12 November 2017

5 of the 10 Most Popular Tang Dynasty Poems in Hong Kong 香港最受歡迎十首唐詩之後五首

2 months ago (September 2017), I received a WhatsApp message from my friend John Lau informing me of the 10 most popular Tang dynasty poems in Hong Kong.  I found that I had already translated and posted 8 of them.  I immediately (October 2017) posted my yet to be posted translation of the #4 poem on the list, and proceeded to work on the remaining #7 poem on the list which is now (November 2017) done and posted.  My English rendition of these 10 most popular Tang dynasty poems are now further polished and attached below under the respective poems.  Links to the respective posts on my blog are also given below. Today, I am posting the second batch of 5 poems, #10 to #6.  For my notes, please go to the links.


10 Most Popular Tang Dynasty Poems in Hong Kong

香港評選出來最受歡迎的十首唐詩    最受歡迎的十首唐詩,第一名情理之中 但意料之外
編者按: 唐詩是中國文化的瑰寶,雖然有 文無第一 的說法,但是自唐朝以來就沒有人放過唐詩,總有人給唐詩排    座次。雖然排名不可能符合每個人的口味,但也能在一定程度上反應唐詩的流傳程度。

TENTH <#10> 第十名:回鄉偶書    作者:賀知章
    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。

    He Zhizhang (659-744): Coming Home: Fortuitous Lines

    1  I left home young, now old, I return care free;
               2  My tongue unchanged, my hair though thinner be.
               3  Unknown am I to the boys and girls I meet,
               4   Smiling, they ask: “Sir, from whence come thee?


這首詩作於西元七四四年,這個時候詩人賀知章已經八十幾歲的高齡,離開家鄉也已經五十多年。人生如白駒過隙,忽然而已。再次回到自己的家鄉,賀知章百感交集,回憶起往事,看著故鄉的孩童,熟悉的鄉音不熟悉的人,詩人心中不免悲喜交加。

NINTH <#9> 第九名:早發白帝城    作者:李白
    朝辭白帝彩雲間,千里江陵一日還。
    兩岸猿聲啼不住,輕舟已過萬重山。

    Li Bai (701—762): Downstream to Jiangling/Early Departure from Baidi City

     1  At daybreak I left a Baidi enwrapped in clouds aglow,
     2  A thousand miles to Jiangling takes just a day to go.
     3  In the endless cries of monkeys on banks both left and right,
     4  I’ve skiffed past a myriad cliff-tops ov’rhanging high or low.

西元759年,李白很鬱悶,他被牽連到一樁案 子裡面,這一次他去的地方是夜郎。可是當他趕赴夜郎的途中,得到了赦免的消息,一時間心情大振,寫下了這首詩。早晨從白帝城出發,到達了千里之外的江陵,只聽見兩岸的猿猴啼叫,不自不覺中已經過了萬重山。
    
EIGHTH <#8> 第八名:憫農    作者:李紳
    鋤禾日當午,汗滴禾下土。
    誰知盤中餐,粒粒皆辛苦?

    Li Shen (772-846): Pity the Peasants/Ancient Air, 2 of 2

    1  He heaves his hoe in the rice-field, under the noonday sun;
           2  Onto the soil of the rice-field, his streaming sweat beads run.
           3  Ah, do you or don’t you know it?  That bowl of rice we eat,
           4  Each grain, each ev’ry granule: the fruit of his labour done.
    
這首詩是為農民而作,表達了詩人對農民的無限同情。在烈日之下勞作,汗水滴到土壤上,當我們吃飯的時候,誰知道那一顆顆糧食都是農民辛苦的勞作換來的。後兩句為千古名句,可謂是家喻戶曉,婦孺皆知。

SEVENTH <#7> 第七名:賦得古原草送別    作者:白居易
    離離原上草,一歲一枯榮。
    野火燒不盡,春風吹又生。
    遠芳侵古道,晴翠接荒城。
    又送王孫去,萋萋滿別情。

    Bai Juyi (772-846):  Grass of the Ancient Prairie Bidding Farewell: Written to a Prescribed Title

    1  Lushly, O lushly, you grass of the prairie thrive;
    2  You die to arise, O each year, gloriously so!
    3  Wild fires do burn: they blaze in vain to purge you;
    4  As spring winds blow: come alive, again you grow.
    5  Your sweet scent spreads far, suffusing the old highway;
    6  Your green blades, sun bathed, to the citadel ruins go.
    7  Once more, I’m seeing my noble friend away --
    8  Cheers, O cheerio! Our parting feelings ov’rflow.

    

白居易寫下這首詩的時候才十六歲,這說明白居易是個天才。這首詩措語自然流暢而又工整,雖是命題作詩,卻能融入深切的生活感受,故字字含真情,語語有餘味,不但得體,而且別具一格,故能在賦得體中稱為絕唱。

SIXTH <#6> 第六名:春曉    作者:孟浩然
    春眠不覺曉,處處聞啼鳥。
    夜來風雨聲,花落知多少。

   Meng Haoran (689-740): A morning in Spring

    1  In spring I sleep unaware morning is here;

    2  From far and near, trilling songbirds I hear.
    3  In the night's pitter patter of wind and rain,
    4  How many flowers fallen?  Not few, I fear.

春曉這首詩看似平淡無奇,實際上別有一番風味。全詩沒有用華麗的辭藻,用平實的語言將破曉時分的意境描寫了出來。後兩句,將早晨的靜謐用昨夜的情形襯托出來,花落知多少,更是神來之筆,從詩人心靈深處流出的一股泉水,晶瑩透澈,灌注著詩人的生命,跳動著詩人的脈搏。


01 November 2017

白居易 Bai Juyi: 賦得古原草送別 Grass of the Ancient Prairie Bidding Farewell: Written to a Prescribed Title

This is my most recent translation.  It is a poem by the great late Tang dynasty poet Bai Juyi which has recently been selected as #7 of the 10 most popular Tang dynasty poems in Hong Kong and is the only "octet" in the list.  Here we go:-

Bai Juyi (772-846):  Grass of the Ancient Prairie Bidding Farewell: Written to a Prescribed Title

1  Lushly, O lushly, you grass of the prairie thrive;
(You demise to arise, each year, gloriously so!)
    You die to arise, O each year, gloriously so! (revised 14.11.17)
3  Wild fires do burn: they blaze in vain to purge you;
4  As spring winds blow: come alive, again you grow.
5  Your sweet scent spreads far, suffusing the old highway;
6  Your green blades, sun bathed, to the citadel ruins go.
7  Once more, I’m seeing my noble friend away --
8  Cheers, O cheerio! Our parting feelings ov’rflow.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
5th October 2017 (revised 14.10.17; 16.10.17; 26.10.17; 28.10.17)
Translated from the original - 白居易: 賦得古原草送別

離離原上草    一歲一枯榮
野火燒不盡    春風吹又生
遠芳侵古道    晴翠接荒城
又送王孫去    萋萋滿別情

Notes:-

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character octet (8 lines of 5 characters each) in the category known as 律詩 “regulated verse” which requires the middle 4 lines (lines 3 and 4, and 5 and 6) to be 2 couplets of parallel matching lines.  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 beats or feet) to emulate the 5-syllable lines of the original.  I have also succeeded in rendering lines 3 to 6 as 2 parallel matching couplets, perhaps, somewhat less than perfectly.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA XAXA as in the original, the rhyme group being 平聲庚韻 “level tone ‘geng’ rhyme” according to Tang dynasty pronunciation.

*Title and line 1:  (plain) in the title and in line 1 is taken to refer to草原 (grass plain) and is rendered as “prairie”.   (old) (plain) (grass) in the title is rendered as “Grass of the Ancient Prairie”.   (on/upon) in line 1 is simply, and more appropriately, rendered as “of” rather than “on/upon”; (plain) (on/upon) (grass) in line 1 is, therefore, rendered as “grass of the prairie” in line with the title.  送別 in the title is translated quite literally as “Bidding Farewell”.  賦得, which begins the title of the poem, means versified/written to a prescribed title in the Imperial Examinations.  This is rendered here as “Written to a Prescribed Title” and moved from the front to the rear as a sub-title.

*Line 1:  離離 (leave, depart) here should mean “lush, luxuriant” which can be rendered as such, but is rendered as “Lushly, O lushly” to emulate the sound “li, li” as pronounced in Standard Chinese Pinyin.  The word “thrive” is added to end the line to make it possible for the adverb “lushly” to be used rather than the adjectives of ”lush” or “ luxuriant.”
*Line 2:  一歲一 (one year once) is rendered as “each year”.  (wither) (thrive luxuriantly) is rendered as “demise to airse” (after considering “wither to thrive”, “perish to flourish”, “die to arise”, “demise to thrive”, and more) with “gloriously so” added to end the line for reason of rhyme, but also to complete the translation of the word as “arise … (so) gloriously.”

*Lines 3 and 4:  野火燒 in line 3 is rendered as “Wild fires do burn” to parallel 春風吹 in line 4 which is rendered as “As spring winds blow.”  不盡 in line 3 is rendered as “they blaze in vain to purge you” (after considering “yet can never burn to rid you) to parallel 又生 in line 4, rendered as “come alive, again you grow” (after considering “revived/alive, again you grow”.)

*Lines 5 and 6:  遠芳 (from afar, fragrance) in line 5 should be taken to mean 芳遠 (fragrance goes far) and is rendered as “Your sweet scent spreads far” (after considering “Your sweet scent goes far”) to parallel 晴翠 (sunny green) in line 6, rendered as 翠晴 (green in sunlight), hence, “Your green blades, sun bathed” (after considering “Your green shoots, sunlit/in sunlight.”)  侵古道 in line 5 is rendered as “suffusing the old highway” to parallel 接荒城 in line 6, rendered as “to the citadel ruins go” (after considering “to the ruined citadel go.”)

*Line 7:  王孫 is taken to mean simply a nobleman (and not the grandson of a king) and is rendered as “my noble friend.”


*Line 8:   萋萋 here also means “lush, luxuriant”, but instead of emulating both the sound and the meaning as I had done for 離離 in line 1, I have decided to emulate only the sound “chi” with the words “cheers” and “cheerio” which best suit the farewell situation, hence, “Cheers, O cheerio!”  I hope this succeeds in creating an image of the luxuriant prairie grass rustling in the wind to also say goodbye to the poet’s noble friend.



05 October 2017

王之渙 Wang Zhihuan: 登鸛雀樓 Ascending the Stork Tower

Of the recently reported 10 most popular Tang dynasty poems selected in Hong Kong, I found I had already translated 9 (all being quatrains), but only 8 had been posted here on this blog.  

I had mistakenly thought my rendition of this most famous "Stork Tower" quatrain by Wang Zhihuan which I penned some 10 years ago when I first picked up this hobby, must have been posted long ago.  My apologies!  

I hasten to polish my original rendition and have it posted.  "There, up the steps one goes!"  Here we go!

[Added: 11.10.17]  But indeed, haste makes waste.  I have decided to revert to my original rendition of line 4 as "A floor, or more,  oh, upstairs there one goes!"  Here we go:-

Wang Zhihuan (688-742): Ascending the Stork Tower

1  (Over the mountains, the white sun daily sets;)
    (Over the mountains, daily the white sun sets; (revised 11.10.17)
    Over the mountains, the white sun daily sets, (revised 30.10.17)    
(And into the ocean, the Yellow River flows,)
    And into the ocean, the Yellow River flows.(revised 11.10.17)
(Wishing to eye a thousand miles of sights---)
    Wishing  to eye: the view of a thousand miles, (revised 11.10.17)   
(A floor and more, there up the steps one goes.)
    (A floor, or more: oh, upstairs there one goes.) (revised 11.10.17)
    (A floor and more: oh, up the stairs one goes.) (revised 30.10.17)
    A floor, a floor more, up the stairs one goes. (revised 5.11.17)

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者黃宏發
4th August 2007 (revised 3.9.07; 5.12.07; 26.2.08; 25.6.08; polished 3.10.2017; 6.10.17; 11.10.17; 30.10.17)
Translated from the original- 王之: 登鸛雀樓
     
白日依山盡   
黃河入海流
欲窮千里目   
更上一層樓

Notes:-

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain which is made up of 2 perfectly parallel couplets.  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 beats or feet) to emulate the original 5-syllable lines.  I have been able to render the first couplet (lines 1 and 2) as a perfectly parallel couplet except for the addition, in line 1, of the word “daily” for the 5-beat metre.  I have not attempted to render the second couplet in the parallel form.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Lines 1 and 2:  I am grateful to my poet friend Bei Dao 北島 for pointing out to me that for 白日, “white sun” is superior to my original “bright sun” as only “white” can appropriately parallel “Yellow” in line 2.  (I can alternatively retain my original “bright” in line 1 and change “Yellow” into “muddy” in line 2.)  In line 1, I have added "daily" (originally after, now 11.10.17) before "the white sun" primarily for reason of the 5-beat metre, but also to cover the meaning of as “day” in addition to meaning “sun”.  In line 2, I have rendered (sea) as “ocean” in order to match the sound of “mountains” in line 1.

*Line 3:  千里 (1,000 “li”), though strictly only about 300 miles, should be taken as a hyperbole and rendered as “a thousand miles”.
   
*Line 4:  I take 更上一層樓 not to mean “go up one floor”, but to mean “go up one more floor" (and up to the very top, if necessary.)  I had originally penned "oh, upstairs there one goes" to translate 上 ...  樓 but had revised it to "oh up the steps one goes".  I have now decided to revert to the original. 


03 September 2017

杜甫 Du Fu: 江南逢李龜年 Meeting Li Guinian in Jiangnan

Today, I give you a poem by Du Fu in which the name of Cui Jiu 崔九 is mentioned.  Let there be no confusion: this is not the same Cui Jiu as the one sent off by Pei Di in his "Farewell to Cui Jiu" posted here August 2017.  This is clarified in the notes to this poem and to the previous poem.

I particularly like the ambiguity of lines 3 and 4, "a truly scenic land of the south ... in a season of flowers ... falling".  How beautiful, yet how sad!  I hope my adding, in my rendition, the word "all" between "flowers" and "falling" can work the magic.  Here we go:-

Du Fu (712-770): Meeting Li Guinian in Jiangnan

1  At the house of the Prince of Qi, regularly I saw you;
2  On stage in the hall of Cui Jiu’s, oft-times I heard you sing.
3  Now Jiangnan, this truly scenic land of the south, ‘tis here
4  That you again I meet, in a season of flowers, all falling.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
6th January 2017 (revised 8.1.17; 10.1.17; 19.1.17)
Translated from the original - 杜甫: 江南逢李龜年

岐王宅裏尋常見
崔九堂前幾度聞
正是江南好風景
落花時節又逢君

Notes:-

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition of the quatrain is in hexameter (6 feet or beats) while the original is in 7-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original although "sing (in line 2), falling (in line 4)" is an imperfect rhyme.

*Title and the Poem:  This is one of the last poems by Du Fu when High Tang 盛唐 was at its end and the dynasty, past its prime.  Shorn of his office, Du wandered to 江南 (river south) specifically to 潭州 Tanzhou (in present day 湖南 Hunan province) where he met again 李龜年 Li Guinian who was then performing in the streets for a living.  Li Guinian was a famous musician and singer who was much in the favour of the then Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 and loved by one and all.
 
*Line 1:  岐王, younger brother of the then Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗, is rendered as “the Prince of Qi”, and  (home, lodging) as “the house”.  I suggest both “re-“ and “-ly” in “regularly” should be read stressed, with “saw”, of course, read stressed, hence, 3 beats for this 2nd half of the line.

*Line 2:  崔九 (Cui the Ninth) refers to 崔滌 Cui Di who was 殿中監 Director of the Palace Administration in the halcyon days of Emperor Xuanzong 玄宗 (hall) (front) is rendered as “in the hall” with “on stage” added to indicate a hall for performance on a stage located in front of the hall.  幾度聞 is rendered as “oft-times I heard you sing” with “sing” added to, obviously, rhyme with “falling” in line 4 but also to make clear the nature of Li Guinian’s performance which must be song and music.

*Line 3:  I have rendered 正是 (precisely is) as “Now … ‘tis here”.  The word “now” is chosen as it is used to call attention to whatever follows which is exactly what 正是 is used in Chinese.  (Just imagine adding 正是 to any 1 or 2 lines of quotable quotes in Chinese.)  It is chosen for the equally important reason that it turns the “past” of lines 1 and 2 to the “now” of lines 3 and 4.  The literal meaning of 正是 (precisely is) is more than adequately covered by “’tis here”.  I have used “Jiangnan” to render江南 to repeat the transliteration used in the title, but have added “land of the south” to amplify and clarify.  好風景 is rendered as a description “this truly scenic” (descriptive of Jiangnan), rather than a statement that “the scenery (in Jiangnan) is truly fine”.


*Line 4:  又逢君 is rendered literally as “That you again I meet”, but moved from the end to the beginning of the line to follow through from the enjambed “’tis here” in line 3.  I had initially rendered 落花時節 as “in a season of flowers falling” which can mean a beautiful season, but which can also mean the demise of spring.  The original is not specific and is probably meant to be ambiguous.  As the historical context dictates that this can or even must be a sad or soulful season, I had toyed with the idea of shortening the first half to 2 beats (e.g. “That again we meet” or “That I meet you again”) and adding a one-beat word expressive of regret or sadness (e.g. “alack” or “alas”) or adding the word “sad” before “season” to complete the 6-beat line.  However, as the text of the poem contains no such words, not even words suggestive of them, I decided against it.  I then turned to working on the second half of the line and have come to decide for adding a “comma” and the word “all” between “flowers” and “falling”.  I hope this arrangement succeeds in retaining the beauty of flowers falling, and in subtly suggesting the end of spring which stands for the demise of the prime time of the Tang dynasty and the now impoverished, aging Li Guinian and Du Fu.  This last line now reads: “… ‘tis here/ That you again I meet, in a season of flowers, all falling.”  

05 August 2017

裴迪 Pei Di: 送崔九 Farewell to Cui Jiu


Today, I am posting a little poem by Pei Di 裴迪 who was a close friend of Wang Wei's 王維 and the circle of three friends included Wang Wei's brother-in-law 崔興宗 Cui Xingzong, the very Cui Jiu (the Ninth) 崔九 in the title Pei Di was writing to and sending off.

Hope you like my rendition:- 

Pei Di (716-?): Farewell to Cui Jiu

1   (Back to the hills you’re going, no matter far or near;)
     Back to the hills you're going, no matter near or far;  (revised 16.8.17)
2   Be ever filled with the beauty of every mound and dale.
3   (Follow not the folly of that fickle Wuling fellow, who)
     Pray that never you follow that fickle Wuling fellow who  (revised 5.8.17)
4   Alas but briefly stayed in the Peach Blossoming Vale. 

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黃宏發
12th May 2017 (revised 27.7.2017; 4.8.17)
Translated from the original – 裴迪: 送崔九

1   歸山深淺去
2   須盡邱
3   莫學武陵人
4   暫遊桃源裏

Notes:-

*Form, Meter and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Title:  崔九 “Cui Jiu” or “Cui the Ninth” in the title refers not to the Cui Jiu in 杜甫 Du Fu’s poem 江南逢李龜年 “Meeting Li Guiniang in Jiangnan” whose name is 崔滌 Cui Di, but to another Cui Jiu who was 王維 Wang Wei’s brother-in-law (wife’s younger brother) named 崔興宗 Cui Xingzong.  Wang Wei and Cui Xingzong and the poet of this poem Pei Di were very close friends indeed.

*Line 1:  The term  (return) (mountain) refers to retirement or resignation from public service and is translated here literally as “back to the hills”.  I had originally translated (deep or far) (shallow or near) literally as "far or near", but have now (16.8.17) decided to reverse the order in favour of the word "far" to  end the line, thus, “near or far”.  (go) is rendered as “going”, hence, my “Back to the hills you’re going”.  To this and before “near or far”, I have added “no matter” (after considering “be it” and “whether”) to make sense of the line.

*Line 2:  (should or must) (to fully do) is rendered as “Be ever filled with … of every …”  邱壑 and are translated literally as “mound and dale” and “the beauty”.

*Line 3:  I have rendered (not to) (learn, repeat, follow, copy or imitate) as “Follow not the folly” (with “folly” added) after considering an alternative rendition of “Pray that you never follow” (without adding “folly”), and have decided for the version with the additions which, in my view, best conveys the sense.   武陵人 (Wuling, man) is rendered as “that fickle Wuling fellow” with “fellow” to translate “man” and with “fickle” added   The addition of “fickle” here and “folly” earlier on is for both the sense and the  sound of the line.  The line now reads: “Follow not the folly of that fickle Wuling fellow, who”.  Note added (5.8.17): I have now decided to revert to the version which I had originally considered, slightly changed to read: "Pray that never you follow that fickle Wuling fellow who".  This is because I find my alliteration of 4 "f's" a bit too tiring; and since I am reluctant to let go of either "follow" or "fellow" and since neither "folly" nor "fickle" is in the original, one of them can be dropped, and I have decided to drop "folly".  Frankly, unlike saying "follow that fellow", I had never been too comfortable with having to say "follow the folly".  I am happy that my discomfort has disappeared.  End of added note.  武陵人 is an allusion to 陶淵明 Tao Yuanming’s story of a fisherman from Wuling who discovered a paradise on earth but left for home after just a few days, which story is entitled 桃花源記 “The Peach Blossom Source”.  The allusion runs on in the poem to 桃源, which I have rendered as "Peach Blossoming Vale", in line 4.

*Line 4:  (temporary or brief) (visit, tour or stay) is rendered as “(line 3) … who /Alas, but briefly stayed” (after considering “who /Alas, just briefly stayed”, “whose /Stay was, alas, but brief” and “whose /Stay was, alas, a brief one”) with the word “Alas” added to strengthen the “not to copy or follow” advice/admonition of line 3.   (peach) (source) (in) is rendered rather literally as “in the Peach Blossoming Vale” with (a) taken to mean 棑花 and rendered as “Peach Blossom” turned into “Peach Blossoming” for the one additional unstressed syllable “-ing” required before “Vale”, and (b) taken to refer to the place where the source (or spring) is and covers, and not the source (or spring) itself, hence, rendered as “Vale” and which completes the rhyme

  

03 July 2017

西鄙人 Xi Bi Ren (Western Frontiersman): 哥舒歌 Song of Geshu

Below is a folk rhyme of the Tang dynasty which I have recently translated into English.  Though anonymous, it is collected in the famed anthology of "300 Tang Poems"; and mind you, there are over 50,000 Tang poems extant.  You will wish to note (a) the beauty of the original's 高刀洮 (gao-dao-tao, rendered as sight-night-might) rhyme, (b) the brilliance of the imagery of the Dipper as Geshu's Sword, and (c) the sheer simplicity of the poem.

Here we go:- 

Xi Bi Ren (Western Frontiersman) (?Tang Dynasty): Song of Geshu

1   The seven starred Big Dipper, due north up high in sight:
2   ‘Tis the sword of General Geshu, in vigilance all night.
3   To date, them herders on horseback, espy yet do not dare
4   To cross our Lintao border, in awe of Geshu Han’s might.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黃宏發
27th May 2017 (revised 28.5.17; 31.5.17; 1.6.17; 6.6.17; 7.6.17; 8.6.17)
Translated from the original – 西鄙人: 哥舒歌

1   北斗七星高
2   哥舒夜帶刀
3   至今窺牧馬
4   不敢過臨洮

Notes:-

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character quatrain.  This English rendition is in hexameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Author and Title:  On the face of it, the poem was written by some poet who wished to be anonymous so named himself 西鄙人 Xi Bi Ren (Western Frontiersman).  More likely, it was a folk rhyme among the people of the western frontier of Tang dynasty China, polished by one and many in the process of circulation.  Author being untraceable, it was attributed to “Western Frontiersman”, whether as one such person or as such persons collectively.  “Geshu” in the title and line 2 (and also line 4 in my English rendition) refers to a Tang dynasty general surname “Geshu” 哥舒 (name “Han” ) in the High Tang 盛唐 period (the period of Li Bai, Du Fu and Wang Wei) who was victorious against a Tubo 吐蕃 (Tibetan) incursion.  This poem is about the peace that ensued.

*Line 1:  北斗七星 (north, dipper, seven stars) is an asterism in the constellation Ursa Major 大熊座in the northern sky.  It consists of seven bright stars in the shape of a dipper or scoop or ladle or plough or wain, with four stars defining the scoop or bowl or body, and three stars, the handle or head.  In English, it is known as the Wain or Plough or Big Dipper or just Dipper (beware, there exist another asterism of seven stars with the same shape in the constellation Ursa Minor 小熊座 also in the northern sky).  北斗七星 is here rendered as “The seven starred Big Dipper”, Dipper being a literal translation of which Wain and Plough cannot claim, and Big Dipper being the proper name of the said asterism.  I have been able to retain the idea of the northern sky in 北斗 by adding “due north” after “Big Dipper”.  is rendered as “up high in sight” with “in sight” added to create a scheme of “-ight” end rhymes.  This is superior to “shines high and bright” I originally penned as the addition of “bright” is quite artificial while “in sight” (= all can see) is implied in the original.

*Line 2:  I have not taken夜帶刀 literally as “(at) night carries (his) sword”, but as “vigilant at night”.  Further, the whole line should not be understood as a statement that “Geshu is vigilant at night” but should be read as a continuation of line 1 saying these 7 northern stars, shaped like a sword (or dipper, scoop, ladle, plough, wain), represent “the sword of Geshu (a metonymy for Geshu himself) keeping vigilance at night”.  The line is, therefore, rendered as “’Tis the sword of General Geshu, in vigilance all night”, with “all night” used rather than the proper “at night” as the stars are there all night.

*Line 3:  至今 (until, now) is rendered as “To date”.  For the word (see or peep or eye or espy or spy), the problem lies in whether “… 窺牧馬 (in line 3) and 不敢過 (in line 4)” should be interpreted as (a) “(= 看見)牧馬()不敢過”, in English, “we see their horses dare not cross” or (b) “牧馬窺(= 窺看)()不敢過”, in English, “their horses just spy and dare not cross”.  I prefer the latter for the following reasons.  First, the inversion of the order of 牧馬窺 as 窺牧馬 in the original is meant to move 牧馬 closer to不敢過.  Second, the choice of the word is indicative of the sense of eyeing-spying, not just seeing for which will suffice.  Third, when placed before 牧馬, can be regarded as the adjectival “spying” qualifying their horses and their men.  On the term 牧馬 (herd, horse), it is a metonymy in the original, using “horses being herded” and/or “horses used for herding” to represent the men on horses herding cattle (and even horses).  It therefore refers to the men and not the horses.  I had hoped to retain the metonymy in my rendition, but after considering “herdsmen’s horses”, “tribesmen’s horses”, “nomads’ horses”, “nomadic horses”, I dropped the idea and decided to render it as “herders on horseback”.  It may be of interest to note the famed translator 許渊冲 Xu Yuan Zhong has been able to retain the metonymy in his translation of 胡馬 “Tartars’/Jurchens’ 女真 horses/steeds” in 姜夔 Jiang Kui 揚州慢 自胡馬窺江去後” as “Since northern shore was overrun by Jurchen steeds”, but this is a different story, in a very different context.  (Just mark the word there features the transferred meaning of “overrun” and “ransacked”.)  The line is now rendered as “To date, them herders on horseback, espy yet do not dare” with “espy” to translate and with 不敢 in the original line 4 moved up to line 3 in the English rendition as “do not dare”.  I have also added “them” to “herders” to contrast with “our … border” to be added in line 4.  (Please see note below.)


*Line 4:  不敢 is rendered as “do not dare” and moved up to line3.  臨洮 is the name of a place in present day Kansu 甘肅 Province (between Tibet to the south and Inner Mongolia to the north) so named for being “on/by ” “the River Tao ” which is a tributary of the Yellow River 黃河.  (A note on pronunciation: in洮水(the river in Kansu) and 臨洮 is pronounced “tao” while the same word in 洮湖 (a lake in present Jiangsu 江蘇 Province) is pronounced “yao”.)  過臨洮 is rendered as “to cross our Lintao border” with the words “our” and “border” added to make clear the nature and significance of the said place.  I have further added “in awe of Geshu Han’s might” to reiterate they “do not dare” and explain why so, which is the sense of the poem.  The addition of “might” completes the rhyme.