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Thursday, October 10, 2013

My Childhood


Many had asked in private communication as to why I seemed to be in such dedication to correct essays during my "down time" at work and yet; did not seem to ask for anything in return. Some thanked me for such "kindness".

I am sad to say that this is not entirely true.  I have my selfish reasons. The return is the countless triggerings in my mind. I do not know how the firing of my neurons would end.  However, mostly ended positively; for they inspire me both in my writing and musical composition. Sometimes, their ideas are lifted; sometimes they become slightly different gateways. This is how I am able to enter to these slightly different universes to enjoy the immense scenery there.  For this I am most grateful. 

Sometimes, they reminded me of things long forgotten, like a pile of rubbish in a dusty corner of my mind, until I espied a glint from the midst.  And; as I approached, it sparkled, scintillated and beckoning.  Then as my fingers caressed the filigrees of the light that it finally shone in its full glory.  Like a magical touch, the full realization of what it is now became clear…

Yesterday, I corrected Hoan's entry entitled "My Childhood"1.  In it, she wrote, "I often played a game of skill with sticks and a ball…"  Given my experience and not knowing the Vietnamese culture, I almost wanted to correct it to "hockey".  On a second thought, it is most probably not what she had in mind.  Finally, I changed it to "I often played skillfully with ball and sticks…".  Hoan wrote privately and sent a video link2 to explain this traditional Vietnamese game, called Chơi chuyền.  

Upon looking at the video, I at once realized that it is a variation of "Pickup sticks" game but with the inclusion of a ball in a game of dexterity, coordination and mental concentration.  This is my gateway to a slightly different universe.  The video is the glint and is now glowing brightly for in my mind. The filigrees of light are reaching into the dark abyss of my mind and dredging out some of my own precious childhood memories lying dormant at the bottom.

I remembered how grandmama, in order to alleviate my boredom, stopped her work at the sewing machine and called me to go into the kitchen to get her a cup of uncooked rice grains.  She told me that she had something to show me. I was excited because even as a kid, I knew she was making blanket covers from different colored rectangular scraps of cloth.  Now what do the grains of rice have anything to do with the making of a blanket?

The filigrees of light are now coalescing and glowing even more brightly as I write, remembering how this grand old lady gave her unconditional love to me.
Eons had passed in the meantime.  I have to thank Hoan's video link for this.  Thank you. For you are that light in making me think of my beloved maternal grandmother and all the hours spent telling me bedtime stories of Old China. 

Without her, I won't be what I am partly today.

And when I returned, there was a piece of rag being cut into five3 smaller triangular shapes.  My eyes grew in wide wonder as she asked for the rice grains.  There she filled them up and painstakingly sewed them into a pyramidal shape.  When she was done, she grouped them together to form a shape called the "Plum Blossom Heart" (梅花心).  There she taught me the rules of how to pick them up quickly and put them back in a different pattern.  It's an variation of Hoan's Chơi chuyền or "Jacks", "Knucklebones" or "Astralagoi" in English.  

However, I had forgotten the name she called it.  From searching on the internet, I found that it is called "Catch 7", "Pick up Gold"4 …

Thus my reason for correcting assiduously.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


3.  The standard game has seven pieces.  However, my hands were tiny of then and she didn't want to make it too difficult for me. 

4. However, these names do not sound familiar to me.  So after consulting HK gurus from a site, its name is "Wah Tzi"  (搲子)

Monday, October 7, 2013

長安花雨 - Changan Tears






流水急急,             Waters flowing hurriedly
今日春光來          Today's spring is here
明朝去.                 Gone tomorrow.

秋到泪水下更多. Autumn approaches, even more tears flow.
半边空寢,             Half the empty bed,
半边愁.                 Half the sorrow.

日落月起心思思. The sun sets, the moon rises, mired in thoughts.
人在何處?            Where is he?
歸还昔日夢.         Alas but to return to the dreams of old.

流水速速,             Fast waters,
往東遊.                 Wandering towards the east.
花落葉飛.              Blossoms fell, leaves in flight.
辜負丹心念.          Disappointing my sincere thoughts.
扭轉乾坤有何用?  Of what use to turn Heaven and Earth upside down?
追回舊影一場空.   Futility in chasing dreams of old.

一樹梨花壓海棠
1, A treeful of pear blossoms weighing down upon the begonias.
半天楓葉伴明月.   Half the sky drowned in maple leaves accompanying the bright moon.

1. Without going into the nifty details of the allusion, figuratively it means an older man taking a much younger bride. The white pear blossoms refer to the whiteness of the groom and begonias, the redness of youth of the bride.


Monday, September 23, 2013

A Belated Mid-Autumn Party



This short essay is for my foreign friends from italki who are curious about my
belated Mid-Autumn Party.  This year, the Lantern Festival falls on a Thursday.  Unfortunately, it is not a public holiday for everyone and so no choice but to have a belated celebration on  the following Saturday.  I had invited over a hundred people but thank goodness not everyone showed up at the same time, otherwise my place would be a wee bit overcrowded.

For those interested how a typical U.S. West Coast lifestyle is like, especially in Los Angeles, we love to entertain in our homes.  It does not matter if your place is huge or not.  I always say, you can always entertain a few close friends even in a closet.  Others say, they live with their parents, so I countered, what's wrong with inviting your family to join in the fun?  If they don't like it, they can go and watch a double-feature movie in the theatres or just sneak into another one.  Others would give me cultural reasons not to.  To me, it is just an excuse.  For me, to entertain in one's home is to show your warmth and sincerity.

What you see in the movies are either the super-rich or celebrities throwing lavish parties to impress or to get connections.  In the ordinary lives of us mere mortals, the most common thing to do is a potluck.  This won't put a strain on the host and there will always a great variety of food, dessert and drinks for all to enjoy.  My party started at 1 p.m., we did a potluck lunch with people bringing Chinese BBQ meats, Jewish quiches, sushi, Indian samosas, lamb bryani and American staples like baked beans and corn on the cob.  Even though I don't drink, there is always plenty of wine and beer flowing around. There is only a friend in the entire group who normally brings hard liquor such as vodka, whiskey etc.  Of course, the Asian group preferred hot Chinese tea and most would  gyrate towards coffee of any kind.  There was so much to eat that we didn't have to go out or have takeout food in the evening.

As night fell, more friends arrived.  The fire pit was fired up and people gathered around it like a bunch of moths circling a light.  As the social atmosphere began to mellow, everyone started enjoying the warmth and conversations became more interesting.  I'm just being nice.  Nothing is more salacious than gossip about people you know!  That is what makes any party swing.  This time around, plenty of people brought dessert.  This was what I told them to bring if they intended to come later in the evening.  However, they were free to choose whatever their favorites were.  There was a symbolic gesture of a small box of moon cake.  After all this is its festival namesake.  Not many people like to eat them anyway.

My new toy, the fire pit, was the main hit at the party, followed closely by another group with musical talents.  They crowded around the piano.  People sang and people played.  Drinks continued to flow unceasingly and everyone had a great time.  Thank goodness, my neighbours were also having their parties, albeit not for the same reason.  So everyone is not worried about someone calling the police because of the loud noises that the neighbourhood is making.  Of course, I was making the most noise.  My voice boomed into the night to ensure that everything is picture perfect.  I had to make sure that everyone felt welcome and had enough to eat but not too much drinking!  This is because drunk driving is a serious offence in California and also I don't want my friends to get hurt or get into trouble.

Finally by midnight, most had left.  However a few close friends remained and we sat winding down by the fire pit for some quiet exchanges.  By now the autumn moon had risen high up into the sky and over the obstructed bamboo skyline.   The place was still and a gentle breeze rose, sweeping the flames of the fire pit.  We gazed into the fire as we were mesmerized by the flickering tongues of the flames.  Each of us rocking in our chairs in different tempos as different thoughts were marching in our minds.  One of us suddenly recited,

金風梳月影, The golden breeze brushing the shadows of the moon,
玉露點秋香. Jade dew touching the fragrance of autumn.
月明心緒寧, The moon is bright and my mood is at ease,
徘徊昨夜夢. Lingering in dreams of last night.

I see someone was in his poetic mood. On the surface, the poem is innocuous as can be.  The "golden breeze" and "jade dew" are symbols of autumn; a poem describing an autumn scene with the poet's feelings.  After a while in deep thought, I began to suspect something is amiss.  "Autumn fragrance" can also be a name of a girl, especially the name of maid in this traditional Chinese story (唐伯虎點秋香) of how a flirty scholar is trying to seduce her.  Oh ho!  Crouched in poetic imagery, is my friend trying to brag about his last night's conquest?
But before I could go further, another chimed in a poem of his own.

春風笑少年, The spring breeze laughing at youth
夏花無限嬌. Unlimited is the beauty of summer flowers.
秋雪豈能有, How can there be snow in autumn?
冬月醉長夜. The winter's moon, drunk in the night.
今宵百花樓, Tonight at the House of Hundred Blooms,
明日水東流. Gone tomorrow, like the waters flowing east.

For a long time, there was silence in the air except the creaking of the rockers.  For a long time I wondered why the mood had changed even though I detected a euphemism of brothel in the last poem.  Finally 2 a.m. approached and everyone started to get up giving the excuse that it was time to part and thanked me for a wonderful party.  I was tired too and called it a night.  The next day, I recalled last night's poems and began to write them down.  As I was translating the poem, suddenly from the written form, I found the answer to my last night's question. 

Reading the first two columns from left to right and from the top to bottom, the characters from the first four lines form two Chinese phrases, "Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter" and "Wind, Flower, Snow Moon".  The first phrase is just a description of the seasons of the year but in Chinese can symbolically mean the four stages of a person's life; his youth, his peak, his declining years and his final days.  The second phrase originally meant the poetic beauty of nature.  However, now degenerates to a description of having a dissolute life of wine and women! 

No wonder last night's atmosphere abruptly changed.  I am sure one of my friend was laughing at the age of the bragger.  I guess those two won't be seeing each other for quite a while. 

Jeff, Jeff, Jeff… You are too slow in catching on things of this calibre.  Now you know the reason of this notebook entry.

Friday, September 20, 2013

A Lament On A Mid-Autumn Festival


Thursday, September 19, 2013

As of this writing, it is about 11pm on a Thursday night.  The autumn moon is hanging brightly  above a cloudless sky of Los Angeles which I call home.  Since this is the US, unfortunately, there is no holiday for us.  I envy the long weekend holidays in those countries that officially celebrate this delightful festival known also as the "Lantern Festival".

It doesn't matter. I'm going to play hookie tomorrow and follow Hong Kong's example.  This is my third entry on this festival since I joined italki.  How time flies.  Unlike the past two years, there was no gathering on this actual day of the festival.  Just all by myself, treating myself to something good under the bamboos and viewing the bright circular orb up in the cloudless sky.

My memories harkened me back to my days of old; with lanterns in our hands, my siblings and I would explore the darkness within the safety confines of our garden.  It was one of the rare occasions that we were allowed to venture out into the night and not having to go to bed at the appointed hour; to which we thought, was ridiculously early.  In the daytime, the large garden (to our eyes) was a friend but in the night, a scary stranger and yet we could not resist. In trepidation, we surged onwards into the darkness. And yet we hoped that some monster would jump out at us and frightened the shit out of us!  Yes, those were the simple thrills of childhood.

Then, inevitably, sometime into our foraging, one of us would trip and the  lantern caught fire from the lighted candles within.  This was our biggest thrill of the night since no monster had ever come out.  Of course the one whose lantern now laid in ashes would be in tears.  Our rambunctious actions would cause a faraway shout from grandmama telling us to be quiet as she prepared the table with offerings to the moon and its inhabitants.  She had cooked a special dish of conches or some kind of shellfish with spiral shells.  Of course, I would never eat such strange looking stuff.  The feast will begin just after midnight.  Mother would be the ever dutiful wife managing my father's activities with his buddies or with the relatives and keeping an eye on things in the front.  Not to mention is there was the ever present sound of mahjong tiles with an occasional cry from the winning woman or curses from the losers.  Not to be outdone, the men too have their act in their poker games. 

Such is the life of a mid-autumn festival of the yesteryears.  As a matter of fact, it is the same for all festivals with the adults.  Us, the children just have to invent more imaginative games to entertain ourselves.  It was a good time when the huge clan would descend and congregate at Grandfather's house.  Cousins were like strangers whom we knew by face.  Even though we lived in the same town but because of different schools we attended, we hardly ever saw each other except during these clan festivities.  When Grandfather was alive, all have to make obeisance and the mandatory pilgrimage to the ancestral house.

Most of the people in my memories, well, are now just memories.  Some had gone to the great beyond, others no longer in touch; for our clan is as factious as China's Age of Warring States.  When the grandparents had moved on, the later generations no longer saw the need of such gatherings anymore.  No more emperor to please, for each is now a warlord of his own realm.  Sad isn't it?  As for my siblings, some had married and now we lived in different cities.  Though we are close, some are technophobic and even refused to be on Facebook.

Anyway, here I am by myself.  My good buddies?  Some are back in their ancestral countries; some on business and others don't have the courage as I did to play hookie.  Alone? Yes, physically but not so mentally; for memories are good companions.  They lull, they cajole and even play tricks on your mind.
The wind is cool but my body is comfortably warm as I have been sipping hot Chinese tea by myself. Rocking back and forth on my deckchair, in sway and nostalgia, I view the moon with a different frame of mind tonight.  In some ways both of us are the same.  One high above in the sky and nary a cloud to be seen and the other, someone far down on this earth, surrounded by quietude but with one half empty pot of hot tea...

Out from the dusty corridors of my mind, I hear the voice of grandmama relating the lunar tales of yore.  How the Fairy Chang-O went to live on the moon.  Then there is the immortal woodcutter forever chopping down a self-healing osmanthus tree.  With each blow at the tree, the wound would recover immediately.  Like Sisyphus, he was punished for his hubris or laziness.  Let us not forget too, the other lunar inhabitants in the form of the Jade Rabbit and the Three-Legged Toad.  Thank you grandmama, for you have enriched my life by telling me all these and other wonderful tales.  You have opened my imagination and let me enter into a world of splendiferous beings.

Then I espied on the tin cover of the moon cake packaging, there in her bosom, was Chang-O's Jade Rabbit being caressed lambently by her against the backdrop of the bright full moon.  New thoughts came flooding and replacing my memories of yesteryears and casting them back into the dusty corridors of my mind.  The moonlight was bright enough for me and with a pen, to scribble down my thoughts on a piece of paper.

竹下深坐嘗月餅,Under the bamboo, I sat deep in thought and tasting moon cakes,
風吹樹搖落英雨.The wind blows; the trees sway and flowers fall like rain.
廣寒嫦娥一仙子,In the Great Cold Palace, is the Fairy Chang-O,
懷擁玉兔非郎君.Caressing the Jade Rabbit in her bosom; no lover it can ever be.


With this, I can now tap-tap on my laptop…

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Quietude
















Quiet is the night.
Stillness is the wind.
I sit down knowing no one is in sight.
Perhaps a sigh, nary a thought in my mind.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

心中迷 - Confused Heart


花香月影小提琴, Amidst the fragrant flowers, a moonlight shadow playing the violin,
絃聲愁過夜鶯啼. The strings sadder than a nightingale's song.
知音何時散入夢? When did the voice of my intimate friend diffuse into my dreams?
清風掃解心中迷. The gentle breeze sweeping away the knots of my confused heart.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Your Morphean World


The sun is seen no more in the horizon.  It is now quiet and peaceful; just a warm breeze caressing the tree tops. Within another hour or so, this darkening sky will turn into a vault of twinkling stars, transporting you to the land of dreams.  Like an orphan, you have no choice but to follow the voice that is beckoning you from the dark.  Slowly but surely, your eyelids began to droop and finally closed.  

The silence swirling in the darkness will bring you hope and joy.  In this Morphean world, you are neither lost nor to be found.  Until the first rays of the sun kiss you awake, releasing you from your Sleeping Beauty spell, you renew as the new day cometh presenting you new challenges and opportunities.  They await like your handmaidens. So command them well.

Based on someone's imagery.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sweet Mutterings


花間甜言蜜語是最好聽的一首歌曲. 但對於一些人來說, 是最難入耳, 甚至會感覺到心寒. 是歌是懼, 那就看你的數了. 年輕天真的十六, 不如經歷過狂風暴雨的失戀者. 甜言蜜語, 是真是偽, 唯有時間知曉.

贈君一法决狐疑,
不用鑽龜與祝蓍.
試玉要燒三日滿,
辨材須待七年期 - 白居易, 放言五首之三部份

Sweet mutterings amidst the flowers is the most melodious song.  However to some, it is the most difficult thing to hear.  Even it may make the heart grows cold in fright.  Whether a song or fear depends on one's age.  Young is the naive sweet sixteen, unlike those who had been jilted tumultuously.  Sweet mutterings, whether real or false, only time will tell.

To you I bestow a sure way to ease your doubts,
Need no tortoise shell to divine nor yarrow stalks to foretell.
Three days are needed to test if it is jade,
And seven years to determine if it is a camphor tree.

周公恐懼流言日,
王莽謙恭未篡時,
向使當初身便死,
一生真偽複誰知.

Lord Chou is afraid of the day when rumours spread,
Wang Mang courteous and respectful before his usurpation.
If one dies before his time,
Then neither truth or falsity will be known.

Friday, June 14, 2013

後庭花 - 幽魂張麗華 - Courtyard Flower, The Soul of Chang Li Hua



夏天永在此, 四周蜂蝶花香. 苑中無處不迎人. 微風柳垂, 陽光滿灑身上暖. 何人不歡樂? 苑中一人世界, 時刻在此停流, 不如世外窅然去. 此地非仙界, 只是一魂心緒靜.

見境觸情,一聲一色無限貴, 花雖香, 蝶雖麗, 難補心中缺. 天籟雖悠揚, 但不如知音勝. 獨舞瀛臺上, 迎風兩袖飛. 徘徊當時青絲七尺長, 享盡人間榮華富貴. 臨春, 結綺, 望仙一霎烟水閑. 莫怪他人妬我倩, 只恨此迷魂顏. 我非妲己, 高熲非子牙.  幽魂永不歇.

此地非仙界, 亦非一魂心緒靜. 千秋綿綿悔, 永鎖於此後庭地獄間.

Summers are forever here.  Everywhere there are bees, butterflies and fragrant flowers.  Nary a place in this garden not a welcome sight.  Gentle breeze blows and willows sway.  Gorgeous sunlight embracing me in warmth.  How could not anyone not be in joy? In this garden, a world of only one.  Time stops still here, unlike those of the outside world slipping by.  This place, not a fairyland, just a place of one soul's quietude.

As I look at these sights, each sound, each color ever so precious.  Though the flowers are fragrant; though the butterflies beautiful; they hardly fill my empty heart. The sounds of nature may be haunting, they do not know me well. Alone I dance on the Ocean Terrace; my two long sleeves billowing in the wind.  Dithering here and hesitating there, I remember the yesterdays; my hair of seven feet long.  A luxurious life I did partake.  Where are the pavilions of Approaching Spring, Beauty Forming and  Immortals Peering now?  All disappeared like fleeting whimpering in the vanishing mists.  Blame not the jealousy of others over my peerless beauty.  I hate this soul-snatching face of mine. I am no Daji and you sir, Gao Jion is no Tzu Ya! My eternal lonely soul cannot rest.

This place, not a fairyland, neither a place of one soul's solitude.  A thousand years' regret, eternally locked in this courtyard of Hades.

Inspired by the song Enchantment
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fq-Ht00wsm0

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Bygone Dreams

The heavy hand of Allah,
Shifting the burning sands of the Sahara.
Where now, is the great Temple of Ishtar?
A thousand years of glory –
Just a twinkle of the eternal stars!
Mighty forests once lushed with life in green
Spreading afar…
Are now but underground tar!
28 Jul 94
This poem was inspired by the CD "All One Tribe" by Scott Fitzgerald.  Heavy in drum beat, it evokes a sense of the shifting desert sands, together with the wailing in the background, paints a Middle Eastern Image influenced by a haunting melody of a western touch.

Midnight Hunt

Ride into the deepest night,
Thunderous clouds gather in fright.
Swifter than the midnight wind,
Demon rider flashing in evil grin.

Hell hounds and headless horse,
On a hunt with no pause.
Flee as fast as you can,
In pain, in torment you ran.

***

Little white hare look not back,
Just hear the whip goes whack, whack, whack.
Till the day you are behind,
Only then will peace and rest you find.

Who will be the brave one?
So forever, you must run, run, run!

***

Power leaping dangerously from my reins,
Blind love surging frantically in my veins.
Swifter than the midnight wind,
Desperate lover on needles and pins.

On my white horse with golden mane,
Calling out your name in vain.
Just hear my tears go drip, drip, drip.

Till the day you’re in my embrace,
The truth you’ll find and face.

Inspired by Right in the Night (and Love the Music) by Jam & Spoon.  I misheard the phrase and thought they sang, Ride in the Night.

Based on the Devonshire tale, Midnight Hunt of an old woman who, out of compassion, saved an enchanted hare accidentally from the devil during the eternal midnight hunt.  Only when the hare is behind the hunting pack would the spell be broken and from the basket rose a maiden fair.

The poem is written from three different angles, an outsider, the pursued and the pursuer.

06 Dec 1993

Dreamer's Tales

Dreamer’s Tale

See that little boat,                                         看看那邊小小船
Anchored in the castle moat.                        正在城堡護河泊
Sails spun of dreamers’ tales,                        船帆夢人故織成
That never be shredded by fiercest gales.  永遠不被颱飇撕
Always gleaming on the mast of hope,        桅檣希望不
No more harsh realities to rope.                   再無酷實在拉扯
Leave behind your woes and your cares,    留下懮愁不須顧
See how we will fare…                                   看看此生如何渡
Be my sailor boy!                                            做我一個水手童!
In make-believe we will toil.                         此幻我們一定勞.
Laughing and kissing all the way,                 一路含笑親吻聲,
Forever in warm and sunny days.                永遠風和日麗期
So step into that little boat,                         只須踏入那小船
Waiting for us in the castle moat.               護城河中待我們.

04 Apr 1994

Chinese Translation Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Monday, June 3, 2013

What Is Love?


       
The original version says,

I said this but you said that.
You wanted to fly to the moon to dance but I wanted the pleasures of the lake.
I would like to have Cantonese but you hungered for Middle Eastern.
We are two different creatures.
For exactly twenty years,
Time flies like an arrow,
But we were never apart.
You let me have my way and I also budge.
If this is not love,
Then I know not its name.

The figurative Chinese translation is more natural in its medium to express the same thing.

我論天文, 你却話花間好.
你欲飛天奔月舞, 我仍留恋於湖間水.
我思食粵菜, 你痕試清真味.
兩人兩心異.
整整二十年,
光陰一箭,
從未有分手日.
你讓一步,
我退一尺.
若此非愛,
不知我們之間是何物.

Now translating back into English even in figurative terms...  Same intent but different imagery...

I discourse on the heavens but you insist that the flowery world is better.
You want to fly to the moon and dance but my love is still upon the lake waters.
I think of Cantonese food but you itch to try Muslim.
Two people, two hearts different.
Exactly twenty years,
Not once did we part.
You budge a step
I retreated a foot.
If this is not love,
Know not what this thing is between us.

Monday, May 20, 2013


Smelling Essays 聞章

Smelling Essays is my adaptation of a story from the Tales of A Chinese Studio (聊齋) since I don’t remember the exact details but the general storyline.  So if mine deviates from the original, please excuse me.  I remembered this story as I was replying to an email to an Italki friend.

There were three scholar candidates went visiting the sights as they headed towards the capital for their Imperial examinations.  There they heard of a blind monk living in a mountain temple, who was able to ascertain how good an essay was when it was burnt in front of him just by smelling the smoke.  So they decided to see it for themselves after each having written an essay.

The first one was burnt.

“Not bad.  Shows promise!”

The second was burnt.

“Excellent! Never have I smelt one so fragrant for a long time now.”
The last one was burnt.  Immediately the blind monk rushed towards the bushes and started retching away in violence, ejecting what he had for lunch.

He came back in great anger,

“Why dost play such a cruel joke on a poor blind monk? Just when you gave me something of great pleasure, you suddenly take it away and dishing such gutter filth to me.  Be off with you scoundrels before I forget that I am an avowed monk!”

The young scholars were afraid and left the temple grounds.  Months later, they took their Imperial examination.  Alas, the one with the most fragrance did not even make it onto the list! Even the one showed promise had an honourable mention.  The top scholar of the land belonged to the one who cause such great grief to the monk.

As with tradition, the top scholar returned home to pay respect before taking up his faraway post, he passed by the temple again.  The more he thought of the prior incident, the angrier he became.  At last he could bear no longer and decided to test the monk again.

Once more another essay was burnt.  The monk vehemently cried out,

“Take this filth away.  Not fit for human consumption! I remember you know.  Weren’t you the one of a few months back who caused such me such violent stomach convulsions? Why are you back again?”
When told that the essay was from the First Candidate of the Land, the monk cried out angrily,

“My eyes may be hollow without sight but my nose knows what is of worth.  Those examiners are truly blind.  Besides, I am talking about their essays.  Not their destinies!”



Monday, May 20, 2013

Thursday, April 11, 2013



天淨沙 - Heavenly Pure Sand

This is the introduction of a nine-part Yuan Dynasty miscellaneous lyrical poem-song (散曲) by Ma Chi Yuan (馬致遠). The majority of his plays are dealt in Taoism and the title may have something to do with Taoist mysticism. The “sand” in the title may mean the masses of the populace.  Since I am no expert on this, I shall refrain from conjecturing how this title may be translated figuratively.

This essay offers a glimpse how translation takes place in my mind.  Whether right or wrong, this is how it went in my head.

                                  鴉。
withered vine old tree evening crow

                                    家。
small bridge flowing water man house/dwelling

               西                   馬。
ancient  way west wind skinny horse.

              西    下,
 evening sun west down

                             涯。
broken intestine man on sky edge.

Can't find a better picture than this.

On the surface, an English translation would be a breeze for anyone with a good command of both languages. The characters used are common and there is no allusion referenced.  Indeed, one translation might be,

A withered vine, an ancient tree, crows at dusk

Upon closer inspection,  questions begin to arise.  Stripped of its adjectives the first line merely lists three different objects, a vine, a tree and a crow.  Is this really the intent of the author?  Chinese, unlike English, does not have plural indicators.  Neither it is wrong to translate it as,

Withered vines, ancient trees and crows at dusk

Hence various permutations can be used.  However, the picture painted becomes subtly different.

This essay focuses on what goes into my mind when I attempt an English translation.  Different people may have different interpretations.  This is what makes poetry so interesting.

The first tool in my translation arsenal is common sense.  In real life, there is usually more than one vine growing.  So translating it into a plural form makes more sense.  However, neither common sense nor cultural background nor experience can determine the singularity for the rest.  Before going further, I have an issue on translating the Chinese character, .  This character means old, ancient etc.  The choice of word used is very important for different cultures have different shades of the meaning.  For example, “ancient trees” may conjure up scenes of horror to the western mind.  Therefore for a more colorful translation, even the word “gnarly” can be used since old trees are as such.  However, this would run afoul of cultural experience.  What is valid in one culture may not be valid in the other.  We have to look for clues in the poem as a whole.

The next line again follows a same pattern of listing three objects, a bridge, a river and human dwelling.  Again the question of singularity or plurality comes into play.  Again common sense comes to rescue.  One bridge is enough for one river.  Why the need for more than one?  Unless there are many rivers to begin with. One dwelling or many abodes, we still cannot decide.  Keeping this in mind, we move on to the next line.

In the third line, the same pattern of three objects ensued. A road, wind, and a horse.  By now we have a feeling of singularity of the road and horse.  Wind cannot be counted in daily life but poetically it can do so.   

In the fourth line, there is no ambiguity.  There is only one sun.  Finally we now have arrived at the last sentence.  It does not talk about the masses but one singular person’s emotions.  With this all the ambiguity of singularity or plurality is resolved according to my reasoning and interpretation.

In my version, I used the neutral word, “aged” instead of “old” or “ancient”.  I purposely avoided the use of  “ancient” because in the third line the word (ancient) is used. I do not like words repeated, if they are not for emphasis.  Also, I have added extra words not found in the original poem to give it more color and feel in the target language.  Classical Chinese poems tend to be concise and ambiguous.  Many words are left out to let the reader fill in the blanks.  For example, I used the word “perched”.  Common sense will dictate that the crow’s first action would be to perch rather than any other action.   One can certainly argue that the crow might be flying instead.  However, in filling this imagery, the entire scene will not tie up nicely with the last image of a broken-hearted man standing alone.

I used the word “brooklet” instead of a river.  This is because of the explicit adjective used to describe the smallness of the bridge.  At first I too translated 人家 (human abode) as “a few mere huts”.  On second thought, I decided it would be more appropriate to do so in the singular form (“one mere hut”) to tie up with the rest of the poem to emphasize loneliness. After all, hermits do exist in Chinese culture. However, this kept nagging me.  The use of人家 as singular does not conform to the usage of the term.  Indeed, in Cantonese, it can also mean “they”, “them” or “others”.  Perhaps I am falling into the trap of reading between the lines and conjecturing too much.  In the end, I reverted to my original decision.  On looking at it, the ends of the first two lines matched in plural forms.

I chose “brooklet” over other synonyms such as “stream”, “riverlet” or even “rivulet”  because  I like it better over others.

“Sighing” is another additional word I used in the translation to emphasize the melancholy of the poem.  “Blowing” does not pack the same punch.  Considering the title of the entire song is Autumn Thoughts (秋思), the words “withered”, “aged”, “twilight”, “ancient”, “west” and “skinny” all describe how ancient Chinese view the season.

瘦馬 is easily translated as “skinny horse”.  However, somehow it does not quite fit poetically in the target language.  One translator uses “emaciated” which describes the situation very well with the imagery of starvation.  However, I believe that the intended meaning was through old age.  On an interesting note, the last name of the author means horse.  I cannot conjecture if he placed himself in the poem.  This is something only he would know.

天涯  (Heaven’s Edge) should not be translated literally as the “horizon”. It is short for 天涯海角 (corner of the ocean) to mean a faraway land, a place of fantasy, the ends of the earth, or worlds separated apart.  I prefer to translate it as the edge of the world, to mean that he is one step away from his grave.  "on the edge of the world" is more precarious than "at the edge of the world".

The astute will notice that I did not add the word, “stand” in the last line which can be inferred from the poem.  It is analogous to adding “perched” for the first line.  I did not because “standing” may then be construed that at any moment he may jump off the edge.  For all we may know that he was sitting at the edge to reflect upon his past in his twilight years.  Perhaps filled with regrets; but he could be clinging onto life as long as possible.  This kind of conjecturing is totally subjective for there is no more information after this line upon to draw.

Withered vines, an aged tree and a crow perched in twilight,
One little bridge over a brooklet, some mere huts.
An ancient road, the west wind sighs upon a scrawny horse.
The sun is setting,
One broken-hearted man on the edge of the world.

Tuesday, February 28, 2013

Some other English translations:




Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Signing Your Life Away in the US.

 
It was precisely 7pm when the doorbell rang. Our appointment was originally scheduled for half an hour later. Freeway traffic at this time is never good and she lives a long way from me. Still she had called earlier to see if we could start the liaison early. Like some love-starved teenager, I welcomed her suggestion most agreeably.

The front door opened and in popped a cheerful smiling lady whom I judged to be
an Asian. Before the night was over, I had gathered all her personal information deemed interesting to me. She was Cantonese and had migrated to the States over 30 years ago. I gathered she must have been a toddler then, for she spoke with flawless and accentless English; a mother of two girls; recently went back to Canton with her mother and daughters for a visit; did not have enough time to drop by Hong Kong. Wow! A gathering of four generations under one roof!

I have a knack for culling such information from strangers with my ineffable charm. It is not because I am nosy. On the contrary, I find myself bored in general and such things do amuse my mind. It is like the thrill of a hunt. After all, before the night is over, she would leave me, with all my vital personal data - imparted out of necessity. Before anything could proceed further, I had to prove my identity to her. The California driving licence being the most preferable form in this situation.

Before going any further, let me introduce you to Kim. Yes, she is a stranger, but a very special one. You see, she is a notary public sent by the escrow company. Signing this one inch thick pile of documents in her presence is a must. For the rest of the world, an inch is equivalent to about 25.4mm! With the authority vested in her, she is the only one who can bear witness to our act. I have no choice, due to the low rate of 6.25% in a 30-year fixed rate mortgage on some US$355,000 loan. This is very good. With every silver lining, though, a few dark clouds come tagging along. One has to provide checking account numbers, social security numbers, loan document numbers and, worst of all, a hefty cashier’s cheque of over $1,300 to cover the cost of the home loan. This is why banks seem so eager to lower their interest rate. They make a killing right on the spot first! Refinancing at a lower rate does not mean it is always the best for everyone. One has to calculate if the upfront fees are worth the while. No point in doing so if you are going to sell your home within five years when these costs cannot be recovered.

I digress.

No one ever reads these loan documents. They are filled with jargon only a real estate lawyer would love. Hence, the notary public also functions as a sort of advisor and interpreter explaining what the signatures are for. Almost every page has to be signed or initialed. Sometimes it is ridiculous to affix signatures and initials on the same page, within inches from each other. Such are these inconveniences of legal redundancies.  In the good old days, less than ten pages of signature were required to ensure a legal binding contract. Now there are extraneous documents - to acknowledge the right of the consumer to withdraw the agreement within three business days; to agree that the loan offered is not based on the race, gender or age of the borrower; to confirm that the homestead is occupied by the signer; or to waive all rights of privacy and allow government agencies such as the tax bureau to paw through all that personal information! With the advancement of the ubiquitous computer technology, bank account numbers now have to be divulged so that excess charges can be refunded and mortgage payments deposited electronically and automatically.

The good old-fashioned requirement of signing in black ink is no longer preferred. Most institutions now want you to sign in blue ink! This is because the photocopying process is so good that one cannot distinguish if the signature is photocopied. This is to prevent fraud. One look at the colors will easily verify a signature. 

Time ticks slowly away as the mind boggles, awash in legal mumbo-jumbo. You think the English language is hard? Just wait until you try to read and understand one page of legalese!  Once those are out of the way, the signing process becomes rather routine. You just sign whatever you are given, interspersed with some explanations here and there. You just have to trust her! After all the signatures are gathered, she double checks everything once more to ensure all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. No one wants to do this again! You know the finality of the process when your thumb print is requested on her official book of records.

Talk about technology! Not too long ago, getting a thumb print was a messy process. Your thumb is all black from the ink and if you don’t clean it thoroughly thumb prints will appear on everything you touch. Then an inkless version came but still can be quite messy. Of course nowadays, high quality digital fingerprint scanners, but in home visit situations, this is not feasible. I am truly impressed that inkless pads have advanced to such a point that the ink is invisible on your thumb. When you first press onto the paper, the print is invisible. As the ink dries, it becomes darker and darker on the paper but not on your thumb! Something new learnt every day.

Wait! Wait! Not so fast! I thought we were done due to prior experience in home refinancing. Well, there is something new this time! One more important document to prove that she provided a meaningful service!

Precisely at 8:15pm, she waltzed off into the darkness of the night. Hopefully never to see her again! I am happy and she is happy. And why not? You asked. The answer, my friend, is the $150 in her virtual pocket. Not bad for an hour and a half. Perhaps I should change my job too.

After note: With all these careful checks... She is human after all. Yesterday the escrow called to inform me that there was still a place where the signature is missing! It was a minor one because the paper had been initialed. Such are the fail safe redundancies of legalese. Thank goodness all I have to do is to print out the initialed document attached in the email. Sign it, re-scan it and emailed it back to them. Thank God for the convenience of modern technology.

Friday, March 8, 2013

Autumn Thoughts



天淨沙 – Heavenly Pure Sand

This is the introductory part of a nine part Yuan Dynasty miscellaneous lyrical song poem (散曲) by Ma Chi Yuan (馬致遠). The majority of his plays are dealt with Taoism and the title may have something to with Taoist mysticism. The “sand” in the title may mean the masses. Since I am no expert on this, I refrain from conjecturing how this title should be translated in any other way.

This essay offers a glimpse how a translation takes place in my mind. Whether right or wrong, this is how it went in my mind.

枯 藤 老 樹 昏 鴉。
withered vine old tree evening crow

小 橋 流 水 人 家。
small bridge flowing water man house/dwelling

古 道 西 風 瘦 馬。
ancient way west wind skinny horse.

夕 陽 西 下,
evening sun west down

斷 腸 人 在 天 涯。
broken intestine man on sky edge.


On the surface, an English translation would be a breeze for anyone with a good command of both languages. The characters used are common and there is no allusion referenced. Indeed, one translation might be,

A withered vine, an ancient tree, crows at dusk

Upon closer inspection, questions begin to arise. Stripped of its adjectives, the first line merely lists three different objects, a vine, a tree and a crow. Is this really the intent of the author? Chinese, unlike English, does not have plural indicators. Neither it is wrong to translate it as

Withered vines, ancient trees and crows at dusk

Hence various permutations can be used. However, the picture painted becomes subtly different.

This essay focuses on what goes into my mind when I attempt an English translation. Different people may have different interpretations. This what makes poetry so interesting.

The first tool in my translation arsenal is common sense. In real life, there is usually more than one vine growing. So translating it into a plural form makes more sense. However, neither common sense nor cultural background nor experience can determine the singularity for the rest. Before going further, I have an issue on translating the Chinese character, 老. This character means old, ancient etc. The choice of word used is very important for different cultures have different shades of the meaning. For example, “ancient trees” may conjure up scenes of horror to the western mind. Therefore for a more colorful translation, even the word “gnarly” can be used since old trees are gnarly. However, this would run afoul of cultural experience. What is valid in one culture may not be valid in the other. We have to look for clues in the poem as a whole.

The next line again follows a same pattern of listing three objects, a bridge, a river and human dwelling. Again the question of singularity or plurality comes into play. Again common sense comes to rescue. One bridge is enough for one river. Why the need for more than one? Unless there are many rivers to begin with. One dwelling or many abodes, we still cannot decide. Keeping this in mind, we move on to the next line.

In the third line, the same pattern of three objects ensued. A road, wind, and a horse. By now we have a feeling of singularity of the road and horse. Wind cannot be counted in daily life but poetically it can do so.

In the fourth line, there is no ambiguity. There is only one sun. Finally we now have arrived at the last sentence. It does not talk about the masses but one singular person’s emotions. With this all the ambiguity of singularity or plurality is resolved according to my reasoning and interpretation.

In my version, I used the neutral word, “aged” instead of “old” or “ancient”. I purposely avoided the use of “ancient,” because in the third line the word 古 (ancient) is used. I do not like words repeated, if they are not for emphasis. Also, I have added extra words not found in the original poem to give it more color and feel in the target language. Classical Chinese poems tend to be concise and ambiguous. Many words are left out to let the reader fill in the blanks. For example, I used the word “perched”. Common sense will tell you that the crow’s first action would be to perch rather than any other action. One can certainly argue that the crow might fly rather than perch. However, in filling this imagery, the entire scene will not tie up nicely with the last image of a broken- hearted man standing alone.

I used the word “brooklet” instead of a river. This is because of the explicit adjective used to describe the smallness of the bridge. At first I too translated 人家 (human abode) as “a few mere huts”. On second thought, I decided it would be more appropriate to do so in the singular form (“one mere hut”) to tie up with the rest of the poem to emphasize loneliness. After all, hermits do exist in Chinese culture. However, this kept nagging me. The use of人家 as singular does not conform to the usage of the term. Indeed, in Cantonese, it can also mean “they” or “them”. Perhaps I am falling into the trap of reading between the lines and conjecturing too much. In the end, I reverted to my original decision. On looking at it, the ends of the first two lines matched in plural forms.

My other reasons:

I chose “brooklet” over other synonyms such as “stream”, “riverlet” or even “rivulet” because it I like it better over others.

“Sighing” is another additional word I used in the translation to emphasize the melancholy of the poem. “Blowing” does not pack the same punch. Considering the title of the entire song is Autumn Thoughts (秋思), the words “withered”, “aged”, “twilight”, “ancient”, “west” and “skinny” all describe how ancient Chinese view the season.

瘦馬 is easy to translate as “skinny horse”. However, it somehow does not quite fit poetically in the target language. One translator uses “emaciated”, skinny when one is starved. However, I believe that it is skinny through old age rather than starvation. On an interesting note, the last name of the author means horse. This conjecturing if the author has placed himself in the poem is something no one but himself knows.

天涯 (Heaven’s Edge) should not be translated literally as the “horizon”. It is short for 天涯海角 (corner of the ocean) to mean a-far-away-land, a place of fantasy, the ends of the earth, or worlds separated apart. I prefer to translate it as the edge of the world, to mean that he is one step away from his grave.

The astute will notice that I did not add the word, “stand” in the last line which can be inferred from the poem. It is analogous to adding “perched” for the first line. I did not because “standing” may then be construed that at any moment he may jump off the edge. For all we may know that he was sitting at the edge to reflect upon his past in his twilight years. Perhaps filled with regrets; but he could be clinging onto life as long as possible. This kind of conjecturing is totally subjective for there is no more information after this line upon which to draw.

Withered vines, an aged tree and a crow perched in twilight,
One little bridge over a brooklet, some mere huts.
An ancient road, the west wind sighs upon a scrawny horse.
The sun is setting,
A broken-hearted man on the edge of the world.

Tuesday, February 28, 2013

Some other English translations:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ma_Zhiyuan

http://chinesepoemsinenglish.blogspot.com/2010/09/ma-zhiyuan-tian-jing-sha-autumn.html

http://clearharmony.net/articles/Fun_with_Yuan_Dynasty_Songs_“An_Autumn_Reflection”_in_the_Song_Format_of_“Heavenly_Pure_Sand”-a31174.html

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Beauty Yu


The Beauty Yu

Translating poems without knowing the background and the circumstances why it was written can result in inaccuracies and worse still, lose the original intent.  Take the following poem, as an example. The translation is reasonably good but misses the subtle references and emotions it attempts to convey. 

The first translation is a literal one.  Where there are multiple meanings, the most appropriate to the context is chosen.  For example, .  It can mean “central”, “middle”, “inside”, “medium” and even “Sino”.  However, “middle” is chosen for its appropriateness due to context.

                       - 李煜
Yu beautiful person   - Li Yu

                                        
Spring flower autumn moon what time finish?

                        

Past events know many  few


                            

Small tower last night again east wind


                                              

Old country not endure return  head moon bright  inside


                                             

Carve balustrade marble steps ought still remain


       

only is red face change


                                         

ask gentleman/lord can have some many sorrow?


                                                 

Just/exactly like one river spring water facing east flow


One polished translation is as follows,

The Beautiful Lady Yu

Oh when will autumn moon and spring flowers end?
How many past events I've known.
The east wind buffeted my room again last night,
I cannot bear to remember the bright moon of the old country.
The marble steps and carved balustrades must still be there,

The people's rosy cheeks are all that's changed.

How much sorrow can one man have to bear?
As much as a river of spring water flowing east.


On the surface, without comparing to the original, this translation does not look shabby at all.  However, upon closer inspection, especially to those who are not only bilingual but who are also history or literature buffs, errors due to misinterpretations and misunderstandings begin to surface. 

You can see the enormous difference between this and my translation below.

Oh when did the spring flowers leave?
When did the autumn moon fade away?
Of events past, I knew too much.
Again, once more the east wind haunted my small tower abode last night.
My country of old, no longer can I endure,
I yearn for the brightness in the moon of yore.
Carved balustrades and steps of jade ought to remain the same.
Only the erubescence had changed.
My Lord, how much sorrow can you have?
Exactly as much as thawed waters of a spring river flowing east.

A short history first…

Li Yu was the last ruler of the Southern Tang.  Like King Louis XVI, who was more interested in clock-making than in running the country, Li Yu is more famous for his poetry and the arts than as a failed ruler.  He should not have born as a prince.

To appease the northern powerful Sung Dynasty, his empire was reduced in status to that of a subordinate state and his title lowered from emperor to overlord.  However, in the end, the Sungs came and took everything.  Even he could not prevent his second wife from being raped by the second Sung emperor openly.  The royal family was moved forcibly from their capital at Jingling (Nanking) to the Sung capital in the north.  Though he lived in luxury, he was in fact a prisoner, a bird in a gilded cage. 

This is his last poem, for within the lines were four characters that ultimately caused his death at the age of 42. Li Yu had been drinking heavily ever since his exile.  Even the first Sung Emperor became alarmed for the fear that Li Yu may die from alcohol poisoning.  He did not want his name to be tainted.  However, the second Sung Emperor had no such qualm given the past drinking pattern of Li Yu.

For more information please refer to http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Li_Houzhu

The English lines in black are a polished version from one translator.  The blue is mine and my commentaries are in brown

虞美人 “A Beautiful  Lady Yu” Beauty Yu

This is not entirely inappropriate.  However, the term can also mean a title in the imperial court.  So it is better to translate it as, “Beauty Yu” instead.  Yu was the favourite of Xiang Yu (項羽) the hegemon who was defeated by the founder of the Han Dynasty.  She performed a sword dance before her Lord, only to commit suicide at the end of the dance to urge him to forget about her and continue fighting for the country.  Yes, this was the portrayed role of the opera character performing the sword dance the movie, “Farewell My Concubine”. 

春花秋月何時了
Oh when will autumn moon and spring flowers end?

“Oh” is a nice touch.  However the English version is wrong given the background information.  The crux lies with the huge difference in meaning of “will” and “did”.   Given his lament in his exile, this is a rhetorical question.  It is not as if he did not know when his pleasures had ended.  He knew exactly when they had ended.  It is only now that the full impact had hit him. 

Here spring flowers and the autumn moon are metaphors of leisure, pastimes enjoyed by the upper classes.  The meaning of the line is nothing more than “Oh, when did these joys end?” Translating in this way the local flavour of the poem is lost.  To emphasize the emotion felt in the original, I translate it as,

Oh when did the spring flowers leave? When did the autumn moon fade away?


往事知多

How many past events I've known.

This line reminds me of a famous Tang poem, Spring Morning (春曉) by Meng Hao Ran(孟浩然)

春曉不覺眠,  I feel no sleep on this spring morning,
處處聞啼鳥.  Everywhere, birds are singing.
夜來風雨聲   Last night were the sounds of the wind and rain,
花落知多少  I wondered how many flowers had fallen.

The problem is in translating the phrase, “多少” (many few). Usually it means “how many”, “how much” as in多少錢 (how much money).  The translation in this Tang poem is correct given the context.  However, the phrase can also mean “a bit here and there” as a sort of humility speak.  For Li Yu, he was merely saying that he knew too much.  This reasoning is based on the next line.  Thus, I translate it as,

Of events past, I knew too much.


小樓昨夜又東風

The east wind buffeted my room again last night,

Li Yu was an emperor, a sovereign in his own right.  He has his own imperial palace.  In ancient China, how high one’s abode depends on his status or rank.  Common people are not allowed to have such luxury.  There were strict laws governing the height and color of personal buildings.  A modern example is Chinese restaurants having the connotation of prestige of the character appended to its name, say, 醉花大酒樓 (Great Tower Restaurant of Drunken Flowers).   

Now Liu Yu was demoted to a duke.  Hence the size and height of his abode cannot be bigger or higher than that of the Sung imperial palace.  Using “small/low tower” is most appropriate.  Another translation was “turret”.  However, this was a western concept in castle building.  Very inappropriate.  It is like Shakespeare uttering in Harlem speech! Li Yu could have used the character for “room” instead.  What went in the mind of that translator, I do not know.  An educated guess would be that he did not know of the circumstances and used “room” to please the thinking of the English audience.

Here the east wind denotes the grandeur and pleasures of the past.  In the Chinese version, the entire line hinges on the word, (again) to convey his emotional state.  They came back, haunting him because he knew too much.  Hence, I repeat this word, albeit differently, for this emphasis.  There are many words to fill the gap left out in the original version to make sense in English.  “Visited”, “Intruded”, “Invaded” are all appropriate words but I opted “Haunted” as the best.  This is poetic license of a translator.

Again, once more the east wind haunted my small tower last night.


國不堪回首月明中

I cannot bear to remember the bright moon of the old country.

國不堪 . These are the very four words that caused Li Yus demise from one enraged Sung emperor.  It reads, My old country, I cannot bear.  This shows treachery from the view point of the emperor.  Yet as his guest of his departed brother, the first Sung Emperor, he cannot overtly kill him for a highly veiled poem.  Hence he had to resort to clandestine methods.

If Li Yu had used home instead, perhaps he may not have so enraged his captor to this extent. Also the order in the English translation deemphasizes the original emotion.

回首, turning ones head back is to look at things behind you.  Chinese way of expressing recall and to return to those times.  The brightness in the moon stands for the former glories of the past.  Li Yu is lamenting the shambles of his country under the rule of the Sungs.  It was the glories of his ancestors he was yearning for, not the physical structures of his palace signified by the moon.

My country of old, no longer can I endure,
I yearn for the brightness in the moon of yore.

欄玉砌應猶在

The marble steps and carved balustrades must still be there,


means should or ought;   means nevertheless, even now, in spite of everything,  yet and stillThese were not conveyed in the translation.  Also I do not understand why the translator changed the order of words when there is no particular order that English  imposes on. 

The description is of his former palace. So the translation of (at, exists) as there is appropriate since the former line suggests reminiscence of past glories.  Jade is just exaggeration for marble.

Carved balustrades and steps of jade ought to remain the same.

只是朱顏改

The people's rosy cheeks are all that's changed.

There are two interpretations for this line: Li Yu’s people remaining at the old palace had grown old.  The other plausible meaning is that there are new faces guarding his old palace.

Here we don’t know exactly which one is the poet’s intent.  So it is best to translate it as ambiguously as the original.  Also the translation did not take account the two keywords, 只是 only

Here any translator can have a field day with his vocabulary.

Only the rubescence/ruddiness/erubescence had changed.
Only the rubicund glow had changed.
Only the red complexions had changed


君能有幾多愁

How much sorrow can one man have to bear?

君 can mean a gentleman or a ruler.  Given the context both in the poem and the former status of the poet, “ruler” is more apt than the more general term “man”.  Here, the poet is asking himself the rhetorical question in the form of the third person.

My Lord, I asked thee how much sorrow can you have?


似一江春水向東流

As much as a river of spring water flowing east.

Again the keywords, , exactly like in the self reply is not translated.  Some claimed that 春水 denotes his sorrows.  This may be true but it means more than that.  Li Yus sorrows were frozen in his heart as he endured and suffered humiliations at the hands of the second Sung Emperor, a mean person compared to his more gracious brother who conquered Li Yus lands.  From withholding household expenses to the rape of his wife, Li Yus sorrows are like the thawing of the ice in spring, his sorrows finally were let out like the flows of an unstoppable river.

Exactly as much as thawed waters of a spring river flowing east.

This example serves as an excellent reminder to those trying to translate poetry.  The language employed is often couched in hidden metaphors and speaks not of what it seems on the surface. Research the reasons behind why the poem was composed in the first place before attempting to translate.

Thursday, February 14, 2013
Final version 20 Feb 2013

In a more controlled manner, holding the pen in the
tradtional style
A few days earlier, subtle difference, in a
different mood.
A freer form and holding the pen in my usual way.
In my English hand.
 As you can see the translation is a bit different in the
printed form.  This is a on-the-spot translation.