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


*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. 

02 June 2017

劉長卿 Liu Changqing: (聽)彈琴 (Hearing the) Zither Played in Tune

Today, I am posting my rendition of Liu Changqing's beautiful little poem "Zither Played in Tune".  You may wish to note that my rendition approximates the original in a number of ways:-

(a) 5 beats per line to render the 5-character lines of the original;

(b) end rhymes of "Pines" and "lines" to emulate the original's 寒 and 彈 in lines 2 and 4;

(c) a caesura between the 2-beat and 3-beat half lines to represent the pause between the 2nd and 3rd characters in the original;

(d) the order of words/phrases follow, by and large, the order of the characters/phrases of the original; and

(e) the use of onomatopoeia (ling'ring-o-ling'ring) to translate onomatopoeia (泠汵) in the original.

Here we go:-

Liu Changqing (714-790): (Hearing the) Zither Played in Tune

1   Ling'r-o-ling'ring, the seven-string zither chimes;
2   Silent, I hear: the bleak notes of Windswept Pines.
3   This tune of old, although myself I love, yet
4   Folks of the day, now rarely play these lines.

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黄宏發
16th May 2017 (revised 18.5.17; 19.5.17; 22.5.17; 23.5.17; 25.5.17)
Translated from the original - 劉長卿: ()彈琴

1   泠泠七弦上
2   靜聽松風寒
3   古調雖自愛
4   今人多不彈


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

*Line 1:  泠泠 (not 冷冷 meaning “cold”) is onomatopoeic of the sound of running creek water transferred to imitate the sound of the zither.  It is pronounced “ling-ling” in both Putonghua and Cantonese, and is rendered here, also in onomatopoeia, as “ling'ring-o-ling'ring" (after having first penned it as "tingling-o-tingling" over “tinkling-o-tinkling”) for being closer to the "ling" sound and devoid of merry-making connotations.  七弦 (seven, string) refers to the 七弦琴, a musical instrument with 7 strings called the ‘qin’ similar to the zither, and is rendered as “the seven-string zither”.  Although when pronounced in the “falling tone” 去聲(二十三漾韻) to mean “on top of” (e.g. 山上 “on the hill” and 書上 “in the book”) can be translated into English as the preposition “on” or “in” and the line, hence, rendered as “On/In the tinkling of the seven-string zither”, I have adopted a much more active interpretation of the word and pronounce it in the “rising tone” 上聲(二十二養韻) to mean “to ascend” or related verbs (which verb depends on the context, e.g. 上山 “go up a hill”, 上書 “submit a letter”, 上火車 “board a train”, 上塲 “come/go on stage”, or just “go fight”).  is, therefore, rendered as “chimes”, after considering “arises”, “rises”, “rising”, “chiming”, “in play”, “in tune” and “played in tune”.

*Line 2:  靜聽 (silent, hear) is rendered as “Silent, I hear” to mean “I keep silent to hear” which is what the original says.  松風 (pine, wind) refers to the title of the music score 風入松 (wind, enter, pine) and is rendered capitalized as “Windswept Pines” after considering “Wind Through Pines” and “Wind Into Pines”.  (cold) describes the nature of the tune and is, therefore, rendered as “the bleak notes of” with “notes” added to make clear the music is cold and bleak, and not the wind, nor the pines.

*Line 3:  古調 (old, tune) is understood in the singular as the one tune referred to in line 2 and is rendered “this tune of old”.  雖自愛 (although, self, love) is rendered as “although myself I love”.  I have added “yet” to end the line to provide an enjambment to lead to line 4.

*Line 4:  I had originally penned line 4 as “Yet few folks still play it, these fickle modern times” which I truly love but which I have to discard for 2 reasons.  First, the addition of the word “fickle”, which is not in the original, has added too much into the poet’s plain statement of  “nowadays”.  Second, and more important, (many) in 今人多不彈 should be properly understood as “people often” 人多, not as “many people” 多人, hence, “nowadays, people often don’t play it” and not “nowadays, many people don’t play it”.  If conversely formulated as (few) as if the line were written as 如今人少彈, it should be properly understood as “people rarely” 人少, not “few people” 少人, hence, “nowadays, people rarely play it” and not “nowadays, few people play it”.  The line should, therefore, be properly translated as “Folks of the day, not often play these lines” or, better, “Folks of the day, now rarely play these lines” which I have decided for..

*Line 3 and 4:  In the original, these 2 lines are in parallel as an unrhymed couplet, with 古調 perfectly parallel to 今人, and 雖自愛 in less than perfect parallel to 多不彈.  Having abandoned my original rendition of line 4, I am now in a position to render these lines as parallels in English.  We now have “This tune of old” in perfect parallel to “Folks of the day”, and “although myself I love” in less than perfect parallel to “now rarely play these lines”. 

02 May 2017

王梵志 Wang Fanzhi: 無題/我有一方便 Untitled/Of prescription, I have a ready piece

As there appears to be a lot of interest in the poems of Wang Fanzhi on this blog, I am posting here one more quatrain by this lay Buddhist.  Here we go:-

Wang Fanzhi (592?-670?): Untitled/Of prescription, I have a ready piece

1    Of prescription, I have a ready piece,
2    It’s worth, a hundred rolls of fleece----
3    In fights, lie low as ever one should;
4    Till death, see no county-authorities.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa )    譯者::黃宏發
27 December 2016 (revised 4.1.2017; 5.1.17; 10.1.17)
Translated from the original

王梵志: 無題/我有一方便

1    我有一方便
2    價值百疋練
3    相打長伏弱
4    至死不入縣

*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition of the 5-character quatrain is in tetrameter (4 beats or feet.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original. 
*Line 1:  一方便 is rendered as “Of prescription … a ready piece” (a ready piece of prescription) after considering “remedy”.
*Line 2:  百疋 is rendered as “a hundred rolls” after considering “bolts” and “lengths”.  (which is a plain white  “silk” or “cloth” fabric) is loosely rendered as “fleece” (which is woolen) for the rhyme.  This I consider acceptable as the point here is the “worth” which is clearly made in “a hundred rolls” which is a lot for the poor, whatever the material.
*Line 3:  相打 is rendered as “In fights” ( “each other” is not translated as it takes at least 2 to fight) after considering “quarrels” and “conflicts”.  伏弱 is rendered as “lie low” after considering “stay weak” and “stay low”.  (long or always) is rendered as “as ever one should” after considering “always”.

*Line 4:  I had considered rendering 至死 as “In life (till death = during life)” but have decided to stick to the literal “Till death”.  (county) refers to the county government, its physical office and its officials, or “the authorities”, and not literally the county.  Hence, (not)(enter)(county) does not mean “not to enter the county” but means “have nothing to do with the county authorities”, i.e. “not to deal with nor to be dealt with by the county authorities”.  I had originally considered rendering as “county police”, but found it inadequate.  I then considered “county office” and “county authorities” and found both adequate, but have chosen “county authorities” which is superior in sense despite its extra, supernumerary beat in the word “authorities”.  For (not)(enter), I had considered “deal not with”, “see not”, “meet not”, “go not to”, “stay away from”, “steer clear of” and have decided for “see no” over “meet no”.  The line, therefore, now reads: “Till death, see no county-authorities” which completes the “piece(1), fleece(2), and -ties(4)” rhyme.  I suggest reading “-ties” unstressed (to keep to a 4-beat line) and have, therefore, hyphenated “county-authorities” to make it easier to be read as 2 dactyls, thus: DUM-da-da-DUM-da-da. 

01 April 2017

羅隱 Luo Yin: 自遣 To Myself (My Way)

Today, I am posting a poem by the late Tang dynasty poet Luo Yin.  Read whatever pleases you into the poem, but do also read into it my interpretation of it (in this my English rendition) which is a far cry from being the song of a drunk or an unsuccessful imperial office seeker.

Please enjoy it!  Here we go:-

Luo Yin (833-910): To Myself (My Way)

1   When I gain, aloud I sing, when lose, I just let go----
2   Woeful and regretful: the way to unending sorrow. 
3   (Today, this wine of mine, drink and be drunk today;)
     Today while the wine is mine, drink and be drunk today; (revised 18.4.17)
4   Tomorrow. if worries come, worry not till tomorrow.                                                                     
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
18th January 2017 (revised 24.1.17; 31.3.17; 18.4.17)
Translated from the original - 羅隱: 自遣

1   得即高歌失即休
2   多愁多恨亦悠悠
3   今朝有酒今朝醉
4   明日愁來明日愁


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain.  This English rendition of the quatrain is in heptameter (6 beats or feet) while the original is in 7-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.

*Title:  自遣 means “to release/console myself” and is probably best translated simply as “To Myself” which I have adopted.  I had originally entitled it “My Way” because the poem gives a very clear message that one should “follow the way of nature” 順其自然 which is the way of the poet who is a Daoist 道家.  I have, therefore, added “My Way” as an alternative title.

*Line 1:  For 得失, after considering “high” and “low”, I have decided for the literal “gain” and “lose”.  高歌 is translated also literally as “aloud I sing”. I have taken the word (stop, quit, etc.) to be the key to understanding the line and the poem.  It certainly does not mean “sullen” (found in a Wiki translation), nor does it mean “stop/quit in the sense of giving up”.  In my view, the only correct interpretation is 罷休 (let the matter drop) and it is, therefore, rendered as “just let go”.

*Line 2:  The word can mean either “worry” or “woe/sorrow”.  In this line, I have taken it to mean “woe/sorrow” (in contrast to “worry” in line 4) and it is rendered as “Woe…”.  The word can mean either “hatred” or “regret”.  Since the poem has nothing to do with hatred, it is rendered as “regret…”.  The word (many) is rendered as “full” or rather, the suffix “-ful”, hence, 多愁多恨 rendered as “Woeful and regretful”.  I suggest reading “and” stressed to make the first half of the line 3 beats.  Of the various meanings of 悠悠 I have chosen “long lasting, never ending” and have rendered it as “unending”.  The word (also) is taken to mean 也正是 (also, precisely, is); and the whole line can be paraphrased as “To be full of woe and regret is precisely what makes sorrow unending” and rendered as “Woeful and regretful: the way to unending sorrow” with the word “way” added to bring out the message that “woeful and regretful” is not the poet’s “way”, his “way” being what transpires in lines 1, 3 and 4.

*Line 3:    (morning) refers to (day), hence, 今朝 is translated as “Today”.  有酒 (have, wine) means “there is wine” or “I have wine” and is rendered as “while the wine is mine” (to mean "when there is wine at my disposal") after considering “this wine of mine", "this wine is mine", "while there is wine", "while there’s still wine”, “while I have wine”, and "while I still have wine". (This sentence revised 18.4.17.)  The word (drunk) in Chinese includes 飲酒 (to drink, alcoholic beverage) and is best rendered as “drink and be drunk”.

*Line 4:  I have taken the here to refer to “worry” in contrast to “woe/sorrow” in line 2.  明日愁來 is, therefore, rendered as “Tomorrow, if worries come” after considering “Tomorrow, come worries” and “Tomorrow, when worries come”.  For the 明日愁 ending the line, I had originally penned “are worries for tomorrow”, but have now decided for “worry not till tomorrow”.

01 March 2017

王維 Wang Wei: 送別 (1-下馬飲君酒) Farewell (1- Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell)

The famed Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei had written 2 poems with the same title "Farewell" 送別.  I had posted one in November 2013 on this blog entitled (with the first line included): "Farewell (Here in the hills, I bade you farewell)". 

Early last month (February 2017), a retired entomologist Akey Hung wrote in the comments section of my said post (linked above).  He gave me a rendition of the other Wang Wei "Farewell" poem by the renowned translator of Chinese poetry Burton Watson and asked me for my rendition.  This I have now done which I have entitled: "Farewell (Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell)".

I am grateful to Akey Hung without whose encouragement I may never attempt this other "Farewell" poem.  I am also grateful to Burton Watson for his rendition which, in my view, is superior to Witter Bynner's rendition, and from which I have borrowed a few ideas: my "nothing is going my way" is inspired by his "nothing goes right", and my "Go then", though based on my interpretation of 但去 as 去吧, represents my full agreement with his "Go then".

Although I have been unable to achieve perfect rhyme, I hope my "-ing" rhyme of "heading, retiring, unending" will suffice.  Here goes my rendition:-

Wang Wei: Farewell (1- Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell)

1   Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell;
2   I asked, “My friend, where are you heading?”
3   “Oh, nothing is working my way,” you said,        
4   “So be back to the crags of Nanshan, retiring.”
5   “Go then!  Of the world, you’ll ask no more!
6   Ah, days of endless white clouds, unending!”
(Originally posted 1st March 2017)

1   Dismounted, we drank to bid you farewell.
2   I asked, "My friend, where are you heading?"
3   You said, "Oh, nothing is working my way,
4   So be back to the crags of Nanshan, retiring."
5   "Go then!  You'll ask of the world no more!
6   Ah, days of endless white clouds, unending!"
(Revised 24th April 2017) 

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)      譯者: 黃宏發
5th February 2017 (revised 9.2.17; 11.2.17; 24.4.17)
Translated from the original – 王維: 送別 (1-下馬飲君酒)

1   下馬飲君酒
2   問君何所之
3   君言不得意
4   歸卧南山陲
5   但去莫復問
6   白雲無盡時


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 5-character old style verse 古詩 in 6 lines which I will term “sestet” 六行詩.  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-syllable lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXAXA as in the original.

*Title:  Wang Wei has another poem of the same title, the other being a quatrain, while this, a sestet.

*Line 1:  飲君酒 (drink, your, wine) does not mean “drink your/someone’s wine” but “toasting”, i.e. asking you/someone or all present to drink wine in honour of somebody or something.  (Here, the sound of the word “yin” should be uttered in the “falling tone” 去聲 and pronounced as in .)  I have, therefore, rendered it as “we drank to bid you farewell” with (a) “wine” omitted (which is implied in “drank to bid”), and (b) “to bid … farewell” added (which repeats the title and is a useful reminder that the occasion is “farewell drinks”).

*Line 2:  is translated literally as “I asked”, a simple enquiry, in contrast to the impregnated “ask of the world” in line 5.  I have used “My friend” to translate (you or Sir).  For , I have decided for “heading” (after considering “going” and “tiding”) for being more literal.

*Line 3:  The word is translated literally as “said” after considering “replied”, “answered” and, particularly, “sighed”, indicative of the friend’s dissatisfaction with his lot, which, I hope, is adequately covered by my rendering 不得意 (not, in accord with, wish) as “nothing is working my way” and the adding of “Oh” to begin the reply and “So” to begin the next line.  I suggest reading the word “my” stressed, thus: “my way” read as DUM da.

*Line 4:  歸卧 (return, sleep) is rendered as “be back to … retiring”, and 南山陲 (south, mountain, frontier or border or remote part) is not translated literally as “the edge/side of Nanshan” but rendered as “the crags of Nanshan”, for the “back-crags” assonance, with “crags (rocks) to represent the remoteness.  I have not translated南山 “Nanshan” as ”Southern or South Mountain” as the term refers to the mountain “Zhongnanshan” 終南山 and has nothing to do with its being in the far South of the country, which it is not.

*Lines 5 and 6:  The question is: whether (A) the poet or (B) the friend be taken as the speaker of these last 2 lines?  In other words, should the 3 sets of couplets be: (A) poet sets the scene and asks--friend replies--poet concludes, or (B) poet sets the scene and asks--friend replies--friend concludes”?  Burton Watson has chosen (A) the poet: “Go then----I’ll ask no more----// there is no end to white clouds there” while Witter Bynner prefers (B) the friend: “So give me leave and ask me no questions// White clouds pass there without end”.  Although both are plausible, I find (A) much more natural: a 4-line reply and conclusion from the friend out of a 6-line poem seems a disproportionately long monologue.  I have, therefore, decided to take the poet to be the speaker of lines 5 and 6.

*Line 5:  The key question to ask in the line 但去莫復問 (only, go, not = don’t or won’t, again, ask) is the word “ask”.  On the face of it, the line can only mean (A) paraphrasing Watson, “You go then, I will ask no further” (a not too caring poet), or (B) paraphrasing and adapting Bynner, “Allow me to go, ask me no (further) questions” (an egocentric and rude friend).  Both take “ask” as “enquire’, as simply the asking of the wheretos and, perhaps, also the whys and wherefores of the retiring friend.  Contrary to them, I suggest hidden behind the word “ask” is the asking about, hence, the seeking of worldly matters 世事, i.e. success, advancement, riches, status, etc.  This friend who is about to leave to become a hermit will and should begin to不問世事 “not to ask in pursuit of worldly matters”, 不復問 … “ask in pursuit … no more”, and this is what 莫復問 in the line means.   I have, therefore, rendered the line as “Go then!  You'll ask of the world no more!”  I am gratefully to Burton Watson for having borrowed from him his translation of 但去 as “Go then!”

*Line 6:  I have used “days” to render  (time).  As 無盡 (no end) can be understood to describe both (time = days) and 白雲 (white clouds), I have used “endless” for “white clouds” and “unending” for “days”.  I had originally penned “Ah, halcyon days of white clouds, unending” but have now rejected “halcyon” for carrying allusions which may be misleading and for being too Western to be used in a Chinese poem.


01 February 2017

鄭燮 (鄭板橋) Zheng Xie (Zheng Banqiao): 詠雪 On Snowflakes

Last month, I posted here my first ever octet (or 8-line verse) rendition, that of Du Fu's "Beholding the Mountain" 望嶽, but was disappointed to find there had only been about 100 viewers.  Today, I am reverting to quatrains and am posting one by a Qing 清 dynasty poet/painter 鄭燮 Zheng Xie, more popularly known as 鄭板橋 Zheng Banqiao.

This quatrain is not of the traditional type.  All 4 lines rhyme and the language sounds colloquial. Some claim this may be the beginning of modern colloquial verse in Chinese which I doubt as the language used by his Tang dynasty predecessor Wang Fanzhi is even more colloquial.

This poem "On Snowflakes" is a fun poem which plays on numbers (from 1 to 10, then to 10,000, delightfully written and, I hope, equally delightfully rendered into English.  The beauty of it lies in snowflakes transforming into plum-flowers, particularly beautiful in this Chinese Lunar New Year season of plum flowers and snow.

I hope you will enjoy this.  Here we go:-

Zheng Xie (Zheng Banqiao) (1693-1765): On Snowflakes

1   One, and two flakes, snowflakes three and four;
2   Five six, sev’n eight, nine flakes, ten and more;
3   A thousand, ten thousand, myriad flakes galore,
4   Glide into plum-flow’rs, snowflakes seen no more.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)        譯者: 黃宏發
19th January 2017 (revised 20.1.17)
Translated from the original - 鄭燮 (鄭板橋): 詠雪

1   一片兩片三四片
2   五六七八九十片
3   千片萬片無數片
4   飛入梅花都不見


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  The original is a 7-character quatrain but not of the traditional kind with (a) the word (piece or flake) appearing 7 times, (b) the use of the same word for rhyme in 3 lines, and (c) all 4 lines have the same end rhyme in violation of the rule that line 3 should never rhyme, and all in addition to the language being colloquial.  This English rendition is in pentameter (5 beats or feet) while the original is in 7-syllable lines.  My rhyme scheme follows the original’s unorthodox AAAA.

*Title:  is literally “to sing” or “to versify” or, as the product, “a verse” or “an ode”.  I have left it out as being superfluous.  is literally “snow”.  As the poem is not about “snow”, but about flakes of snow, I have decided to entitle it “On Snowflakes” or just “Snowflakes” without seriously suggesting to change the original name to 詠雪花 or just 雪花.

*Line 1:  In this line, I have reduced the number of times or flakes appear from 3 to 2.  One of these two appear in the word “snowflakes” which brings in the theme early.

*Line 2:  The word “seven” is shortened to “sev’n” so as to make “sev’n eight” disyllabic with “sev’n” read stressed.

*Line 3:  I suggest reading “A thousand” and “ten thousand” as amphibrachs (da-DUM-da). 

*Line 4:  (fly) is rendered as “Glide” which means to fly gracefully downwards. To translate都不見 (all, not, see), I had originally penned “to remain in sight no more” which is faithful, if not entirely literal, but have found it wanting as it makes no sense at all.  The snow of the snowflakes is still in sight, not flying but staying on the plum-trees’ branches and twigs.  I then considered adding to this last half-line the word “snow” (not in the original) which makes it possible for me to say to the effect “snow not seen as snow”.  After considering “not seen as snow at all” and “seen as snow no more”, I have decided for “snowflakes seen no more” which is a rather literal translation of 都不見 but with “snowflakes” added.  The line now reads: “Glide into plum-flow’rs, snowflakes seen no more”.  Snow is still in sight, not seen as snowflakes but as plum-flowers: a beautiful picture of the transformation of snowflakes into plum-flowers.