion, which laid waste to the Chinese population and economy. Floods followed further devastating the land and population.

Meng Jiao lived out much of these times as a Zen Buddhist recluse and poet in the south. Then at the age of forty, his wandering ways ceased and he settled in Luoyang, which was considered the “Eastern Capital” of the Tang Dynasty, with a population that approached one million, second only to Chang’an, the capital,which, at the time, was the largest city in the world.

Meng Jiao settled in as an impoverished and unemployed poet. Unwillinbg at first to take the imperial examinations, he eventually did at the urging of his mother, and at the age of 50 passed the test, after which he received a minor post.

After Meng’s death, the poet Han Yu wrote an epitaph saying:

“He had no sons. His wife, a woman of the Cheng family, informed me. I went out and stood weeping, and then I summoned Chang Chi to mourn with me…

As for his poetry, it pierces one’s eye and impales one’s heart. It cuts to the point like a thread parting at the touch of a knife. His barbed words and thorny sentences tear at one’s guts. His writing ability is spirit-like or like that of a ghost, glimpsed in between and over and over again. He cared only for writing and cared not what the world thought.”

The poet’s meaning

The title, 烈 女 操, one could replace “chaste” or “virtuous” for the words pure-hearted, but why, a pure heart employs better imagery. A modern day translation might be “an exemplary woman”.

The poem places a value on the fidelity and loyalty of a wife to her husband, and, can one assume, the reverse? So, perhaps Han Yu is too harsh in his assessment of Meng Jiao’s complete detachment from the world.

Line one, 梧 桐, (Firmiana simplex) the Chinese Parasol tree, a flowering tree whose wood was used for soundboards in Chinese musical instruments like the guqin and guzheng.

Line two, 鴛 鴦, Mandarin ducks yuan and yang, male and female, which mate for life.

The meaning of the poem lies in its final two lines – a billowing wave cannot stir the water like spirit in the deepest well. Han Yu elsewhere has given us an understanding of the effects of nature’s interactions with man, “Trees have no sound but cry when the wind stirs them, water has no sound but sounds forth when the wind roils it, and thus the heavens move men to speak when their spirits are troubled.” Master Meng is suggesting jut the opposite here, the steadfastness of the devotion of a pure-hearted wife.

There is a complementary Latin phrase that “still waters run deep” meaning that a quiet exterior may hide a passionate heart.

Let me leave you with Lao Tzu’s observation that “Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear away rock, which is rigid and cannot yield.” Master Meng would say the same is true of love, which is soft and yielding, but firm in its devotion over time and tragedy.

Shall I return and translate this poem into French? Time will tell.

mandarin ducks pair