Coming Home, He Zhizhang

Small and young I left home, big and old I return

Speaking in my village voice with hair grown thin

Children, seeing and hearing me, wonder, who is this man?

And smiling, ask, sir, why do you come?

He Zhizhang (659-744), a Tang poet, had the good fortune to live to the age of 85 and die before the An Lushan Rebellion began.

heZhizhang

He Zhizhang

You can’t go home again

It is said – I have not confirmed it – that He was politician and poet, and finally philosopher (Daoist), that He retired in 743 and become a Daoist hermit near Lake Jinghu in Zhejiang Province, his native province. If so, he returned to a place near where he was born.

He (pun intended) was unlikely to have found any living relatives or friends, and so would be unrecognized by those living there. The children, finding a stranger speaking their native tongue would be curious.

Likely, this inspired his poem whose Chinese characters are:

回 鄉 偶 書

, variously translated as:

Notes on the English translation.

The first two characters of the title 回 鄉 express Zhizhang’s emotion of coming home and are homophone (Huí xiāng) for his name. The first character 回 nicely expresses the idea of being a subset of a set, a part of a whole, and the temporal idea of returning to one’s place of origin. The character for native province 鄉 is coincidentally a homophone for Zuizhang’s native province of  Zhejiang.

The last two characters of the title 偶 書, often ignored in translation, contain the thought, I write.

French translation,

De retourner au pays

Petit et jeune, de ma village natale j’ai quitté ,

Grande et ancienne je retourne

Parlant dans la voix de ma village avec des cheveux mûrs

Les enfants, me voyant, disent-ils, qui est cet homme?

Et souriant, demandez-moi, monsieur, pourquoi viens-tu?

German translation,

Rückkehr, Heimkommen

Kleine und junge mein Zuhause ich verließ,

Groß und alt komme ich zurück

Sprechen mit keinem Akzent, mit Haaren gewachsen dünn

Kinder, sehen mich, sagen, wer ist dieser Mann?

Und lächelnd, fragen Sie, Herr, warum kommen Sie?

Notes on the German translation

I will leave it to others to say whether Rückkehr or Heimkommen is the better choice for the title.

Spanish translation,

Not mine, someone else who has a better command of the Spanish language.

Original Chinese:

少小離家老大回

鄉音無改鬢毛衰

兒童相見不相識

笑問客從何處來

Advertisements