As Poet Meng Haoran observes in four lines of five characters each, some years Spring is late to arrive.
The earth is cold and the blossoms on the branches fail to bloom. Crows darken the sky; their stink fills the air. At night, nothing is heard but the sound of wind and rain; in the morning flowers rot on the ground.
Spring sleeps, I do not think it’s dawn
The air stinks and crows cry
Last night there was nothing but
The sound of wind and rain and
Where the flower blossoms fell, what’s left?
L’aube du printemps
Au printemps, je dors, je sais que le jour ne commence.
Des corbeaux puants pleurer partout et
Toute la nuit, j’ai entendu le son du vent et pluie, quand
Le prochaine matin, qui sait combien de fleurs sont tombées.
The Dawn of Spring, Meng Haoran
Meng did it in 20 characters. Not counting articles, prepositions, and conjunctions, I am close.
Sunrise and Spring sleeps .
The morning stinks as crows cry
In the night, there is nothing
But wind and rain while
Blossoms fall from the trees
Meng Haoran was not a successful civil servant. He remained close to home, living off the wealth of his land owning parents, and contenting himself with drink, friendship, and poetry, most of which dealt with the natural world.
“Does Spring sleep still?” Meng Haoran asks and concludes perhaps.
Now, gentle reader, may I momentarily divert? Rachel Carson wrote in Silent Spring that, “There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature – the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” The cycles of seasons are refreshing.
Or, as Meng meant.
All night long, it rained, accompanied by a drum-like sound and pungent smell of flowering rattan 夜来 . One could not breathe nor sleep. If this is not punishment enough, flocks crows (啼) gathered and added their sound and stink to nature’s mournful symphony.
When morning come, will the blossoms survive?
Most English translation translations present spring in a kinder light.
“Spring sleeps, at dawn I do not wake
All around I hear birds cry
Night falls to the sound of wind and rain
While flowers fall and few remain”
The title is Spring Dawn, 春晓. An old proverb goes, the wise man sees one word and hears two. Does Meng speak of the dawn of spring or waking one spring morn?
The crows both stink and cry, 闻 啼 鸟, but the sense of smell 闻 is gone and we are left with bird is 鸟 that cry 啼, aka the foul smelly crow.
I recall an early morning in Bruges, Belgium. I would get up early to go for a run, delighted that it was raining. Disturbed by the weather, the crows would gather in city parks. The sound and stench was something out of a horror film. Combine the sound and fury with the thick white globs the defecating birds left and one has the beginnings of a movie, The Blob of Bruges.
Meng begins the third line begins with 夜来, night falls. It is also the Chinese word for Rattan, a vine we use in furniture making, but which has a night blooming flower that stinks. One could say, look beyond the words to find the meaning; this is the essence of good Tang poetry.