Next Tuesday, 9 August 2016 is this year's 7th day of the 7th moon/month on the lunar calendar which is a traditional Chinese festival for lovers separated and for love seekers. Please see my note on the "Title and line 4".
Here, I am posting this little poem by the famed Tang dynasty poet Du Mu (not to be confused with Du Fu) to meet the occasion. I do hope you will enjoy it:-
Du Mu (803-852): Autumn Evening (of the 7th Day of the 7th Moon)
1 Autumn: cold is the ink-brushed panel in the pale candlelight;
2 And girls in silk, little fans in hand, frolic with fireflies in flight.
3 Nightfall: these royal palace grounds, chilled like in water be;
4 O here I lie to eye the Stars----named Herder and Weaver unite.
Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa) 譯者: 黃宏發
3 July 2008 (revised 7.7.08; 17.7.08; 27.7.16; 28.7.16; 29.7.16)
Translated from the original -杜牧: 秋夕 (七夕)
*Form, Meter and Rhyme: This English rendition is in heptameter (7 beats or feet) to emulate the 7-character lines of the original. The rhyme scheme is AAXA as in the original.
*Title and line 4: I have added 七夕 “evening of the 7th day of the 7th moon/month” to the title to make it crystal clear that the poet refers to a particular, and not just any, autumn evening as revealed by his making reference to the Stars of the Herder and the Weaver in line 4. Chinese legend has it that the 2 stars or fairies have been separated, in punishment, by the Heavenly Jade Emperor 玉皇大帝 and allowed to meet once a year on the night of the 7th day of the 7th moon/month when they, though still separated by the Milky Way, are closest to each other. This has become the festival of “the lover separated” and “the lover yet to come”.
*Lines 1 and 3: I suggest the words 光 “light” and 色 “colour” in 秋光 (line 1) and 夜色 (line 3) do not mean what they literally say, but refer to “setting”, “scene”, “scenery”, “sights and sounds”, and even “quality” as in 湖光山色, 光景, 觀光, 景色, even 成色, hence, my rendering 秋光 in line 1 simply as “Autumn” and 夜色 in line 3 as “Nightfall”.
*Line 1: I have not taken 銀燭 to literally mean “candle made of silver” or “candlestick/holder made of silver” but have interpreted 銀 to refer to a “silvery/white/pale/pallid” colour and 燭 to refer to 燭光 “candlelight”, hence, my original “in the silvery candlelight” to end the line. I have now decided for “in the pale candlelight” which takes away any suggestion of a precious metal. I had originally used the literal “painted” to translate 畫 but have found it too suggestive of glamour which is incompatible with the idea of 冷 “coldness”. I then used “ink-washed” (the Chinese ink and wash painting style with a brush) and have now decided for “ink-brushed”. I have rendered 屏 “screen/partition” as “panel”.
*Line 2: I have interpreted 輕羅 “light silk” and 小扇 ”little fan” not as a single expression to mean “a little fan made of thin silk” but as 2 expressions to mean “girls (clad) in silk” 輊羅 (with the idea “girls” which is implied, added) and “little fans in hand” 小扇 (with “in hand” which is also implied, added). To translate流 I have used “in flight” which rhymes perfectly with “candlelight” (line 1) and “unite” (line 4).
*Line 3: I have embraced the 天階 version in which 天 “heaven” means “the royal capital or royal palace” and 階 means “courtyard/grounds” (and not 街 “streets”) and have translated it as “royal palace grounds”. In short, I have taken the poem to be a plaint from a lady who is no longer in the Emperor’s favour.