01 November 2013

王維 Wang Wei: 送別 (1- 山中相送罷) Farewell (1- Here in the hills, I bade you farewell)

Here is a simple yet beautiful quatrain by the famed Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei.  It is taken to be a friendship poem by most, but I suppose one can always use it as a love poem without changing too many words.

Wang Wei (701-761):  Farewell (1- Here in the hills, I bade you farewell)

1  Here in the hills, I bade you farewell;
2  And by dusk I closed my twiggen door.
3  O grass will again be green next spring!
4  Might you, my lord, be back once more?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)    譯者: 黃宏發
24th September 2013 (revised 25.9.13; 26.9.13; 3.10.13; 4.10.13; 5.10.13; 21.10.13; 22.10.13; 28.10.13)
Translated from the original - 王維送別 (1-  山中相送罷)

1  山中相送罷
2  日暮掩柴扉
3  春草明年綠
4  王孫歸不歸

*Meter & Rhyme:  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.
*Lines 1 and 4:  I had given much thought to whether the visitor the poet bade farewell to should be rendered in the second person (“bade you farewell” and “my lord”) with the poet thinking to himself as if he were addressing the visitor, or the third (“bade him farewell” and “his lordship”) with the poet simply thinking to himself.  I had originally penned the lines in the second person but then changed them to the third.  I now consider the third person too impersonal to truly reflect the poet’s feelings and have decided to revert to the second person.
*Line 1:  I have added the word “Here” as I take 山中 “in the hills” to mean the hills where the poet lives, so “In the hills where I live”.   I had also considered adding the word “my”, e.g. “In these my hills” and “Here in my hills”, but have now decided for the simple “Here in the hills”.  For the word (相送) “finished (bidding farewell)”, I have rendered it simply in the past tense.  This inadequacy is made up by my adding the word “by” before “dusk” in line 2 to denote the passage of time.
*Line 2:  I had, for the reason stated in the note above, considered and rejected “at dusk” after which,  I considered “now/come dusk” and have now decided for “by dusk”.  I take 柴扉 “faggots--door” to be equivalent to 蓬門 “reeds/grass--door”, both terms mean a “door made of plaited cheap materials such as faggots, twigs, brushwood, reeds, grass and bamboo” and both used to connote a “humble dwelling” (but not exactly equivalent to 竹門 “bamboo--door” which term is usually used figuratively to refer to a family of a lowly status).  I had therefore considered “humble” and “shabby” but had decided to stay close the word “door” in the original.  I then considered but dropped “wicker” and “wickerwork”; and of the two most appropriate words “brushwood” and “twiggen”, I have chosen the latter primarily because it sounds better (Twiggen:  a/Made of twigs or wickerwork; also, having a wickerwork covering  b/Arising from burning twigs or brushwood  O.E.D.) although “brushwood” is equally acceptable in terms of meaning.
*Line 3:  I had considered rendering the line closer to the original as “Spring grass will (again) be green next year” but have found both “Spring grass” and “next year” rather clumsy, hence, “O grass will again be green next spring!!”   Please note I have added “again” which is implied in the original.

*Line 4:  Instead of “prince”, I have rendered 王孫 “a nobleman’s offspring” as “lord/lordship” for assonance with “more”.  I had originally translated as “return”, then considered “come back” as an alternative, then “be here” to echo both the “Here” in line 1 and the “be green” in line 3, but have now decided for “be back”.  As for 歸不歸 “return or not return”, I had considered (a) “Will you or won’t you be back once more” with 王孫  “my lord” moved to line 1 to read “In the hills my lord …”,  (b) “Won’t you my lord be back once more”, and (c) “Will you my lord be back once more”, but have now decided for “Might you, my lord, be back once more”, the “might you” formulation being a question asked in deference couching the poet’s wish that his noble friend will return.