Irregular Weekly Four 9: 輾転反側

Take it away, "big" tags:

ten ten han soku
squeak roll opposite side

輾転 means "roll over", including "... in bed". And 反側 means "turn over in bed". So the whole thing means "toss and turn many times, i.e. all night". It apparently comes from a famous poem in the 詩經 (Shi Jing or "Book of Odes"):

關關雎鳩 在河之洲
窈窕淑女 君子好逑。
參差荇菜 左右流之。
窈窕淑女 寤寐求之。
求之不得 寤寐思服。
悠哉悠哉 輾轉反側。(etc.)

Which I will now attempt to translate, except substituting robotics for terms I find it difficult to precisely pin down:

The robot waterfowl that go "guan guan!"/ Are in their river country.
The modest lady/ Is a wise man's best companion.
Short and long robot vegetation / On the left and right it goes by.
The modest lady/ Sleeping and waking I seek her.
I seek but do not find/ Sleeping and waking, a slave to my thoughts.
Ah woe, ah woe/ I toss and turn all night. (etc.)

It goes on, but I lost hope.

Popularity factor: 9


Do your language skills extend to contemporary Chinese or just classical? Any recommendation for starting out learning classical Japanese? It's long been on my list of things to do, but I've never quite got around to it. I suspect a junior high school kokugo text, might be the easiest way to start out. Any suggestions of texts would be great!


Oh, no, my classical Chinese skills are entirely dependent on my classical Japanese skills. Japan has a long tradition of reading Chinese by using Japanese pronunciations of characters, inserting particles, and reorganising word order on the fly to suit Japanese grammar, and I use those. For example the first line would be something like 「關關たる雎鳩 河の洲に在る」.

I have had real trouble finding a decent textbook for classical Japanese of any sort. Their approach tends to be kind of piecemeal. Maybe I've just had bad luck, but..

What I would recommend is getting hold of some of the heavily annotated versions of classical texts that are available to help kids study them. The best ones label EVERYTHING in the sentence according to grammatical function, AND include notes for difficult words or phrases, AND include an overall paragraph-by-paragraph modern Japanese translation to check your overall comprehension. They're awesome. The series have names like 重点古典 and 精選古典 and they're sold wherever study aids for high school kids are.


Thanks, I'll have to have a look for them the next time I go to my favourite bookshop. A friend told me that later classical Japanese, such as Edo period, is much easier for a contemporary reader than the earlier Heian period works. Personally it is the Heian period works that interest me more, but I guess it makes sense to start with something in the realm of possibilty and work up from there


Sure -- logically, it's been a progression from the earliest written Japanese to the modern-day stuff, so the closer you are to the present, the easier it is for the modern-day reader to understand. But if you're really interested in the Heian, I don't see why you shouldn't start there. Especially if you start with the books I mentioned, because they explain everything. (and they have, for example, a "best of the pillow book" style thing that would be a great introduction if that's what you're interested in.)

More than Heian/Edo, the big difference for me is prose/poetry. I often find it difficult to understand the point even if I can parse it grammatically, but I don't often have that problem with prose. Fairly recent tanka are often much more cryptic to me than prose from centuries and centuries ago.


Hi Matt - I am really in awe that you read classical Chinese too ! (i tried to leave a comment on one of your 9/2004 post about afterdark, but it disappeared) most chinese/taiwanese don't read classical chinese, unless it was part of the syllabus for high school class (but usually short, not extensive reading), or unless they majored in chinese literature in college... i had to use the dictionary because i didn't know how to pronounce the words...
鳩 is explained as a dove-like bird
雎 means to stare or name for a river in 河南
荇菜 is a kind of vegetable that grows in water - that's how it flows left and right.
there's this link - someone actually posted pictures of the vegetable and found its latin name
i started reading your blog and old posts too from butterflyblue's link. i am very impressed that you finished reading afterdark in 1 week! even if it's in english, it would still take me a few weeks to read. my japanese level is not high enough yet to read hard books. i am still reading children's books for practice.


Thanks for the link! I was really wondering about that plant. Not enough to properly Google it, though, apparently...

So that first line should be "'Guan guan!' -- Watching the doves..."? I assumed that those two characters together were specifying some specific kind of bird (especially since I don't think doves or pigeons usually hang around rivers). Huh!

Seriously, I don't really "read" classical Chinese -- I struggle through it, looking up every second character, and pondering the Japanese paraphrase every second line. :) (And "Afterdark" is short with big characters. It's no "kafka on the shore" as far as length goes..)


It might have been just me, but I got to the end of After Dark and thought "Huh???...". I'm a big Murakami Haruki fan and Dance, Dance, Dance is one of my all time favourite novels, but After Dark just left me scratching my head. Interesting characters and plot, but it just seems to trail off at end, with no sense of closure.


I posted about it here (comments don't work there any more, sorry Evelyn!) --


I agree it didn't have much in the way of an "ending". But I went back and thought about it and satisfied myself that it had at least some closure, in a kind of "there and back again" way..


Whoops, hit post too early. Yeah. I don't really wanna go into too much detail because I would hate to spoil the plot (thin though it is) for someone who was just googling for an English release date or something, but feel free to e-mail or message me if you want to talk about it.

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