Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Translate This!

Have you always wanted to translate Chinese poetry but felt, er, constrained by not knowing Chinese? Help is on the way! Above is a poem by Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei (王维). Below is a transcription of the poem in modern Chinese along with raw definitions of the characters in each line of the poem. This is a fairly standard form for Tang poetry. At the top are two characters--the title--followed by four lines of five characters each. Translators of Chinese poetry take different approaches. If you know a fair amount about the language and culture, you can try to really capture what the poet was doing. Or you can use your own imagination and take the flavor of the words as they strike you and come up with your own creation. Either way, give it a try and please share the result in the comments.

Xiang Si

相思【xiāngsī】 yearning between lovers; lovesickness.

Hong dou sheng nan guo,

红豆【hóngdòu】 ormosia; love pea; red bean (Abrus precatorius, Indian
licorice or paternoster pea, a shrub famous for its red seeds which were
used as love tokens, hence the variant name 'lovesickness seeds').
生【shēng】 give birth to; bear; grow; existence; life; livelihood; living;
get; have; light; unripe; green; raw; uncooked; unprocessed; unrefined;
crude; unfamiliar; unacquainted; strange; stiff; mechanical; very; pupil;
student; the male character type in Beijing opera, etc.
南国【nánguó】 the southern part of the country; the South.

Chun lai fa ji zhi?

春【chūn】 spring; love; lust; life; vitality; (Chun1) a surname.
来【lái】 come; arrive; crop up; take place; future; coming; next; ever
since; about; around.
发【fā】 send out; issue; deliver; distribute; express; open up; discover.
几【ji】 how many; a few; several; some.
枝【zhī】 branch; twig; for stick-like things.

Yuan jun duo cai xie,

愿【yuàn】 hope; wish; desire; be willing; be ready; vow (made before Buddha
or a god); honest and cautious.
君【jūn】 monarch; sovereign; supreme ruler; gentleman; Mr..
多【duō】 many; much; more; more than the correct or the required number;
too many; excessive; too much; more over; odd; much more; far more.
采撷【caixié】 pick; pluck; gather.

Ci wu zui xiang si.

此【ci】 this.
物【wù】 thing; matter; the outside world as distinct from oneself; other
people; content; substance.
最【zuì】 -est.
相思【xiāngsī】 yearning between lovers; lovesickness.


Carol Peters said...

babelfish says:

Lovesickness Red bean fresh southern part of China Spring sends several Is willing Mr. to pick This thing most lovesickness

Carol Peters said...

I say:

South China spring

more than one
fresh red bean
dear one
are you hungry

Clifford Garstang said...

I like it, Carol! (Much better than babelfish, for sure.)

Clifford Garstang said...


Love tokens thrive in the South,
Blooming in Spring,
Pluck your fill,
Of this bountiful yearning.

MBR said...

Less a translation than an adaptation:

Young Chinese Fancy

Spring fever, beans again
Sprout in the south.
Love fever plucks again
In her red mouth.

hanyuxueshang said...

I'm Italian, but i studied chinese

red beans born in the south,
when spring comes it sands out a few of them
hope you pick a lot (of them),
this is the best sign of our love