Thursday, November 17, 2011
This was an original post written in ITALKI.
This is a response for someone who posted his favourite lyrics of a current popular song. I could not help myself from smirking when I read the lyrics. Mostly are repeated as thus,
“I wanna to hold your hand. I wanna to kiss you etc.”
Crude and banal in my opinion. There is much wonder in the world and he chose that as his favourite. How sad. So in this essay, I am going to introduce to some of the gems in the music world and an English lesson.
Kismet is a Turkish word, from Arabic, “qisma” meaning fate or destiny. It is now an accepted English word because of a very famous American Musical of the same title. For those interested in this musical, here’s the Wikipedia link.
The setting of the musical is in some fabled land of the Middle East where the Caliph rules supreme. A delightful and uncomplicated story told in the simple times of the old. One of the more outstanding songs is “Stranger In Paradise”. For those interested seriously in the English language, here is how the language of love is expressed so wondrously and implicitly. The hauntingly beautifully melody is based on a classical music piece. For more info see,
Take my hand
I'm a stranger in paradise
All lost in a wonderland
A stranger in paradise
If I stand starry-eyed
That's the danger in paradise
For mortals who stand beside an angel like you
I saw your face and I ascended
Out of the commonplace into the rare
Somewhere in space I hang suspended
Until I know there's a chance that you care
Won't you answer this fervent prayer
Of a stranger in paradise?
Don't send me in dark despair
From all that I hunger for
But open your angel's arms
To this stranger in paradise
And tell him that he need be
A stranger no more…
As I am writing, I am listening to it. How miraculous the ink flows so easily from one’s pen (or in this modern case, keystrokes spewing out like a bubbling spring) when there is a background music to inspire. For those interested in the melody, here are some links for you convenience and enjoyment. The first one is from the original musical sung by Kathryn Grayson and Howard Keel. The second one is a standard sung by Johnny Mathis and the third one, a more modern interpretation by Sarah Brightman who has a more ethereal quality and a tad less expressive than the older versions. The older ones have an introduction as in accordance to the musical. The main song starts from, “Take my hand…” For those in the Mainland, I am so sorry that you cannot access Youtube. Oh what fools those are in the top, denying wonders of the world to its people. Alas, you just have to do more work and google for them.
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
I came across this poem by Po Chu-I (白居易) while correcting水烟輕澹's (http://www.italki.com/T005591591.htm) translation of the poem.
However it was not complete. Hence this is a translation for the complete poem. Now I understand why. Too many details and allusions to be explained and footnoted!
The poem was written as a ballad; lamenting a girl brought into the imperial harem. To prevent the emperor from espying any potential rival, all pretty ones were banished by the current favourite to imperial palaces such as the Shang Yang Palace far away from the regular residence of the emperor. The first line is literal translation and the second, the polished version of it.
For those interested, there is another translation that can be found at page 25 of http://books.google.com/books?id=HhCdC-D-sQ8C&pg=PA25&lpg=PA25&dq=white+haired+of+the+shang+yang+palace&source=bl&ots=OktIP5H14E&sig=iSLOMx4xRxW1DfjvuSKj5r5raHQ&hl=en&ei=B_nBToKIK6n9iQKHoOTfCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&sqi=2&ved=0CBoQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=white%20haired%20of%20the%20shang%20yang%20palace&f=false
上陽人White Haired Dweller of the Palace of the Supreme Sun1
上陽人, Shang Yang person, O Dweller of Shang Yang Palace,
紅顏暗老白髮新. Red face darkened, old white hair new. Rosiness seeps away from the face, your hair newly white.
綠衣監使守宮門, Green clothed eunuch officials guard palace door. Green robed eunuchs guard the palace gates,
一閉上陽多少春. One lock Shang Yang, how many spring. Locking away the many beauties of youth.
玄宗末歲初選入, Hsuan Tsung, last years begin selected in. Selected during the last years of Emperor Hsuan Tsung2,
入時十六今六十. On entering, sixteen, now sixty. Time I was then sixteen but now sixty3.
同時采擇百餘人, Same time selection a hundred more, Together, a hundred or so that we were chosen,
零落年深殘此身. Alone drop, years deep crippled this body. Years deepened, only this frailty remained.
憶昔吞悲別親族, Remember past, swallow sorrow part family clan, Swallowed my sorrows as I part from my beloved ones,
扶入車中不教哭. Carried into carriage, not teach cry. Carried into the carriage I was told not to cry.
皆云入內便承恩, All said entering inside would receive favour, Upon my entry, imperial favours I wouldst gain, so they said,
臉似芙蓉胸似玉. Face like hibiscus, breast like jade. For my beauty is like the hibiscus, my breasts pure as jade.
未容君王得見面, Not yet, let emperor can see my face, My face not yet beholden by milord,
已被楊妃遙側目. Already let Yang imperial concubine, far side eyed. Already I fall prey to Lady Yang's4 far off slanting glances5.
妒令潛配上陽宮, Jealousy cause deep match/join Shang Yang Palace, In her jealousy, I am married off to the far away Palace of Shang Yang ,
一生遂向空房宿. One life finally face empty room abode. All my life, an empty room to face.
秋夜長, Autumn night long, Long are my autumn nights,
夜長無寐天不明. Night long no sleep, day not bright. Eternal are the sleepless nights with no brightening dawn.
耿耿殘燈背壁影, Brightly, remnant candle behind wall shadow, Strong is the shadows cast against the wall by the dying candlelight.
蕭蕭暗雨打窗聲. Misery/desolate/sound of rain darkened rain beat window sound. Plip plip plop plop goes the unseen rain6, beating its sound against the window.
春日遲, Spring day late, Spring is late,
日遲獨坐天難暮. Day late alone sit, day difficult evening. Days are reluctant in passing as I sit alone to welcome the tardy evenings.
宮鶯百囀愁厭聞, Palace orioles hundred chirping sorrow hate listen, Chirping sounds of palace orioles are hard to bear,
梁燕雙棲老休妒. Beams, swallow, pair live old stop jealousy. Envy not the two swallows growing old together in the eaves,
鶯歸燕去長悄然, orioles, return swallows go, long quietly/sorrowfully, Gone are the orioles, the swallows flown, quiet sorrow merely returns.
春往秋來不記年. Spring went, autumn came, not remember year. Spring is gone, here is autumn but remembering no longer what this year is,
唯向深宮望明月, Only toward deep palace view bright moon. All I can do is to stare at the moon from this deep palace recess.
東西四五百回圓. East west four five hundred return rounds. Rising from the east and setting in the west; four five hundred times it had turned round.
今日宮中年最老, Today, inside the palace oldest, Today the oldest in the palace I had become,
大家遙賜尚書號. Big family/We far bestow, Shang Shu (a rank), From the far away Emperor, I’m bestowed with this noble title7.
小頭鞋履窄衣裳, small head shoes soles narrow clothing, Pointy shoes and tightly clothes I wear,
青黛點眉眉細長. Green black dot eye brows dainty small and long, In green black mascara I paint my brows daintily in long slender strokes.
外人不見見應笑, Outside people not see, laugh once see. Outsiders see not me, but surely they will laugh upon seeing me,
天寶末年時世妝. Heaven precious last years time fashion make up. Donned in the chic makeup of bygone years8.
上陽人, Shang Yang person, O dweller of Shang Yang Palace,
苦最多. Sorrows most plenty. Sorrows most plentiful.
少亦苦, Young also sorrowful, Sorrows of youth,
老亦苦. Old also sorrowful. Sorrows of the aged.
少苦老苦兩如何? Youth sorrow, old sorrow, two like how? Sorrows of the young and the old, so what’s the difference?
君不見昔時呂向美人賦, Lord not see the long ago Lu Shang offer the Beauty Ballard
Milord, see not “Lu Shang offering the Beauty Ballad9” of the past,
又不見今日上陽白髮歌! Also not see today’s white hair dweller of Shang Yang Song! Alas, hear not today’s song of the “White Haired Dweller of Shang Yang10”.
1. The Shang Yang (Supreme Sun) Palace was the secondary palace in Luoyang, far away from the main palace in Chang An. A place of banishment for those who lost the imperial favour. Even the mighty Empress Wu was placed under house arrest there after her son’s coup until her death soon afterwards from old age. Hence the palace is no place for revelry. In later years this palace fell into neglect. Technically, the translation as “sun” is wrong. Here “yang” is that of the ying-yang duality of Chinese philosophy.
2. The 8th Tang Emperor whose reign saw the empire reaching its zenith and also the beginning of the fall of the empire.
3. Sixteen in Chinese is ten six while sixty is six ten.
4. Yang Guifei – One of the four most celebrated beauty in Chinese history. When she died, an empire collapsed around her skirts.
5. Here her side glances denote Lady Yang’s jealousy. Not because the emperor fall prey to her bewitching glances.
6. Rain that is hardly discernable but still can hear its effects and sounds is known as 暗雨 – Hidden/darkened rain.
7. Shang Hsu – a ministerial rank. “Big family” (大家) is Tang period euphemism for the reigning emperor.
8. The era of Heavenly Treasure (天寶)A.D. 742 – 756
9. Lu Shang (呂向) was a Tang Dynasty scholar whose literary prowess and calligraphy are well known. “The Beauty Ballad” is a work of praise of all the beautiful women in history. He uses it as an allegorical sarcasm against the corruption of the then current regime.
10. Here this line is used to contrast the romanticism of the “Beauty Ballad” with harsh realities of life.
White Haired Dweller of the Palace of the Supreme Sun
O dweller of Shang Yang Palace,
Rosiness seeps away from the face, your hair newly white.
Green robed eunuchs guard the palace gates,
Locking away the many beauties of youth.
Selected during the last years of Emperor Hsuan Tsung,
Time I was then sixteen but now sixty.
Together, a hundred or so that we were chosen,
Years deepened, only this frailty remained.
Swallowed my sorrows as I part from my beloved ones,
Carried into the carriage I was told not to cry.
Upon my entry, imperial favours I wouldst gain, so they said,
For my beauty is like the hibiscus, my breasts pure as jade.
My face not yet beholden by milord,
Already I fall prey to Lady Yang's far off slanting glances.
In her jealousy, I am married off to the far away Palace of Shang Yang ,
All my life, an empty room to face.
Long are my autumn nights,
Eternal are the sleepless nights with no brightening dawn.
Strong is the shadows cast against the wall by the dying candlelight.
Plip plip, plop plop goes the unseen rain, beating its sound against the window.
Spring is late,
Days reluctant in passing as I sit alone to welcome the tardy evenings.
Chirping sounds of palace orioles are hard to bear,
Envy not the two swallows growing old together in the eaves,
Gone are the orioles, the swallows have flown, quiet sorrow merely returns.
Spring is gone; here comes autumn but remembering no longer what this year is,
All I can do is to stare at the moon from this deep palace recess.
Rising from the east and setting in the west; four five hundred times it had turned round.
Today as the highest ranking in the palace,
From the far away Emperor, I’m bestowed with this noble title.
Pointy shoes and tightly clothes I wear,
In green black mascara I paint my brows daintily in long slender strokes.
Outsiders see not me, but surely they will laugh upon seeing me,
Donned in the chic makeup of bygone years.
O, Dweller of Shang Yang Palace,
Sorrows most plentiful.
Sorrows of youth,
Sorrows of the aged.
Sorrows of the young and the old, so what’s the difference?
Milord, see not “Lu Shang offering the Beauty Ballad” of the past,
Alas, hear not today’s song of the “White Haired Dweller of Shang Yang”.
14 Nov 2011
Friday, November 11, 2011
I was planning to write some essays on my recent trip to Asia. However for the past two days, I lost track of time watching non stop this Taiwanese drama on YouTube. Yes, I am still on vacation, recuperating from jetlag. A friend had sent me a link on Facebook to this movie, "The Invincible Swordsman 傲笑江湖 - 東方不敗). It was interesting and so watched all the three movies following different links. However on finishing the last one, I noticed there was another link to one called, "Empire Devastating Beauty - 傾國皇妃." It was intriguing and soon I was hooked. So I had a marathon serial watching! One good thing resulted was that my biological clock was reset back to the local time.
There was one scene where the heroine wandered into a secluded palace. Inscribed on a post was cryptic poem written with strange forms. It was a riddle. In the story, anyone decrypting it would be rewarded handsomely by the emperor. I find it literally challenging, unique and elegant. Only in the languages based on the Chinese script can such a puzzle be constructed. Hence this note entry is mainly for the benefit of Chinese readers who did not watch the serial.
At first I thought how talented the screenwriter was. However, on further research, this was not the case at all. He had stolen the idea from history and modified it to fit his story. The original poem was written by Su Dong Pu, a Sung dynasty poet. Since the story took place before his time during the Five Dynasty and Ten States Era, it was a good ploy in the movie. Otherwise any literati worth his salt will able to figure it out easily.
Here are some hints...
月字傾斜, The character for the moon is slanted
枕字倒寫, The pillow (character) is written upside down.
門字少半邊 Only half the door character is written.
夜字加長漏变短 The character for night is lengthen while the one for leak is shortened.
望字中間折斷 The middle part of the character for "to see" is separated,
肝字加長. The character for live is lengthened
信字少一點 There's a dot missing from the character of "to believe"
三個更字重疊 Three character of "to change/hour" is heaped on each other.
首字反寫 The character of "head" is written in reverse
釵字金邊折斷 The character for hairpin whose metal radical is broken.
Brown is literal, blue is figurative version and red is the polished version in the target language.
斜月到枕門半開, Slanting moon, comes pillow door half opened,
The light of the low hanging moon reaches my pillow and the door is still half opened.
夜長漏短無人來. Night long, water clock/time/leak short no one comes.
The night is long, time is short but still no one comes.
望斷肝腸無點信, see broken liver intestines, no dot news.
Waiting eagerly until my liver and intestines break, still no sign of him.
三更回首折金釵. Third hour return head, deconstruct, golden hairpin.
At the third hour, I turn my head and take away the golden hair pin.
Late is the hour, the door still half opened,
Long is the night, the hours short but still no one comes.
My heart breaks in vain, nary a sign of him.
Till the third hour cometh, one last lingering look before removing my golden hairpin.
A few notes for non Chinese readers. This is a love poem written from the view point of the lady longing for her lover’s return. Chinese love the sublime and the implicit but the vagueness. It makes the reader wonder what is not said explicitly. The missing lover could be her husband who is away on some journey, not necessary the illicit tryst like Romeo and Juliet.
漏 means leaky. It is the dripping of the water in a water clock of the old days. Hence the measurement of time.
心肝 means heart and liver. In Chinese, it means "my darling". Calling my heart and liver in English not only is meaningless but gross in imagery. Guts would be better but still not elegant enough in English. This is cultural bias. Broken liver and intestines mean great wrenching sorrows.
A Chinese hour is equivalent to 2 modern hours. The 3rd watch or the 3rd hour means very late. This denotes the period from midnight to 2am. Removing hairpins means preparation for bed.
Now we know that this lady is from a rich family; otherwise, she would not have such luxurious hair ornaments. In Old China, rich and noble ladies do apply makeup and dressing their hair upon waking up; usually with the help of the maids. If there is a loving husband around, he would paint her eyebrows in this morning ritual. This act itself means a pair of love birds newly married.
For more information see http://www.wushuwg.com/bbsthread-13571/
The following is my translation of the article from the above link.
Let us first look at Su Dong Pu’s strange looking poem,
You may be taken aback for awhile. What’s this? The characters do not look as they should be and neither a painting that should look like one. This wondrous form of poem is that “thoughts are expressed in their visual forms and are self explanatory” 1. It is a poem whereby one can read out the implicit words just by its form. Thus, it is read out as,
長亭短景無人畫, Long is the pavilion, short is the scenery but no one to paint,
老大橫拖瘦竹筇2. Along comes an old man walking with a slender bamboo staff.
回首斷雲斜日暮, Turning his head, the dying sunlight shafting through the clouds,
曲江倒蘸側山峰. The winding river, mountain peaks dipping in its waters.
1. In another words, a rebus.
2. A kind of bamboo for making staves etc.
The general meaning is a marvelous evening scene of slanting rays of the sun but it is a pity that no one is here to paint it. Right then an elderly person comes walking slowly with his bamboo staff. Now and then he would turn back his head to see the sun setting continuously; darkening the scene with pieces of clouds dancing slowly. Mountain peaks reflected in the waters of the meandering river. How lovely it is, a landscape begging to be painted!
(When I first read the poem, the imagery appeared in front of my eyes was a river, meandering into the distant mountains, as if the river is dipping into them!)
There is another story connected to this poem. During the reign of Sung Shen Tsung, of the Hei Ning (Splendid Tranquility) era, the ambassador from the Northern Dynasty (most probably the Liao Dynasty) who use poetry to stump the literati officials of the Hanlin Academy. Any unsatisfactory in their response, he would deride them to no end. Then one year, this ambassador came once more and the Sung emperor ordered Su Dong Pu to entertain him. Once more the ambassador used his customary tactics to humiliate his Chinese host. However he never dreamt that this time, he would meet his nemesis.
Su Dong Po sarcastically told the ambassador that writing poems is easy. What is more difficult is to be able to read it aloud. With that said, he took out his brush and began to write the above poem. The ambassador was stunned and looked stupidly with his mouth a gaped and tongue tied. He was thoroughly humiliated. From that time onwards, no longer would he dare to show off his poetic prowess when he come calling to the Imperial Sung court.
Now let us enjoy another one written as a folk song.
夜長枕橫意心歪，The night is long, across my pillow I have no noble thoughts,
斜月三更門半開。At the third watch, the moon is low and the door still half opened.
短命到今無口信，Life is short and still nary a sign from him.
肝腸望斷沒人來。Till my guts are wrenched, yet no one comes.
Please note that are two homophones in the poem. They are “倒” (upside down) vs 到” (to arrive) and “長” (long) vs “腸” (intestines). The meaning of the poem is not difficult to grasp. One lonely lady deep in the heart of the night longing for her lover. She is antsy, waiting with impatience and the door still half opened. She waited till midnight and not a sign of that short live bastard. Till her guts are spilt, yet no one is here.
Another important note: The poem uses traditional characters. Those who do not know these characters will not appreciate this kind of poems. They cannot be constructed when using simplified forms.
Source: 300 Historical Strange and Intriguing Poems.