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Translating Poetry, some thoughts and examples. [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2007-1-31 13:34:41 |Display all floors
Some thoughts on translating Chinese Poetry.

Here is a common exercise in translating Poetry in the west.  In English, and French and Spanish and other western languages, Wang Wei has been translated many times.  The spare images and subtlety of his poem "The Deer Park Hermitage" are well known among western poets, and in the 20th Century this beautiful little became a favorite for translation.  Here, for everyone's enjoyment, are the original poem, the Pinyin, some of the accepted meanings, and 16 translations, including French and Spanish.

Here we will encounter the first problems of the translator.  

Each character has more than one meaning, and each meaning can be expressed in English many different ways.  The first character, 空, Kong, can mean air; sky; empty; or in vain.  Most of the poets choose the meaning of empty.  In English, empty can be expressed many ways.  Empty has one meaning as a noun, 5 meanings as a verb, and 5 more meanings as an adjective.

We cannot let this stop us, we must see the words as gestalts; meaningful constructions that can be rendered into our understanding.  But we must learn the understanding of the writer.  Here, Wang Wei was not being humble or shy by failing to use a pronoun, such as I,  The Chinese culture used literary arts to bridge inner feelings with universal realities, and rarely used the "I" as the point of view.  We need to see that this changes the reading of the words.  Once we can see, and feel, the intent of the words, then we can move on to the rhythm and rhyme, and natural flow of the language in which it was written.

And here is one of the most difficult things.  One of the reasons people so love Li Bai, Su Shi, and other Chinese Poets, is the sweet tempo of the language, the ease with which rhyme and pattern bring the beauty of their thoughts to light.  We cannot force English patterns unto Chinese thoughts.  But we must find a reflection of the Chinese beauty to express in English.  In the translations below, only  James J.Y. Liu keeps a rhyme, and the rest of the poets pretty much use their favorite verse structures.

And what of allusion and allegory, deeply important parts of all Chinese poetry?  Well, without annotating the poems, we must attempt English allusions, and western allegory if we can find common ground.  Green mosses allude to seasons, or to Zen allegories concerning nature, life, thought, and place.  They are mentioned in poems by Li Bai, Du Fu, Chu Yuan, and Wang Wei.  Yet almost no western writer notes this, or tries to add something about this in the English translations.

So.  These are thoughts.  Below are the many translations, for your pleasure, your pondering, and your commentary.
LSR.  龙诗人  or  龍詩人
A crater on the planet Mercury is named 李白. (Li Bai)
http://dragonpoet.blogbus.com/

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Post time 2007-1-31 13:36:15 |Display all floors

Translations of Deer Park, by Wang Wei.

五言絕句  (Five character verse)
王維  Wang Wei
鹿柴  Deer Park Hermitage

Chinese:            Pinyin:                                English words:

空山不見人,  Kong shan bu jian ren        Empty mountain not see people
但聞人語響。  Dan wen ren yu xiang        Only hear people talk sound
返景入深林,  Fan jing ru shen lin            Return brightness enter deep forest
復照青苔上。  Fu zhao qing tai shang       Again shine green moss upon

Using this, hundreds of poets have translated this, Here are 16.


So lone seem the hills; there is no one in sight there.
But whence is the echo of voices I hear?
The rays of the sunset pierce slanting the forest,
And in their reflection green mosses appear.

tr. W.J.B. Fletcher, 1919


There seems to be no one on the empty mountain...
And yet I think I hear a voice,
Where sunlight, entering a grove,
Shines back to me from the green moss.

tr. Witter Bynner & Kiang Kang-hu, 1929

An empty hill, and no one in sight
But I hear the echo of voices.
The slanting sun at evening penetrates the deep woods
And shines reflected on the blue lichens.

tr. Soame Jenyns, 1944


La Forêt

Dans la montagne tout est solitaire,
On entend de bien loin l'écho des voix humaines,
Le soleil qui pénètre au fond de la forêt
Reflete son éclat sur la mousee vert.

tr. G. Margoulies, 1948


Through the deep woods, the slanting sunlight
Casts motley patterns on the jade-green mosses.
No glimpse of man in this lonely mountain,
Yet faint voices drift on the air.

tr. Chang Yin-nan & Lewis C. Walmsley, 1958


On the lone mountain
I meet no one,
I hear only the echo
At an angle the sun's rays
       enter the depths of the wood,
And shine        
        upon the green moss.

tr. C.J. Chen & Michael Bullock, 1960


On the empty mountains no one can be seen,
But human voices are heard to resound.
The reflected sunlight pieces the deep forest
And falls again upon the mossy ground.

tr. James J.Y. Liu, 1962


Clos aux cerfs
Montagne déserte. Personne n'est en vue.
Seuls, les échos des voix résonnent, au loin.
Ombres retournent dans las forêt profonde:
Dermier éclat de la mousse, vert.

tr. François Cheng


Deep in the mountain wilderness
Where nobody ever comes
Only once in a great while
Something like the sound of a far-off voice.
The low ray of the sun
Slip through the dark forest,
And gleam again on the shadowy moss.

tr. Kenneth Rexroth, 1990


Empty hills, no on in sight,
only the sound of someone talking;
late sunlight enters the deep wood,
shining over the green moss again.

tr. Burton Watson, 1971


Empty mountain: no man is seen,
But voices of men are heard.
Sun's reflection reaches into the woods
And shines upon the green moss.

tr. Wai-lim Yip, 1972


Hills empty, no one to be seen
We hear only voices echoed -
With light coming back into the deep wood
The top of the green moss is lit again.

tr. G.W. Robinson, 1997


En la Ermita del Parque de los Venados

No se ve gente en este monte.
Sólo se oyen, lejos, voces.
Por hos ramajes lasluz rompe.
Tendida entre las yerba brilla verde.

tr. Octavio Paz, 1974


In empty mountains no one can be seen.
But here might echoing voices cross.
Reflecting rays
     entering the deep wood
Glitter again
     on the dark green moss.

tr. William McNaughton, 1974


Not the shadow on a man on the deserted hill -
And yet one hears voices speaking;
Deep in the seclusion of the woods,
Stray shafts of the sun pick out the green moss.

tr. H.C. Chang, 1977


Empty mountains:
     no one to be seen.
Yet - hear -
     human sounds and echoes.
Returning sunlight
     enters the dark woods;
Again shining
     on the green moss, above.

tr. Gary Snyder, 1978
LSR.  龙诗人  or  龍詩人
A crater on the planet Mercury is named 李白. (Li Bai)
http://dragonpoet.blogbus.com/

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Post time 2007-2-1 03:15:55 |Display all floors

Thank you immensely, Dear Seclusive

Your two short lines of hidden ideas and Zen have outlined translation difficulties better than my many paragraphs.  I am in your debt.

Let me then, please, give you a word, a present, for contemplation.

The word is evocative.  Something that can evoke is evocative.  

Such as, a translation I left out of this group is one by Vikram Seth, who did so well with one Poem by Li Bai.

Empty hills, no man in sight –
Just echoes of the voice of men.
In the deep wood reflected light
Shines on the blue-green moss again.

tr. Vikram Seth, 1993

I think this is evocative of a visit to a private temple room, perhaps old and dusty, but there is no nature here.   The rhyme and the marching rhythm hear are signatures of Seth, but in the original, i always think of a clearing in the woods, and hear water nearby.  Wang Wei does that for me.  (it took me 3 years to read the original, and I am still unsure of it).

I, too, like the one by Fletcher.  

Thanks again for your thoughts.
LSR.  龙诗人  or  龍詩人
A crater on the planet Mercury is named 李白. (Li Bai)
http://dragonpoet.blogbus.com/

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Post time 2007-2-1 04:58:10 |Display all floors

C/E poem translation is a kind of suffering

Hi, leungshuren

As regard to Chinese Five / Seven Characters Verse

It is very difficult to translate them into foreign languages

Because of different cultures

The way to express the poet's feelings

Say, rhythm , evocative feature, and so forth

As you said, Each character has more than one meaning, and each meaning can be expressed in English many different ways. What's more, there is , always, something left behind the poem written in words on paper. To understand it , it will depend on the reader's all kinds of experiences and background. As for the translator, s/he has to go through it according to his/her understanding. translate it literally or word-for-for? then how about the perfect sound when reading the Chinese original poem? or the translator can understand(to which degree) the poem in the right way?

Maybe we can find some other balance /equilibrium between the cultures and languages. Then a standard should be made there. faithfulness? fluency? elegance?

I am not a poem translator, but the challenge deserves our efforts.

I am Looking forward to your more ideas or your experiences on poem translations.

Derektian

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Post time 2007-2-1 10:24:38 |Display all floors
The rhyme and the marching rhythm hear are signatures of Seth, but in the original, i always think of a clearing in the woods, and hear water nearby.  Wang Wei does that for me.  (it took me 3 years to read the original, and I am still unsure of it).

Your understanding is right, dear LSR.

The first two lines are describing sound, to make the tranquility impressive by vague sound;
The last two lines are focused on light, (mosses in the dark forests can be seen only in the forest yourself, )to describe the desolate and lonesome fence.

The poem is a skillful combination of  vision and sense of hearing, a vivid picture of  reality and illusion.

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