Other worlds

From Iwanami Bunko's new paperback edition of Yakuchū renju shikaku (訳注聯珠詩格, "A translation with notes of Lianzhu Shige"), KASHIWAGI Jotei (柏木如亭)'s early 19th-century vernacular translation of selections from Lianzhu Shige, an early Yuan anthology of pre-Yuan poetry: a poem by HUANG Tingjian (黄庭堅 a.k.a. 黄山谷) entitled 青奴 (seido in Japanese, also known as "bamboo wife", a kind of body-length woven basket that you sleep with at night to keep cool.)



English translation

Nong Li plays the four-stringed lute, the wind blows away the matting
Zhao Hua plays the flute, the moon seeps into the floor
I have no red-sleeved girls to make the night fun
My true love: the seido, with its unmatchable coolness

Kashiwagi's Japanese translation

Shikimono o ba kaze ga harai, toko e wa tsuki ga sashikomu hodo
Biwa o hiitari fue wo fuitari shita
Jō Ri da no Shō Kwa da no to iu geisha mo atta
Ore wa sonna mekake no togi o shite kureru mono mo nai kara
Chikufujin o daite neru, suzushimi ga icchi kawaii

English translation of Kashiwagi's Japanese translation

There were geishas called Nong Li and Zhong Hua

Who could pluck the biwa and play the flute
Fit to blow away the rugs and let the moon shine on the floor
I haven't got a woman like that to keep me company by night
So I sleep with my bamboo wife—keeping cool's what I love best

The Iwanami edition includes an essay about the history of the original Lianzhu Shige, which can be summarized as follows: It was compiled by CAI Zhengsun [蔡正孫], building on the work of YU Ji [于濟], as a fuck-you to the Yuan Dynasty: all the poets in it are Tang and Song, and Cai made the personal political by listing himself as a Song poet. For a variety of reasons, some better understood than others, the book made it across to Japan and remained popular right up through to the Edo period (Buson was a fan). Kashiwagi's edition was notable for its translation style: clear, everyday language that owed nothing whatsoever to the long-established rules of yomikudashi, in which the absolute bare minimum of particles and word-by-word glosses are applied to yield sentences that conform to the letter if not the spirit of classical Japanese syntax.

Here's another of Kashiwagi's translations, a LI Po work called "Answering someone in the mountains" (答山中人):


Dō iu ki de yamaoku ni sumu? to ore ni kiku kara
Nikoniko mono de aisatsu mo senu gurumi, kokoro ga shizen to hima da
Momo no hana ga nagare e chitte, tōku e iku tokoro
Betsu na sekai ga atte, ukiyo to wa chigatta mono sa

"What's the deal with living so deep in the mountains?" they ask me
I beam but don't even answer; my soul is naturally free
Peach blossoms scatter onto the stream; into the distance they go
There is another world, unlike this floating one we know

Like most short poems by Li Po, this one is a popular target for translation into English, too. But note that where the English translators calque "green mountains" (碧山) and "heaven and earth" (天地), Kashiwagi provides true translations: "deep in the mountains" (yamaoku) and "world" (sekai).

(Of course, this isn't an entirely fair comparison, because he wrote these words as furigana to the original kanji, an option English translators generally don't have—more's the pity.)

(Edited for clarity on 20080814)

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I wonder where the poem was composed, whether it's hot. I didn't know the Dutch wife was used in China too.


They have them in Korea, too. Must've come down with the Buddhism and dragon imagery.

Huang (Tingjian—I got the name wrong, sorry) was from Hongzhou (洪州) in modern Jiangxi (江西), which is about the same latitude as Taiwan; I guess he knew from the heat.

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