2014-09-01

Falling leaves

Chūka jakuboku shishō 中華若木詩抄 ("Selection of Chinese and Japanese poetry") is a 16th-century-ish example of the shōmono 抄物 genre: books explaining classical or otherwise elevated literary works in the contemporary vocabulary. This shishō in particular is a sort of intro to Zen poetry for new initiates.

Number 218 in Ōtsuka Mitsunobu 大塚光信, Ozaki Yūjirō 尾崎雄二郎 and Asakura Hisashi 朝倉尚's 1995 edition for Iwanami Shoten is "Falling leaves" (落葉) by a 14th-century Rinzai monk from Tosa named Gidō Shūshin 義堂周信, and goes like this:

夜雨蕭々四五更
愁辺細聴至天明
開門試倚風前看
真个梧桐落葉声

The night is rainy — seu seu — into the early morn
Within the gloom I heard it all, and now the dawn is here
I open up the door, just to see what lies outside
The truth: the sound I heard was just the falling wutong leaves

Seu seu 蕭々 is, very conveniently, mimetic for lonely natural sounds and atmospheres in general, not just rain.

The bulk of the Chūka jakuboku shishō's commentary on this poem is about the fact that it contains its own title. Generally, we are told, it's better for this not to happen, although it's not so bad if it does. Better to use the title in the poem than to go to such tortuous lengths to avoid it that the poem itself suffers. On the other hand, if the characters of the title must be used in the poem, they should at least not appear together. Or maybe it's okay for them to appear like that if it's at the start of the first line, because after all that's how the Classic of Poetry is presented, and Du Fu was prone to this editorial technique too. But in this poem it appears in the fourth line! But this is an old (上古) poem, from the days before Jueju were "beautifully ordered". All in all, today's students should be wary of following its example too blindly.

(The editors of the Iwanami edition observe in a footnote that the schizophrenic back-and-forth in this passage looks like multiple editors arguing with each other, but the text itself does not delineate different voices.)

Incidentally, according to the Nihon Kokugo Daijiten, the jakuboku 若木 in the title of this book originally (i.e. in Chinese) referred to a mythical tree at the westernmost extremity of the Earth, behind which the sun set. How did this come to mean "Japan"? Simple confusion with fusō 扶桑, a mythical tree at the easternmost extremity of the Earth, which had a much more logical association with Japan.

2014-08-18

Chossē

To prepare myself for the big-screen adaptation of Hot Road, Tsumugi Taku 紡木たく's legendary 1980s tale of bōsōzoku bikers and the 14-year-old girls who love them, I decided it was finally time to read the original manga. It's only four volumes long (two in bunkobon format) but it seems to go on forever, like a self-pitying sunset off the Shōnan coast.

It wasn't long before I came upon a word I didn't know: chossē (ちょっせー). It was clearly slang, and seemed kind of playfully derogatory, but what did it mean?

In this "Funky Tsūshin" column from 2007, Yasuda Akihiro 安田明洋 learns from "shun-san", the moderator of a major Hot Road fan site, that the word is roughly equivalent to torokusai, dassē (< dasai), or kakko warī (< kakkō warui), giving it a meaning somewhere around "pokey," "dumb," "lame," etc.

I wonder if it's related to chorokusai (< choroi), which has a similar meaning. Anime-related sources make this claim, but I can't find anything more scholarly.

2014-08-04

Crow

Poem #225 in the Kangin shū:

Karasu dani/ uki yo itoite/ sumizome ni/ sometaru ya/ mi o sumizome ni/ sometari
Has even the crow/ despising the world/ stained itself an inky black?/ stained its body/ inky black?

Ikeno Kenji 池野健二, editor of Iwanami's 1989 edition of this work, points out that many other poems from around this period compare the plumage of the crow to the traditionally black robes of the Buddhist priest, and that the crow as Buddhist imagery was not unheard of in other contexts.

For example, Nichiren's 1272 "Sado Letter" (佐渡御書) mentions casually that the crow is stained black by its past karma (烏の黒きも [...] も先業のつよくそみけるなるべし), and Nichiren in turn was quoting the Śūraṅgama Sūtra, in which the Buddha uses his knowledge of the reasons for the crow's blackness as an example of his omniscience of causes and conditions. ("阿難。我說佛法從因緣生。非取世間和合麤相。如來發明世出世法。知其本因隨所緣出。如是乃至恒沙界外一滴之雨。亦知頭數。現前種種松直棘曲鵠白烏玄。皆了元由。")

This is the point at which I should offer up some parallel examples from Western culture likening crows to priests, but unfortunately the only one that comes to mind is the second verse of "All This Time" by Sting.

2014-07-28

"And you may, O my brothers, have forgotten what these mestos were like..."

Signage in a BorneLund visited not long ago. The room on the left is for changing diapers. The one on the right is for bottle- and breastfeeding.

I'm about 85% sure that the joke is intentional.

2014-07-21

Ts'iu kiou sunt in fluminis insula

I just realized that Séraphin Couvreur's 19th-century double traduction of the Classic of Poetry 詩經 into French and Latin is available in its entirety at archive.org: Cheu king: texte chinois avec une double traduction en français et en latin. He even included the original Chinese text!

Because I'm lazy, let's take a look at the very first poem, the one with the onomatopoeia that everyone bangs their shins on. I'll throw in a couple of English versions first for comparison:

Original
關關雎鳩、
在河之洲。
窈窕淑女、
君子好逑。
Legge (1871)
Guan-guan go the ospreys,
On the islet in the river.
The modest, retiring, virtuous, young lady:
For our prince a good mate she.
Waley (1937)
"Fair, fair," cry the ospreys
On the island in the river.
Lovely is this noble lady,
Fit bride for our lord.
Pound (1954)
"Hid! Hid!" the fish-hawk saith,
by isle in Ho the fish-hawk saith:
"Dark and clear,
Dark and clear,
So shall be the prince's fere."
Couvreur (1892) - French
Les ts'iu kiou (se répondant l'un à l'autre, crient) kouan kouan sur un ilot dans la rivière. Une fille vertueuse (T'ai Seu) qui vivait retirée et cachée (dans la maison maternelle), devient la digne compagne d'un prince sage (Wenn wang).

To be fair, I'd better include his notes:

Le 雎鳩 ts'iū kiōu est un oiseau aquatique. Il ressemble à la mouette ou au petit canard appelé 鳧 fôu. Il est le symbole de la fidélité conjugale. Plusieurs anciens auteurs prétendent que c'est une espèce d'aigle de mer.

T'ai Seu, c.-à-d. l'auguste Seu, était fille du prince de 莘 Chēnn, dont la famille se nommait Seu.

(No guarantees on those last two characters; in the scan, they're basically just blobs.)

And of course the Latin:

Couvreur (1892) - Latin
(Invicem respondentes) kouan kouan (aves aquatiles) ts'iu kiou sunt in fluminis insula. Segregata, abdita, optima puella (facta est) principis sapientis eximia conjux.

As usual, the more translations are compared, the more apparent it becomes that I should have just read some poetry by Ezra Pound instead. Say what you will about his accuracy: "hid, hid!" is definitely the best thing in any of these renderings. I suppose he somehow tortured it out of the "barred door, lock, guarded pass" meaning of 關, even though it's just used for sound here, as Couvreur recognizes. Baxter (1992) reconstructs this osprey-quack as *kron in Old Chinese, incidentally, giving Middle Chinese kwæn (or kwan in Karlgren's reconstruction).

(I have no idea where Waley got "fair, fair" from.)

Special bonus: Anquetil-Duperron's 1804 translation of some Upanishads into Latin ("OUPNEK'HAT (ID EST, SECRETUM TEGENDUM): OPUS IPSA IN INDIA RARISSIMUM").

2014-07-14

Bongjangchui

All I have today is this amazing 1937 recording of the tungso (洞簫) tune "Bongjangchui" (鳳將雛? 鳳雀吹?) by Yu Dongcho (1881-1946, mentioned here).