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Friday, April 24, 2015

Metamorphosis of a Poem

Friday, April 17, 2015

Sudden phrases pop into my mind as usual when I am busy with something else.  This time it was 飛雪紅梅 (flying snow, red plum blossoms).  I had to place it somewhere in a box of my mind for later retrieval.  Then as I lay in bed and pondered on
it,  my feet were literally getting cold despite being safely tucked underneath the blanket.  A theme began to coalesce -- the colder it is, the blossoms will bloom with greater vigor.  No wonder the Chinese admire this flower so much.  It has the tenacity to not be afraid in the face of adversity.  Along with the two other "Friends",  the pine tree and the bamboo, it is prominently featured in the traditional arts, whether in paintings or as porcelain-ware motifs.

My idea was about the mores of a frustrated scholar in his preparation to pass the imperial examinations.  In today's terms, "study hard and be successful". 

飛雪紅梅又一冬    Fluttering snow and plum flowers blossoming - another winter
十年苦讀功未成/通 Ten years of hard study gone by and still unable to succeed/understand

For a few days, I was stuck.  I could not proceed beyond these two lines.  I tried to look at the masters for inspiration but no such luck.  I just had to let it lie there and languish.  Then a few more days later, a friend posted a link on Facebook.  It was a video about an interracial marriage between an Australian lady and a Singapore man in the 1960s.  The video talked about their love lasting through the decades despite harassment and prejudice in the societies they lived in.

It was the inspiration I was looking for.  The first line is so appropriate to their situation.  A draft was formed along the lines of,

飛雪紅梅又一冬,flying snow red plum again one winter
流水盡去與夢同.flowing waters completely flow past and dream same
蝶殘花香早已謝,butterfly crippled flower fragrance early already withered

I could not end the poem. The last line eluded me.  To put my mind at ease, I continued to read more articles on this couple. April 16th came and I suddenly remembered an old 1930's movie, The Enchanted Cottage,

Finally I could cap the poem with the theme of the movie,

心中視覺仍龍鳳     In hearts, still seeing we are the dragon and phoenix.

The "Dragon and Phoenix" is a great metaphor for male prowess and feminine beauty.  Now with the structure complete, I could work on the refinements...
First of all, I felt that 飛雪 (flying snow) was not colorful enough.  A quick change was easy.  白雪紅梅 (White snow red plum) is bursting in color. However, in the English mind of mine, I was thinking in modern terms that unless it is polluted, the color of snow can only be white.  To me, this is redundancy and a waste of words.  "Red plum blossoms" is fine since they can take on other colors.

There is plenty of movement in 飛雪橫梅 (flying snow, sideway plum blossoms), colors being hinted at and the imagery is good -- stretched out boughs, laden with blossoms looked as if there were being blown flat by the wind.  With more word twiddling,

白雪横飛紅梅冬, The white snow flying across a red plum blossom winter

A good compromise,  however, I ran into trouble as the second line is now out of place and the change of scene is too abrupt.  "又一冬" (Again another winter) in the first line is the lead-in to the next. 

"Flowing waters" denotes the swiftness of time passing.

I considered splitting the idea into two lines,

白雪横飛又一冬, White snow flying sideways again another winter passes
紅梅盡放 ?  ? 

The problem now is that I do know how to fill in the places denoted by the question marks. To change the theme or rhyme is something which I did not want. Have to leave this as it is and continue with the rest of the poem.  The last line has the idea but the wording is coarse and inelegant.  More mulling and I came up with,

彼此彼此仍龍鳳 Each other, with one another,  still a dragon and a phoenix.

At first I was quite happy but the repeat of 彼此 bothered me.  It hints of exasperation, a mood I do not want to portray.  I wanted something happy...

彼此相觀仍龍鳳, In each other's gaze, still a dragon and phoenix.

Though an improvement, something is still amiss. My present inspirations, like the magic potions in the computer game that I am now playing, were all used up.  I just have to wait for another day of renewal...

Thursday, April 23, 2015

I rewrite my essays over again and again to gain refinement.  Unlike typing with versatility on an English keyboard, it is better to kill two birds with a stone by practising my Chinese "calligraphy" with the brush in an old-fashioned manner.  Sure enough, as the poem was repeatedly written, like some gene mutation over a time, words began to transform and ideas become more settled.  The flow seemed more fluent as the characters were expressed through the ink and brush.
In the end, I decided to forgo the idea of having color in the first line.  After all, there's plenty of "colors" through the shades in the black-inked character strokes contrasting with the snow-white underside of the now scrap paper of a now defunct computer printout.  Yes, I do recycle.

The first line remained the same while the second became,

江水盡流與夢同. The river waters flow unceasingly like a dream.

盡流 can be interpreted either as the flow had completely stopped or that its flow is carefree with no sign of stopping!

I remembered I had learnt 倦蝶 (tired butterflies) from a Chinese writer in an "italki" essay, which I now will use it to the fullest.  Whoever that unknown writer is, one "I thank you".

倦蝶殘香早已逝 tired butterfly crippled/weak fragrance early already passed.

Here also evokes the imagery of death.  Still, the final line lacks the punch I intended. I had considered other characters such as , but not (since 相見 means "to meet up").  They did not make the cut.  Then I remembered a song from an old classic Chinese movie of the 1960s, 江山美人, The Kingdom and the Beauty starring Lin Dai (林黛).

The theme song was in a form of a classical poem,

一瞥驚鴻影,   One furtive glance, a startled swan,
相蓬似夢中. Our meeting is like a dream.
廣寒身未到, To the Lunar Palace of the Great Cold not reached yet, (a sexual allusion)
分手太匆匆, Too quickly is our departure.

Unabashedly, I am lifting to convey the full force of the poem's intent of a furtive gaze of an old couple whose love had endured the ages. 

飛雪橫梅又一冬, Across the laden boughs of plum blossoms, blows the snow yet of another winter,
江水盡流與夢同,The river flows without care, like time passing in a dream.
倦蝶殘香早已逝,Tired butterflies and withered fragrance had long since gone,
彼此相瞥仍龍鳳.To each other, a furtive glance exchanged, a dragon and a phoenix we still are.

By no means this is the end of the story. As time passes and with more experience and knowledge gained, there may be changes yet to come. 

Friday, April 24, 2015


What prophecy!  No sooner than what I had written was proofread by someone and posted on my blog, a minor change occurred as I tried to get a better brush writing version.  I accidently wrote a wrong word which proved to be a blessing.  Instead of writing (flow), I wrote (to go, past).  I pondered on this and finally decided that this new change was for the better since there is hint of something long gone.  At the same time, there is no need to have extra words  in the English translation when there are none in the Chinese version.

江水盡流與夢同.The river flow passing fast like a dream.

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