02 June 2015

賈島 Jia Dao: 劍客 The Swordsman

Today, I am posting my latest translation, a simple little poem by Jia Dao.  Hope you like it:-

Jia Dao (779 – 843): The Swordsman

1  (For ten long years, my sword I whetted,)
    For ten long years, a sword I whetted,  
    (revised 4.7.15)
2  Its frosty blade, as yet, untried.
3  Today, I hold it unsheathed before you;
4  Of you, to whom was justice denied?

Translated by Andrew W.F. Wong (Huang Hongfa)   譯者: 黃宏發
4th May 2015 (revised 7.5.15; 18.5.15; 22.5.15)
Translated from the original - 賈島:  劍客

1  十年磨一劍
2  霜刃未曾試
3  今日把示 ()
4  誰有() 不平事


*Form, Metre and Rhyme:  This English rendition is in tetrameter (4 beats or feet) while the original is in 5-character lines.  The rhyme scheme is XAXA as in the original.

*Line 1:  To complete the 4-beat metre, I have added an extra syllable (a word) to the first half of the line; for 十年 “ten years”, I had considered “For ten whole years” and “A full ten years”, and have decided for “For ten long years”.  For , I had considered “polished” but have decided for the more appropriate “whetted”.  I had originally translated 一劍 as “a sword” literally, but have now decided for “my sword” so as to better convey the idea that the sword is the sword of the poet, a synecdoche for his swordsmanship and, hence, a metaphor for his scholarship and abilities.

*Line 2:   is translated as “frosty” in the sense of “shiny”. is translated literally as “blade” which two words can mean both the knife/sword itself and its cutting edge(s).  I had considered adding “edge(s)” after “blade” but have found it too bothersome to work out the metrics of “blade edges” (as in Chinese usage is invariably doubled-edged) and really unnecessary for reason that and “blade” are perfect equivalents.

*Line 3:    “hold” is translated as “I hold it” and 示君 “to show you”, as “before you”, with “unsheathed” added to heighten the sense of “to show you (his metal/mettle)”.

*Line 4:  For 不平事 I had considered “wrongs”, “inequities” and “injustices”, but have decided for “justice denied” which rhymes perfectly with “untried” (line 2).

*Lines 3 and 4 (Alternative Version):  The words in brackets in the original, i.e. “give” (not in the sense of “like/similar”) in line 3, and “for” in line 4 are found in an alternative version of the poem.  If adopted, they would change the message of the poem.  Line 3 would mean: “Today (今日) I hold () it and present () it to you ()”, and line 4: “You who () will, for () the people, right their wrongs (不平事)”.

*Rendition of the Alternative Version (characters in brackets in lines 3 and 4):
1  (For ten long years, my sword I whetted,)
    For ten long years, a sword I whetted,  
    (revised 4.7.15)
2  Its frosty blade, as yet, untried.
3  Today, I present it to you, my Lord,
4  From whom, no injustice may hide.

*The Analogy:  In addition to the literal sense, the poem can (and, perhaps, should) be understood as an analogy of a man (the poet), after studying hard (whetting his sword) for ten years, is now ready to take the imperial examinations (show his sword/swordsmanship to represent scholarship and abilities), pledging that he, as an official (the “swordsman”, as in the title), will right all injustices.  The alternative version features the same analogy with lines 3 and 4 saying: the poet presents himself (the sword) to the imperial examiners and asks to be deployed to right all injustices.  Instead of the poet himself as the “swordsman” showing his sword, the one (the emperor) who is about to receive and use the sword becomes the “swordsman”.