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Tuesday, November 15, 2011

White Haired Dweller of the Palace of the Supreme Sun

  
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 Ballad9of 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

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