Translation of Classical Chinese Poetry: Academic Contributions

Approach

I have been arguing that the translation of pre-modern Chinese poetry could benefit from a wider array of tools and approaches. Current examples may not be our best literary models if we want incisive, memorable and moving translations ― i.e. something more than today’s bloodless creations, where each poet sounds much the same.

Chinese poetry played a key role in Modernism’s battle against conformist English verse, and that battle still sputters on, long after victory has been declared, seeming to make any belated analysis of achievements an act of bad faith, or perhaps even an attack on contemporary poetry itself. I hope these notes will not be seen in that way, but more as a required testing of the ground on which we all walk. I have researched Chinese poetry through academic books and articles readily available ― i.e. from major booksellers, from Academia.edu and  Researchgate.net, and from the Internet generally, most of them written by specialists familiar with the very extensive literature. Though poetry enthusiasts  tend to fight shy of these contributions, academia does aim to stay relevant, and therefore records the changing fashions in the literary world, no doubt a little laggardly, but responsibly, as new themes, attitudes and styles become more widely accepted. I cannot cover all that has been written on the English translation of pre-modern Chinese poetry ― and clearly not papers written only in Chinese ― but I will try to summarise the important aspects and their arguments, as simply as possible, under today’s translation precepts. 

Preamble


An important point to bear in mind is that styles and attitudes have varied enormously over the last couple of centuries, and that variety cannot be categorised as a contest between the good (fresh, enterprising, Modernist) and the bad (imperialistic, stuffy, traditional). All kinds of influences, literary and political, are also woven in. {1}

The first translations were made by British officials posted to China: John Francis Davis, James Legge, William Jennings, and Clement Francis Romilly Allen. The verse, made to the fashion of the times, no doubt left much to be desired, but renderings were often scholarly, with helpful annotations. (Legge is still studied by scholars and students, incidentally. {2}) In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century came the more familiar renderings by Herbert Giles, resolutely rhymed, and Launcelot Alfred Cranmer-Byng’s 1909 A Lute of Jade: Being Selections from the Classical Poets of China, part of a popular series to improve understanding between east and west. Ezra Pound’s Cathay, based on Ernest Fenollosa’s manuscript, appeared in 1915, followed, in 1918, by Arthur Waley’s One Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems. Both authors used an unrhymed free verse. Pound’s verse was pleasing, but the renderings could be rather free. Waley’s renderings were based on Hopkins’ ‘sprung rhythm’, included useful notes on the structure and aims of Chinese poetry, and was generally faithful to the Chinese texts: key words were stressed by the verse, and little added or left out. Also in 1918, came Gems of Chinese Verse: Translated into English Verse by W.J.B. Fletcher, a British consular official in China, who tried to represent the original versification, difficult though that was. {3}

Thereafter, translations appeared more frequently: Florence Ayscough and Amy Lowell’s 1921 Fir-Flower Tablets: Poems from the Chinese, Shigeyoshi Obata’s 1922 The Works of Li Po [Li Bo], Witter Bynner’s 1929 The Jade Mountain. These were reprinted over the following decades, and joined by volumes from many other translators: Burton Watson, Wu-chi Liu and Irving Yucheng Lo, Hans Frankel, and John Turner. The stream of translations had become a broad river by the 1960s, and is now represented by names too numerous to be mentioned here. Studies and anthologies were brought out, by both leading academic publishers and the small presses, and it is these that have built the western reputations of Li Bai, Du Fu and Wang Wei, {3} though the Chinese themselves have wider tastes. {4}

Precept 1: Do Not Use Rhyme


Contemporary English poetry rarely uses rhyme, and a similar change has come over translation. The arguments are straightforward.

1. Unlike Chinese, English is comparatively poor in rhyme words, and a translation that employed the same rhyme throughout the poem, as Shi poetry commonly does, would be difficult to achieve and likely appear only comic and/or contrived. True, but some approximations could be made.

2. Rhyme distorts the meaning as translators manipulate words into patterns that are foreign to Chinese verse anyway. {5-6} Largely true, though the culprit may be verse-writing incompetence more than rhyme per se. I have given some examples of how it could be done, overleaf {7} and below.

3. Most translations using rhyme have been unsuccessful. Doubtless again true. Julie Sullivan gives many examples, which make painful reading. {8} But hers may not be a wholly balanced and non-partisan survey. She is arguing from the Modernist standpoint, and does not provide examples of rhymed translations that do succeed, at least to some extent. {9-11} Nor may she be a wholly reliable judge if the style she recommends is Waley’s ‘beautiful, free-verse translations’. Perhaps we should just accept that it’s difficult for non-poets to write good English verse of any description, and practically impossible when English is not their native tongue. Rhyme exposes the translator’s blundering incompetence more cruelly than does free verse, moreover, because traditional verse is built to more obvious and demanding standards.

Much may be simple fashion. We stare in disbelief at Victorian translations of Chinese poetry, but those Victorians would be even more perplexed by today’s renderings. A middle way, combining the advantages of both, seems a sensible strategy, but Modernism is currently a jealous god that accepts no equals. Traditional verse is no longer taught at higher education levels, nor, to judge from academic papers, much appreciated. Free verse is today’s orthodoxy, a style easy to write correctly but phenomenally difficult to write well. Even US academics of Chinese ethnicity, entirely bilingual, may therefore find themselves perplexed by today’s poetry and poetry translation, which is markedly demotic and unliterary, no doubt intentionally so. 

As surveys on this site of the leading figures of Modernism should document, contemporary poetry has become a coterie anti-art, posing as democratic but in fact acutely conscious of its inheritance and intellectual affiliations. It is new and forward-looking, impatient of the old forms, of anything that inhibits and straight-jackets us in the passé and inauthentic. It is a coterie movement, not widely popular, and heavily dependent on critical theory. Contemporary poetry thus its strengths, but traditional verse craft is not one of them. Or, to be more exact, good poetry today is exceptionally subtle, and concerned with matters only tangentially relevant to classical Chinese poetry. I will touch on this important point throughout the article, simply noting for the present that some Chinese authors do still look for beauty in its various guises. {12}

4. A good translation should read as a good contemporary poem. True, to some extent. We don’t want a rendering in antique language, or one filled with imagery from the European pastoral tradition. But good contemporary poems are anti-traditional, generally, whereas pre-modern Chinese poetry is profoundly traditional, steadily building on earlier schools of poets and poetry. We may need the techniques of contemporary poetry in translation, therefore, but not necessarily its outlook.

5. The most popular translations ― as literature ― are those of Pound, Rexroth and Waley, and they did not use rhyme.

No rhyme, certainly, but what they wrote was also rather limited. I very much enjoy these renderings, as do most readers, but those of Pound and Rexroth can be lacking in depth and accuracy, and Waley devised an unlovely stress verse.

Pound could not read Chinese and misinterpreted the identities of  “友” and “故人,” and of  “友” and “故人” in some of his best-known translations, for example, ignoring their multiple meanings and tending to view Li Bai’s poems in the light of his own experiences. But the misunderstandings were not wholly a loss, his supporters have argued. ‘Pound, polishing Fenollosa’s draft translation, might have made an editorial decision to de-historicize Li Bai from Chinese grammar, poetic principles and even Chinese space and time’ . . . but the ‘result transcended the level of translation; indeed, his translation deserves to be designated as “another original.”’ . . . He ‘both Eastern and Western readers to . . . take possession of the practical wisdom of using a Taoist’s laughter in the long, hard voyage of life.’ {13}

Pound used only a few poems of the many examples in Fenellosa’s notes, generally those with themes that would be familiar and meaningful to an English audience. {14} The great bulk of poems in Fenellosa’s notes operate in ways quite foreign to the European tradition ― different themes, imagery and outlooks. Pound’s particular interest was in the vivid presentation of the image, in the phanopoeia, as he termed it. Pound dropped the imagery of Herbert Giles, rejected the iambic meter and the rhyming couplets, allowing each of the lines to operate as self-contained, independent and detached images of rhythmic autonomy, uncoupled from any subjective ‘I’, the speaker, who remained only implicit in the scene. In the light of what we understand today of Shi poetry rules, Pound was correct to do so, and he also understood that this curtailed, image-based form allowed only loose combinations into larger units. {15} But this reduction in connecting sense (Pound’s logopoeia, or dance of the intellect) was something he was prepared to live with, indeed became axiomatic in many Modernist poets that followed.

Translation also, if rather slowly, became what Modernists were expected to do, whatever their linguistic skills. Perhaps as John Hollander remarked, 'A very, very good poet can do a version of something from another language, even if he doesn’t know the language. That is, he can write a poem based on somebody else’s prose paraphrases of the thing. But this is purely and simply a matter of the translator’s having a certain kind of poetic skill, a very rare thing to find.'  Chinese scholars have naturally stressed the pitfalls in such an approach, their interest in Pound and his followers growing rather slowly, perhaps reluctantly, somewhat in line with Chinese influence on the world scene. {16}

Rexroth not so much missed individual subtleties as disregarded them altogether. {17} His goal was to be ‘true to the spirit of the originals, and valid English poems.’ Many sources consulted were not the original Chinese, but translations of Tu Fu into English, French, or German. The power and the beauty of his translations often lay in the passages he rendered most freely, which can bear little resemblance to the Chinese texts. {18}

In contrast, Waley’s renderings were accurate, but they have to be ‘speed read’ with the ear closed to verse craft, just as one skims through a mass-market thriller, not attending to the actual words too much.  Traditional English poetry had to be read carefully and intelligently, however, with one’s full attention. It was frankly a time-consuming, elitist art, one which employed highly complicated devices to refine, shape and emphasize the thoughts and emotions put across: rhetoric, imagery, allusion, rhyme, subtle patterning by metre, even different language, which was far from the everyday. It had license and responsibility: the two went together: poetry was given great license because it carried great responsibilities, to press language to its limit, to give depth, sensuousness and beauty to everyday experience, expressing as fully and movingly as possible what was important to human beings. Indeed it is that larger world of depth, transcendence and sensibility, with sustained flights of imagination, that is so fatally missing from Modernist translations of the Chinese classics. The poetry surely cannot be so fragmentary, jejune and thin as appears in today’s translations, not if it has held the allegiance, indeed profound reverence, of the Chinese people for almost three millennia.

Precept 2: Do Not Paraphrase


Translators owe it to their readers to be as faithful to the text, using the original words wherever possible, and not superseding them with ‘inspired’ substitutes of their own. The maxim derives from Waley, who demonstrated the injunction by writing an unrhymed stress verse, where each stress fell on a key word, and where that keyword was a Chinese character in the original text. That key word was also to be reproduced in its plain prose meaning and not in any paraphrase. Original words were not to be added to translation, moreover, or removed from it. With a little ingenuity and occasional bending of the rules, those aims were largely achieved by Waley, {19} and in a generally pleasing manner, though the verse itself was thin and brittle, lacking most of the overtones of meaning and rich sonic properties expected of English verse. Nonetheless, since so much was captured of the plain prose sense, why not make these aims into rules for all poetry translation from the Chinese?

Many translators have, of course. But what seems so sensible and straightforward often hides a host of problems, which range from the obvious to matters involving arcane literary theory.

1. Chinese words may not have an exact word-for-word English equivalent, the usage, connotations and overtones being very different. For us the heart is the seat of the emotions: the Chinese more sensibly see the stomach as such. The Chinese have many phrases ― indeed are continually making them {20} ― whose apt and evocative nature does not carry over into English, any more than our ‘stitch in time’, keep a dog and bark yourself’, ‘tip of the iceberg’, etc. carry over into Chinese. Conversely, how literally we should render the likes of ‘purple spring  river’, so pleasing in Chinese but so odd in English, is a moot point.

2. As in any poetry, the Chinese words are chosen for reasons larger than any prose sense, particularly:

Syntax of Chinese:  Poetry exploits features of the language in which it is written, in an individual manner and at a deep level. Those features are quite different in the two languages, Chinese and English, and the language user mentally shapes and structures the semantic content of an expression, which at the same time imposes a frame upon the described scene or situation, which in turn affects translation. {21}

Allusion: Pound is often charged with overlooking the key allusions in his The River-Merchant’s Wife, {22} but that was only to be expected at the time, and is still a problem for translation from so allusive a poetry as Chinese. Notes are helpful, perhaps essential, but cannot substitute for an intimate knowledge of the literary canon, any more that a foreigner would clue into the Wordsworth allusion in phrases like ‘flare into the light of common day’ ― supposing an English poet were unwise enough to employ them.

Tradition: word usages change. Augustan verse diction looks out of place in a modern English poem, for example, and the Chinese are similarly sensitive to social and historical registers, as indeed to the calligraphy of their many scripts.

Fit with formal requirements of the verse form: It is form, and its many associated features, that make traditional poetry more than the meaning of its constituent words. {23} Extracting the Chinese words, converting the words to English, and arranging them in a meaningful way, therefore makes a very pared-down poetry, because those vital additional features cannot be duplicated in English. Reading such a translation, however skilful, is like trying to appreciate an opera from the libretto only.

3. Words in poetry do not generally have a simple prose sense, but tissues of meaning deriving from their present context and previous uses. Bakhtin, for example, stressed the multi-layered nature of language, which he called heteroglossia. Not only are there social dialects, jargons, turns of phrase characteristic of the various professions, industries, commerce, of passing fashions, etc., but also socio-ideological contradictions carried forward from various periods and levels in the past. Language is not a neutral medium that can be simply appropriated by a speaker, but something that comes to us populated with the intentions of others. Every word tastes of the contexts in which it has lived its socially-charged life. Chinese poetry has to be read in its larger context.

4. The requirement overlooks how poets actually compose. Very rarely (W.B. Yeats being a notable exception) do poets proceed from prose meaning to poetic phrase, converting an idea or thought into something conforming to the poem’s sonic and semantic matrix. The words are generally given in the process of the poem’s creation in that matrix, which of course is language-dependent. The delight a Chinese reader draws from a phrase will likely disappear when those word equivalents are assembled in English, naturally so, because their sonic properties, allusions, histories of use, and triumphant exemplification of the rules will be then all quite different, if they exist at all in the second language.

5. Words, phrases and lines in poetry have a life independent of their meaning. This is not a brief for traditional verse, but a finding from the Formalists and other schools of close poetry analysis. The Russian Formalists, for example, looked objectively at many authors, and came to accept that poetic speech should be an end in itself, not a simply medium for conveying ideas and emotions. {24} The Formalists made countless studies of rhyme, metre, consonantal clusters, etc. of the Russian classics and of poems by contemporaries. Claiming, contrary to Symbolist assertions, that words and their connotations are not the most important ingredient of poetry, they replaced loose talk about inspiration and verbal magic by ‘study of the laws of literary production’.

Precept 3: Use a Linear Poetry Rather than a Conventional Verse Form


Traditional verse is too limiting, Modernism argued. Chinese verse is written in lines, certainly, and does not allow enjambment, but the Chinese language itself is syntactically more fluid. There are no tenses, the verbs can be impersonal, etc. {25} and individual lines can often be read forward and backwards. Wai-lim Yip’s {26} most useful anthology of Chinese verse opens with this snippet, for example, a line from a seven character regulated poem of Su Tung p’o (1036-1101):

tide    follow    dark   waves   snow   mountains  fall

and notes that the words can be read equally well as:

fall    mountains    snow   waves    dark    follow    tides

True, but traditional verse craft is not helpless at this challenge. We can write various permutations of:

Tides and mountains, snow and dark
                       follow on but also fall

And can even get an internal rhyme (I’m not suggesting we should):

The snow on tides and mountains, all
    the darkness following can also fall

The second line is even more semantically complex. In short, many things can be written, depending on what we think the poet is saying or suggesting. As I indicated in the analysis of Du Fu’s Spring Prospect {27}, the ambiguities of Chinese verse are most easily addressed by turning verbs into nouns (which also echoes Chinese usage, of course.)

We don’t then have to argue that the Chinese world-view is so different from ours that modern Anglo-American poetry is the only way forward, the one style in which these subtle complexities can find expression. Influences have often been based on misunderstandings. {28}

Wai-lim Yip {29} speaks of the arbitrary western concepts of time based on causal linearity imposed by human conceptualisation. In his view,  ‘the western concept of being conceals being rather than exposing it; it turns us away from the concreteness of objects and events in Phenomenon rather than bringing us into immediate contact with them. . . the Phenomenon can be illustrated by the way film handles temporality, for film is a medium most felicitous in approximating the immediacy of experience. . . Much of the art of Chinese poetry lies in the way the poet captures the visual events as they emerge and act themselves out, releasing them from the restrictive concept of time and space, letting them leap out directly from the undifferentiated mode of existence instead of standing between the reader and the events explaining them, analysing them.’ Several points come to mind:

1. If vibrant immediacy were the whole or even primary purpose of Chinese poetry there would be little point in reading it. Human beings continually try to make larger sense of their surroundings, and indeed have to. They do not stare in mindless wonder at the over-brimming presence of life, but look for significance, underlying purpose, what those thoughts are saying to them. Even in films that evoke a particularly sharp sense of time or place, moreover, where the camera lingers over telling details, those details are generally telling us something we need to know about the atmosphere and background to the narrative, the plot, the clash of characters, etc.

2. Many contemporary translations do indeed try to bring this aspect of Chinese poetry over into English, but fail as poetry if that is all they do. Immediacy, in itself, is not particularly interesting. The Chinese originals had the aesthetic resources to go further and make them poetry, namely:

Allusion, continually picking up and modifying snippets of other Chinese poems.
Compact nature, a fixed and limited number of words to the line.
Multiple ambiguities of meaning, which flexible Chinese grammar allows.
Strict rules concerning structure, how themes are introduced, developed, inverted, etc.
Tones, and strict rules concerning their use. purpose. 

Beyond that, in any poetry worth its name, we also need a. some inter-penetration of larger purpose and b. an aesthetic shaping. Art has to make events, scenes and thoughts both beautiful and significant to us.

3. We should avoid arguing too much from one style of Chinese poetry. Tang regulated verse is impersonal, certainly, but it is also somewhat artificial. The personal nature, the speaker or onlooker, is not missing from the earlier Sao, Fu and Shi schools of poetry, or from the later Ci and Qu schools. Ontology develops as a rich and fascinating branch of philosophy in Chinese thought as much it does in European, though on different principles. To touch on matters readers can find for themselves, {30} we note:

‘Chinese philosophers inheriting the ontology of the Yijing and Great Commentary still use the concept of the “nature” (xing) of something, but “nature” does not refer to some underlying essence or immaterial substance that makes something what it is in distinction from other things. “Nature” is a way of talking about the manner of qi correlation that actualizes a thing as it is and sets it apart from the correlations of other things.'

It’s probably better work from such philosophy sites, and that at Stanford, {31} to grasp such fundamentals as:

‘While there was no word corresponding precisely to the term “metaphysics,” China has a long tradition of philosophical inquiry concerned with the ultimate nature of reality—its being, origins, components, ways of changing, and so on. In this sense, we can speak of metaphysics in Chinese Philosophy, even if the particular questions and positions that arose differed from those dominant in Europe. Explicit metaphysical discussions appeared in China with a turn toward questions of cosmogony in the mid-fourth century BCE. These cosmogonies express views that became fundamental for almost all later metaphysics in China. In these texts, all things are interconnected and constantly changing. They arise spontaneously from an ultimate source (most often called dao 道, the way or guide) that resists objectification but is immanent in the world and accessible to cultivated people. Vitality and growth is the very nature of existence, and the natural world exhibits consistent patterns that can be observed and followed, in particular, cyclical patterns based on interaction between polar forces (such as yin 陰 and yang 陽).’

4. Much of Modernist poetry stems from Ezra Pound, who certainly widened what was possible, {32} leaving us very much in his debt, {33} but the poetry of the man himself and his disciples ― Williams, Olson, Creely, Snyder and countless others, ― is not without its problems, as I have endeavoured to show. {34} What we might question is the obvious supremacy of ‘free verse’ today, which is largely a prose and is read as such, i.e. in its surface and immediately-given sense. Traditional verse, in contrast, abstracts the words to a medium where different rules and tacit understandings apply. What I am arguing for is not a return to traditional verse, and certainly not the Victorian verse of Herbert Giles, but for Modernist techniques to be added to traditional verse approaches.

5.  Too much can be made of language differences. In truth, most major poets have a slightly different world-view, which translators must indicate, both in their renderings, and in added glosses and introductions. That requirement applies as much to nineteenth-century French poets as it does to medieval Sanskrit or Chinese authors. To some extent, all readings are personal interpretations, moreover, as our experiences will never exactly match those of the poet’s. Furthermore, to add to the difficulties, there are the literary traditions through which we must read the poem, sometimes enlightening, sometimes less so, but which have to be respected nonetheless. They are all part of the translator’s everyday duties, difficult but not insurmountable requirements.

6. That does not mean that we can forget the fundamental differences to ours in the Chinese-world views (or views, to be more exact: Wang Wei was more Buddhist, Li Bai more Daoist, etc.). We have to understand the philosophical echoes in a poem {35} and see it in social setting {22} Indeed there would be few reasons to read Chinese poetry if the world it disclosed was not radically different from ours, vividly alive and aesthetically enhanced.

Precept 4: Ignore the Chinese Poem Structure.


It is generally held that the structure of Chinese poems cannot be duplicated:

‘In translation, it is impossible to reproduce the five-, seven-character lines, the original perfect symmetrical phrases or couplets. But it is possible reproduce the images, which is noteworthy component in Western poetry. In the Chinese poems the image concept consists of the noun or noun phrase, and the action verbs, i.e. hills, rivers, grass, trees, sky, the moon; ascend/descend, cross, see, watch, smell, touch, observe. The image concept becomes the center of the poem, while the action maker “I”, “we” are either implied or seem marginalized.’ {36}

Nonetheless, some key features can be brought across, and indeed should be brought across. {37} Ray Brownrigg {38} sensibly points out, moreover, that, firstly, English is rich in words of the same or similar meaning, allowing good approximations to rhyme and metre, and that, secondly, any poetry form constrains word choice, which simply applies again in translation. His analysis of eleven translations of Du Fu poems looked closely at the rules of regulated verse, including tone patterns  ― as stipulated by various authorities, and as followed by the various translations. The analysis was objective in the nature of the hard sciences, simply accrediting the translations as each fulfilled or did not fulfil the prescribed rules. Translations were also checked against the ‘Yan Fu criteria’ of fidelity, comprehensibility and elegance.  Most translations at least achieved a modest competence, sometimes more, suggesting that the translation process is not so difficult as supposed.

The second part of the paper was more adventurous, demonstrating how Ray Brownrigg himself, with no credentials in the world of Chinese and/or poetry (he is a lecturer in electrical engineering) could nonetheless turn out adequate translations that obeyed regulated verse rules. Of his Spring Prospect, given as:

Nation fallen, yet nature’s alive,
The city; spring trees and grasses thrive.
For these sad times the flowers they weep,
Being apart, birds stir me deep.
The war flames they’ll span three months soon;
Home news is worth a small fortune.
My white hair it’s torn out in vain,
Soon not to hold even a pin.

he says 'This first translation was an early attempt to provide a translation with rhyme in order to be ‘more accessible’ to a non-critical audience.  This would score four out of a possible seven points, since the rhyme is not fixed on even lines, there is no regularly located caesura in each line and couplets two and three do not adequately reflect the parallelism of the original.’

I wouldn’t myself think this was an acceptable poem (‘birds stir me deep’, etc.) but I can think of worse by respected authorities. Ten other translations were also presented, some rather better:

Meeting Li Guinian in the South

At Prince Qi's palace    I often saw you;
Before Cui Jiu's hall      I sometimes heard you.
Southern scenery -       is truly special;
As we meet again        here in life's autumn

His conclusion seems a fair one: ‘translations have shown that on average a translation which does exhibit some of the characteristics of the form of the original poem can do this without great loss of other qualities.’

But it's also unfortunately the case ― ‘if it is acceptable for a translation to compromise some of the non-formal characteristics in order to preserve more of the physical beauty of regulated poetry then there is the potential for this to be developed much further’ ― that such efforts will need the poet’s skill and acute sensitivity to words.   Simple word for word transpositions do not work, either in these no-nonsense  examples, or the more literary versions issuing from the academic presses.

The Larger Picture


I should perhaps say what I have in mind, after these all-too theoretical considerations. It seems to me that translation today is much too focused on Li Bai, Wang Wei and Du Fu, who are peaks in only one of the vast mountain ranges that make up Chinese poetry. Indeed, they may be special cases, where our attempts to convey the rules of Shi poetry have distorted a proper understanding of issues. As a stop-gap measure, working only from the prose or literal word renderings in Zong-Qi Cai's popular anthology, {4} I add these first stabs (very rough, but with rhyme schemes generally following the original) at a wider conception of Chinese poetry:

C1.4. I Beg of You Zhong Zhi (Book of Poetry: 1027-256 BC)

1. No, Zhong Zi, don’t you dare
2. traipse into my village there.
3. Don’t trespass on my willow lair:
4. it is my first and foremost care,
5. and I have parents, both, to fear.
6. Truly, you’re embraceable,
7. but when my parents talk, Zhong Zi,
8. that’s truly reprehensible.

9. I truly beg of you, Zhong Zi,
10. at my house-wall you will stop,
11. and leave alone my mulberry crop.
12. They are my first and foremost care.
13. Think of brother I have got.
14. Truly, you’re embraceable,
15. but when my brothers talk, Zhong Zi,
16. that’s truly reprehensible.

17. Enough, enough, I beg of you.
18. Leave the garden that you see
19. and the hardwood grove, Zhong Zi.
20. I care for them, and please don’t do
21. what brings me notoriety.
22. Truly you’re embraceable,
23. but, when the others talk, Zhong Zi,
24. that’s truly reprehensible.

       *   *   *    *

C2.1. Lord of the Xiang River (403-227 BC)
 
1. My lord, who does not come, is hesitant,
2.   and loath to leave — but  why? — this island haunt.
3. The lady’s beautiful but delicate,
4.   immediately I launch my cassia boat.

5. It’s calm the Yuan and the Xiang should know:
6. I order the Great River ease its flow.
 
7. I look for him, my lord: he is not there.
8.    Why do I play — for whom — this panpipe air?
9. I ride my flying dragons northwards; on
10.   to Dong-ti Lake my quest has gone.

11. My sail has melilot and fig-tree leaves,
12.  the flagpole, orchids and these irises,
13. I scan the prospect northward to the Cen
14.  I cross the mighty river once again.

15. He, for all my magic, does not meet my eyes:
16.   my women, saddened, breathe their heavy sighs.
17. For me, my tears stream down, there's no relief
18.   when thinking of you brings me so much grief.

19. With cassia oars, and orchid, still I go
20.   towards the hard, cold knock of ice and snow.
21. I scour the waters where the fig leaves float
22.    and pluck from treetops too the lotus growth.

23. If hearts are different-made, they cannot meet,
24.   and love's quick broken when so incomplete.
25. If like a bouldery stream is shallow love,
26.   the wise, benificent dragon hangs above.

27. Unfaithfulness in love brings bitterness —
28.   he says, no time for meeting, nonetheless —
29. I race all morning through the riverside,
30.   but chariot, stopped, is quiet by eventide.

31. In branches homing birds must make their nest,
32.   but waters round the palace have no rest.
33. Into their depths I toss my ring of jade,
34.   in Li's wide river mouth is pendant laid.

35. Lavender I'll pick. The fragrant isle
36.   will have my women scented for some while.
37. If what is given once is not regained,
38.   we'll have the time to walk here, unconstrained.

       *   *   *   *  

C 6.2 On Drinking Wine No. 5 (Tao Qian: AD 365-427)

1. I made my home here, in this human place
2. that has no noise of any cart and horse.
3. You ask me then, good sir, how can that be?
4. I say the heart will find its own true course.
5. There's chrysanthemums to pick, and I have sight,
6. at leisure, of the soft, far southern hills.
7. The mountain air brings beauty, day and night.
8. Birds flown together nest as each one wills
9. with something deeper that I would explain
10. if words had not so lately lost their force.
 

       *   *   *   *  

C 10.13 Sending Off Meng Haoran to Guangling at Yellow Crane Tower (Li Bai: AD 701-762)

1. You leave, old friend:  from Yellow Crane Pagoda gone,
2. by way of three-month’s mists and flowers, to far Yang-zhou.
3. Against the heavens, the one sail dwindles to a speck of blue
4. in the emptiness of sky, horizon, and the river flowing through.

       *   *   *   *  

C 9.4  Dreaming Heaven (Li He: AD 791-817)

1. The hare is old, the toad is cold:
     the sky is by its colour told.
2. The cloud-encumbered tower falls
     half-open: whiteness slants the walls.
3. The jade-wheel moon is as the dew,
     in rolling incandescent hue.
4. The phoenix carriage pendants meet
     each other in the scented street.
5. Golden dust and water speak
      of three Immortal Mountain peaks.
6. Changes that in centuries sigh
     are like a horse that gallops by.
7. Gazing from the distance spoke
     of Qi’s nine spots of misty smoke.
8. What ocean stream is taken up
     and drained within a single cup?


       *   *   *   *  

C 9.6 Sui Palace (Li Shanyi: AD 813-858)

1. The Purple Spring has palace halls
     entrammeled in their mist and haze.
2. Our emperor, though, would have those walls,
     though overgrown, still serve his days.
3. Should indications not prevail,
     nor seal of office prove his worth,
4. brocaded silks would onward sail
     to the very ends of earth.

5. The former had the fireflies glow,
     contesting even sunset’s blaze:
6. he had the needed willows grow
     along our ancient waterways.
7. But if ours met that former lord,
     returned to earth with all he’d got,
8. he’d ask for song that once assured:
     which might be fitting, might it not?

       *   *   *   *  

C13.5 To the Tune 'Congratulating the Bridegroom' (Xin Qiji: AD 1140-1207)

1. How much, how very much I have decayed.
2. In this poor carnival of life we travelers fall away.
3. How many of us, tell me, stayed?
4. Ten thousand zhang my white hair falls: how vain and shoddy
5. seem our lives. I laugh at earthly things, that fade.
6. And what exists to make us happy, free from blame?
7. I look on charming, fresh green mountains:
                                                           how beautifully they’re made.
8. Perhaps they find in me – who knows? – a charming shade:
9. At heart and in the body
10. we are much the same.

11. At wine, I knock my head against the eastern window frame,
12. and think of Yuan Ming then, his Halting Clouds now done at last.
13. His mood is somewhat mine.
14. Unlike the southern Yangtze folk who only drink for fame
15. how could they know the magic of this turbid wine?

16. At this a summoned wind returns me now to ancient lore:
17. it’s much regrettable I do not know the ancient people more,
18. nor can they know the dancing wildness of my past.
19. For my familiarity
20. is with but two or three.

       *   *   *   *

C14.3 Prelude to the Oriole's Song (Wu Wenying: AD 1200-1260)

1. This wretched cold still lingers on,
     and I have drunk enough of wine.
2. Behind me now I close a door
     of finely fashioned aloe wood.
3. I note the swallows have come late this year
     about the oriental wards.
4. The spring indeed is almost gone,
     or so it would be understood.
5. Our Qing Ming festival of painted
     boats has also slipped away,
6. and mists on Wu’s old palace steps
     have dwindled into ghosts of trees.
7. I think somehow of travellers
     unsettled, lifting with the wind,
8. as catkins do, so ever changing,
     insubstantial as the air.

9.  So went ten years. I tied my horse
10. at West Lake to the willows there.
11. And what I sought was scented dust,
       or yielding vapour, as it were.
12. I followed petals to their source,
      red petals to a fairy cove,
13. in secret one brocaded girl
     would proxy what you felt for her.
14. A silver screen was your support:
     the spring is vast, the dream but short.
15. The rouge-tinged broken tears were shed
     on singing fan and golden thread.
16. The dykes should empty at the dusk
17. although the sunlight touched us both.
18. The birds fly home: why think of that?

19. Unnoticed, orchids soon grow old,
20. but pollias are hardier things.
21. Lingering at the water villages
     I stay on here, in thought, alone.
22. Six Bridges, which we parted at,
     I visited, but nothing stirred.
23. All flowers wilt when love grows cold,
24. as jade and fragrance when interred.
25. How many bouts have wind and rain?

26. Like the water were your glances,
27. your brows light-brushed as distant hills.
28. Far lights of the fishermen recalled
       spring’s swelling waters where we slept.
29. I still remember, well remember,
          how on those short oars, our boat,
             our Peach Root boat was rowed across.
30. In quarters of the courtesans
31. are poems always, much on parting,
       like shadows on unpainted walls.
32. The ink is pale, perhaps with tears
         diluted, or with dust and loss.

33. From this pavilion I gaze
34. on green hills and the far horizons,
35. regret my tangled hair is now
       as rootstocks of the ramie class,
36. mull over, secretly, the traces
       of parting tears and spent saliva:
37. they stain this handkerchief of silk.
38. That phoenix has but drooping wings:
39. mythologies won’t fill the glass.
40. I want to write for you a letter
41. of still and everlasting sorrow,
42. but into the blue mists of the sea
      fall flights of the migrating geese.
43. I weave in vain unvanished longing
      into what zither strings I’ve got:
44. a thousand miles away your soul
      is in the south somewhere. With this
45. bare song I think to summon you:
46. tell me, are you there or not?

Transcription and Translation


Some of the above are a little free, and purposely so.  Translation, as I see it, is not faithful transcription but a re-creation in the medium of another language. Perhaps an analogy in the visual arts will explain what I'm getting at, at least to those with some painting experience. If, for example, we were hoping to convert an oil painting into a water-colour, it would be futile to copy each little detail across to the other medium. Oil painting allows for a progressive approximation to get things right, matters like composition, lighting, colour harmony, and so forth. Water-colours, in contrast, require immediate and decisive brushwork to capture the vitality and freshness of the subject. We'd have to start again from the subject, as each medium possesses features missing from the other, and technical success is judged on different criteria.

To continue the analogy: Art-class beginners commonly arrive with a photo that they wish to paint, and which they do paint, meticulously, the tutor helping them over the difficult bits. The sky in the photo is blue, and, prompted sufficiently, the beginner lays in the appropriate mixtures of blue on the canvas. Ditto for the green fields, and the church tower emerging from the wooded hill. Each feature of the photograph, skills permitting, is carefully transfered over, item by item.  A few weeks later, perhaps with some deft touches from the tutor, and the picture is finished.  Unfortunately, no thought having been given to composition, to tonal values, to colour schemes, or even to the way that paintings grow out of the perceiving and depicting process, the picture ―  through of course delighting the would-be artist ― is no better or worse than the other offerings that exasperate us in going round the annual amateur art show. A painting has not come about, only a transcription of the photograph, usually a rather laboured and prosaic transcription. Yes, it is an honest and conscientious attempt, just as is so much translation of Chinese poetry, but it hasn't used the medium in its own terms to re-create something alive and individual. Well-intentioned but deadening, if not wholly wrong-headed  ― this is what I suspect anyone with some literary sensibility must feel with so much translation today. A literal accuracy comes first, as though precision in details will create a work of art.

That is not to disparage academic translation. As Nabokov remarked, it's essential, what we cannot be without. But there are now so many faithful renderings, and so many serviceable online translation services, that it seems reasonable to expect something more, that a poem translated will reappear as a poem in the translated language. And this in turn means ― though they'll be howls of dismay at such reactionary views ― that we have to be able to write decent English poetry of some description before we can write a translation that 'works'. Professional translators might therefore spend their time more fruitfully, it seems to me, by reading beyond the Modernist canon to really appreciate the range of English literature, in poetry and translation, as it is against those past but still living accomplishments that their efforts will finally be judged.

References


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6  Xujun Eberlein. Is There a Good Way to Translate Chinese Poetry? https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/good-way-translate-chinese-poetry/

7. Holcombe, C. J. (2005-20) alternative-poetry-traditions-chinese.html and alternative-poetry-traditions-chinese2 .html     Also Analyzing Heroic Versehttp://www.textetc.com/workshop/wa-heroic-couplets-1.html and Translating Bhartrihari: http://www.textetc.com/workshop/wt-bhartrihari-1.html

8. Sullivan, J. Chinese translators: don’t use rhyme in English! https://www.academia.edu/39490064/Chinese_translators_dont_use_rhyme_in_English_

9. Translations of Chinese Poetry by Herbert A. Giles
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10. Minford, J and Lau, J. (2002) Classical Chinese Literature: An Anthology of Translations : From Antiquity to the Tang Dynasty. Columbia University Press.

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12. Zeng Hangi-li (2010) A brief analysis of the classical poetry Chinese-English translation: From
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13. Jihee Han (2019) The Purloined Letter of "友": A Critique of Ezra Pound's Poetics of Translation. English Language and Literature Vol. 65 No. 4 (2019) 587-605.
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14. Billings, T. Fenollosa’s Vanishing Hand. The Ezra Pound Society Magazine. https://www.academia.edu/37643827/Fenollosas_Vanishing_Hand

15. Claro, A. (2004)  Ezra Pound’s Poetics of Translation: principles, performances, implications. Ph.D. thesis submitted Wolfson College, University of Oxford. pp. 104-7.
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16. Klein, L. Silences, Whispers, and the Figure of China: Translation Anxiety in
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17. Holcombe, C.J. (2005) Translating Wang Wei: Notes 1. http://www.textetc.com/workshop/wt-wang-wei-1.html
Also Translating Du Fu: Concluding Remarks http://www.textetc.com/workshop/wt-du-fu-1.html

18. Klein, L. (2016). Original/Translation: The Aesthetic Context of Kenneth Rexroth’s Translations of Du Fu and Li Qingzhao. Journal of Oriental Studies Volume 41 Number 1, Pages 49-71.
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Rexroth_s_Translations_of_Du_Fu_and_Li_Qingzhao


19. Waley, A. (1918/2013) A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems by Arthur Waley. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/42290/42290-h/42290-h.htm

20. Hui-Ching Chang (2003) Serious play: Chinese artistry in verbal communication. https://www.academia.edu/556556/Serious_play_Chinese_artistry_in_verbal_communication

21. Tan, Yesheng (2008) A Cognitive Stylistic Analysis of Classical Chinese Poetry Translation. Research in Theoretical Linguisitcs 2008, 2(2).
https://www.academia.edu/9240973/A_Cognitive_Stylistic_Analysis_of_Classical_
Chinese_Poetry_Translation


22. Jun Tang (2014) Ezra Pound’s The River Merchant’s Wife: Representations of a Decontextualized Chineseness. http://id.erudit.org/iderudit/1008331ar

23. Zong-qi Cai Sound over Ideograph: The Basis of Chinese Poetic Art. https://www.academia.edu/31128769/Sound_over_Ideograph_The_Basis_of_Chinese_Poetic_Art

24. Part One of Victor Erlich's Russian Formalism (1981), Lee Lemon and Marion Reis's (trans.) Russian Formalist Criticism: Four Essays (1965), and Ann Jefferson's Russian Formalism in Ann Jefferson and David Robey's Modern Literary Theory: A Comparative Introduction (1986). Also Steiner, P. (1984) Russian Formalism: A Metapoetics.

25. Barnes A. (2007) Chinese Through Poetry: An Introduction to the Languge and Imagery of Traditional Verse. Alcuin Academics.

26. Wai-lim YIP ed. Chinese Poetry, 2nd ed., Revised: An Anthology of Major Modes and Genres. Google Books.

27. Holcombe, C.J. (2020) alternative-poetry-traditions-chinese.html

28. Bush, C. Modernism, Orientalism and East Asia. https://www.academia.edu/12184284/Modernism_Orientalism_and_East_Asia

29. Wai-lim Yip (1997) Translating Chinese Poetry : The Convergence of Language and Poetics - A Radical Introduction. Duke University Press.

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31. Perkins, F.(2019) Metaphysics in Chinese Philosophy https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/chinese-metaphysics/

32. Byron, M. (2019) Chinese Poetical Histories in Ezra Pound and Gary Snyder. https://www.academia.edu/39125886/Chinese_Poetical_Histories_in_Ezra_Pound_and_Gary_Snyder

33. Parker, R. ed. News from Afar Ezra Pound and Some Contemporary British Poetries: Preface https://www.academia.edu/9400730/Ezra_Pound_and_Contemporary_British_Poetry

34. Ocaso pages on Pound, Williams, Postmodernists.

35. Klein, L. Indic Echoes: Form, Content, and World Literature in Tang Dynasty Regulated Verse.
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36. Huifang Tian (20139 Learning to Interpret and Translate Classical Chinese Poetry. ISSN 1799-2591 Theory and Practice in Language Studies, Vol. 3, No. 9, pp. 1546-1551, September 2013. https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/093d/e07690259b96e8c8021d7b7235859dc7ab72.pdf

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Additional Material


1. Klein, L. (2016) Tribunals of Erudition and Taste: or, Why Translations of Premodern Chinese Poetry Are Having a Moment Right Now Los Angles Review of Books. https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/tribunals-of-erudition-and-taste-or-why-translations
-of-premodern-chinese-poetry-are-having-a-moment-right-now/


2. Weinberger, E. (1997) 19 Ways of Looking at Wang wei https://www.academia.edu/5916786/19_Ways_of_Looking_at_Wang_wei

3. Ziyau Zhang Five Ways of Reading Shan Ju Qiu Ming. https://www.academia.edu/30857566/Five_Ways_of_Reading_Shan_Ju_Qiu_Ming

4. Ming Xie (2015) Ezra Pound and the Appropriation of Chinese Poetry: Cathay, Translation, and Imagism. Routledge.   Google Books

5. Lan Jiang (2018)9 A History of Western Appreciation of English-translated Tang Poetry. Springer. Google Books.

6. Chen Youbing. Appearance and Recession in Chinese Classical Poetry —— No.13 of "The Beauty and Expression of Chinese Classical Poetry" (in Chinese) http://www.guoxue.com/?p=3201

7. Wang Chun (2006) The Image of Chinese Classical Poetry (Excerpt: in Chinese) https://learning.sohu.com/20060728/n244487896.shtml

8.  Pengfei Wang (2019) Towards Redefining Chinese Baroque Poetry. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/25723618.2019.16971769.

9. Ping Li (2014) Canonization of Chinese literature in the English-speaking world: Construction, restrictions and measures. https://academicjournals.org/journal/IJEL/article-full-text/ED7953847774

10.  Zhu Lihong and Feng Wang (2019) The Zen Relationship between Chinese Poetry and American Poetry. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/335981957_The_Zen_Relationship_
between_Chinese_Poetry_and_American_Poetry


11. Yufang Hou and Anette Frank () Analyzing Sentiment in Classical Chinese Poetry
http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.727.1285&rep=rep1&type=pdf

12. Yu, Teresa Yee-Wah  (1990) Li Shangyin : the poetry of allusion
https://open.library.ubc.ca/cIRcle/collections/ubctheses/831/items/1.0100506

13. Kunish, A. (2011) Readings From Between the Lines: A Functionalist Approach to the
Translation of Classical Chinese Poetry. MA thesis. https://www.duo.uio.no/bitstream/handle/10852/24120/Kunish.pdf?sequence=5&isAllowed=y

14. Skerrat, B. (20139 Dual Translation, World Literature, Chinese Poetry.
http://dissertationreviews.org/archives/2610

15. Hinton, D. (2008) Classical Chinese Poetry: An Anthology. Edited and translated by David Hinton. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008. Review
https://www.euppublishing.com/doi/full/10.3366/E096813610900079X?src=recsys

16. Chinese Poetry in English https://www.shigeku.org/xlib/lingshidao/hanshi/index.htm

17. Chinese Poems http://www.chinese-poems.com/ Also listings of extant translations in book form.


18.  Chinese Poetry Texts

中国古代诗歌 Baidu.
中国古代诗词- 中国古典诗歌|诗词|唐诗宋词 - 艺术中国 http://www.artx.cn/shige/
品诗文网 诗集 名句 主题  诗人 诗塾 https://www.pinshiwen.com/cidian/shiti/201902172841.html

19. Wikipedia writers (2020) Classical Chinese poetry. (Extensive links) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classical_Chinese_poetry

20. Wikipedia writers (2020) Chinese poetry. (Extensive links) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_poetry

21. The Scholar's Stage writers (2018) Making Sense of Chinese History: A Reading List http://scholars-stage.blogspot.com/2018/12/what-to-read-to-get-into-chinese-history.html

22. Wikipedia writers (2020) List of Chinese mythology. (Extensive listing.) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Chinese_mythology

23. Werner, E.T.C. (1922/2015) Myths and Legends of China. World Book Inc.

24. Roberts, J. (2004) Chinese Mythology A to Z. Infobase Publishing. GoogleBooks.

25. Lihui Yang, Deming An, et al (205) Handbook of Chinese Mythology. Google Books.

26. Van Norden, B.W. Classical Chinese for Everyone: A Guide for Absolute Beginners.

27. Harbaugh, R. (1998) Chinese Characters: A Geneology and Dictionary. Claremont.

28. Questia alternatives. http://www.moreofit.com/similar-to/www.questia.com/Top_10_Sites_Like_Questia/

29. Mazenec, T. (2017) How and Why to Learn Classical Chinese.
http://tommazanec.com/blog/2017/06/14/how-and-why-to-learn-classical-chinese/

30. The 10 best free resources for learning Mandarin Chinesehttps://www.chineseboost.com/blog/10-best-free-resources-learn-chinese/

31. Online Resources For Learning Chinese. https://www.sinosplice.com/learn-chinese/online-chinese-resources