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:

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").

Popularity factor: 4


Let's not forget the New Translation by X.Y.Z. (2012) which I found in the Kindle Store this morning:

By the riverside a pair
Of turtledoves are cooing;
There is a maiden fair
Whom a young man is wooing.

The transformation from "aves aquatiles" to two woodland turtledoves happening upon a riverside is especially bold.


XYZ has a whole theoretical apparatus at work there, too. I haven't read much about it but my shallow understanding is that [he would argue that] turtledoves are a good choice here because what you want is "Bird that symbolizes fidelity" rather than "Bird that is aquatic and says 'kron kron'". He could at least have made them say "coo coo", though.


"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."

Thank you for that! Being a Pound fan toughens you up; I'm always having to defend him against people who hate his politics (totally understandable, but judging literature by the author's biography and/or politics is a mug's game) and people who complain about the accuracy of his translations (also understandable, but anyone who can look at translations by Pound and by your average Sinologist and prefer the latter for its accuracy knows and cares nothing about poetry).


Brazilian poet Haroldo de Campos, who was heavily influenced by Pound & friends, used the term "transcreation" (transcriação) to refer to his creative translations of poetry; in this way he made it clear that he wasn't aiming at the usual goals of a "translation". He has an entire Illiad that lots of classicists hate for innacuracy, and that I like a lot for its sound and rhythm and novelty of expression.

I am saddened to learn, from Wikipedia, that in English "transcreation is a term used chiefly by advertising and marketing professionals to refer to the process of adapting a message from one language to another, while maintaining its intent, style, tone and context".

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