Today is New Year's Eve. Tomorrow will be New Year's Day 2012, still deep in winter, may not be the right time to post a spring poem. But when winter is here, can spring be too far away? Here is a poem by the Tang poet Wei Yingwu which is the subject of many a Chinese painting of a boat moored idly by the riverbank when it is raining and the waters are running swift. It is the picture of a desolate spring. Indeed, 2012 looks bleak. Yet, orchids still grow, leaves still sprout, orioles still sing, and life still goes on. The advice is: "Don't despair, just lie low."
Wei Yingwu (739-792): By the River to the West of Chuzhou
1 (How I love the riverside, where orchid grasses grow,)
How I love the riverside where slender grasses grow, (revised 4.1.12)
2 And from up on trees so leafy, songs of the orioles flow.
3 Spring flood and a day's rain, by dusk the river runs swift,
4 The country ferry deserted, the boat, by itself, lies low.
ranslated by ATndrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
Translated from the original - 韋應物: 滁州西澗
3 春潮帶雨晚來急4 野渡無人舟自橫
* This English rendition is in hexameter (6 metrical feet) while the original is in 7-character lines. The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
* Title and line 1: 西澗, literally West Brook, is a river to the west of 滁州 Chuzhou in present day 安徽 Anhui province. I have therefore chosen to translate 澗 in the title as “River” and 澗邊 in line 1 as “riverbank” or “riverside”.
* Line 1: 憐 in this context should mean “love” as in 憐愛 and not “pity” as in 可憐 and I have chosen to interpret 獨憐 to mean “love the most” and not “alone” or “only”, hence, “How I love”. I visualize 幽草 to be “tufts of graceful grass (can be species of flowering Chinese orchids called Cymbidium)” and not “turf” or “bunches of tall grass” or “a sea of reeds”, hence, “grassy orchids” or “orchid grasses”.
* Lines 1 and 2: I am grateful to Xu Yuan-zhong for his translation of line 1 as “Alone I like the riverside where green grass grows” (rather than the more literal “Alone I like the green grass that along the riverside grows”) which links up with line 2 “And (where) golden orioles sing amid the leafy trees” so much better in terms of the meaning of the 2 lines taken together. (Xu Yuan-zhong, et alias (eds.), “300 Tang Poems – A New Translation”, Hong Kong: Commercial Press, 1987, p. 248.)
* Line 3: 春潮 cannot be translated as “spring tide” which means a high tide in contrast to “neap tide”. It cannot be translated as “tide in spring” either, since there is no tide in rivers that do not pour directly into the sea. It can only mean springtime’s flood water from thawing snow and from rain, hence, “Spring flood”.
* Line 4: I had used “of itself” but have now decided for “by itself”. I have taken 橫 to mean “alongside” and not “crossing”, hence “lies low” to paint a picture of a single boat idly moored alongside the deserted countryside ferry pier.