mjj (flemmings) wrote,

You're *sure* it's not full moon?

Then it must be solstice fever or some especially malign astrological conjunction. I discount Christmas depression. Babies know nothing of Christmas depression and the babies yesterday were all simultaneously wired and inconsolable. Of course, it could be molars, and in their case I rather fancy it was.

However my molars have been with me for over half a century. That's not what's causing the current bout of dark night of the soul. YesAsia tells me last night that my copy of Woxin has shipped, though the webpage said it wouldn't be released until January 9 and their email had said expect it around the 18th. And all I can think is 'It's the wrong version' though it *says* English subtitles American edition, and 'Watch Customs and the shipping firm screw me for another $40 on this.' Gloom doom life is a howling wilderness, people still haven't chipped the ice off their sidewalks a week later and I wrench my knees inching across it, I can't bike the winter streets and even if I could my bike is a balky hard-mouthed beast, my hot water heater doesn't heat enough hot water any more, and we're all going to die.

Dark night can be assuaged, oddly, by the Shouwa Emperor: 'We must bear the unbearable and endure the unendurable', backed by Housman:
The troubles of our proud and angry dust
Are from eternity, and shall not fail.
Bear them we can, and if we can we must.
Shoulder the sky, my lad, and drink your ale.
This leads me to consider the argument of Jonathan Chaves, a translator of Chinese verse, who maintains that since Chinese verse rhymes, English translations should too; and that since the 'permissable' range of Chinese rhymes was actually far more limited than the number of homonyms (homophones?) in Chinese would suggest, a nearly equal number of English rhymes and half rhymes are also available to the translator. And then translates three hundred poems by Zhang Ji and demonstrates why in fact translators should avoid rhyme. Not the rhyming words but English word order, that far too often requires clunky verb constructions to eke out the metre or to put the rhyming word where it needs to be.

This year, for a job you drove the rent collecting boat
Last year you caught minnows as by riverbank you'd float.

And when they try to pull green stems to get the lotus root
They often break, revealing fibres that soft hands do cut.

The review on the amazon site pretty much states my objections: "But what is one to make of his frequent reversion to the Early Modern English use of 'do' as a standard auxiliary verb, as in 'Eighteen years ago, my friend, we grieved as we did part', 'Above the city, the Dipper now does hang', 'Now cloudy pines our separate homes do cleave', 'Barbarian horsemen through the fields and paths did rush and wind', or 'Crows cawing from old inns the air do rend'?" But while I agree with the reviewer that a loose free verse translation style produces the best *poems* I still think it should be possible to rhyme your translations: if you know how to write good rhyming verse.

If you can rhyme like Housman- easily, naturally, with common words perfectly placed so that the whole thing reads unstrained- then by all means, rhyme your Chinese verse. Now Housman often uses a semi-archaic poetic ie not modern colloquial style, drawn from an earlier form of English, that to my mind goes seamlessly with his plain standard English vocabulary:
Could man be drunk for ever
With liquor, love, or fights,
Lief should I rouse at morning
And lief lie down of nights.

But men at whiles are sober
And think by fits and starts,
And if they think, they fasten
Their hands upon their hearts.
Not everyone agrees with me, and they didn't agree even seventy years ago when people's vocabs were more classical and historical than now. I see nothing wrong with an unmodern sort of English for translating poems written in Tang or earlier, and especially not if they were scholarly poems to start with. But even Housman doesn't need classicisms to make his point
The laws of God, the laws of man,
He may keep that will and can;
Not I: let God and man decree
Laws for themselves and not for me;
And if my ways are not as theirs
Let them mind their own affairs.
Their deeds I judge and much condemn,
Yet when did I make laws for them?
Please yourselves, say I , and they
Need only look the other way.
But no, they will not; they must still
Wrest their neighbour to their will,
And make me dance as they desire
With jail and gallows and hell-fire.
And how am I to face the odds
Of man's bedevilment and God's?
I, a stranger and afraid
In a world I never made.
They will be master, right or wrong;
Though both are foolish, both are strong.
And since, my soul, we cannot fly
To Saturn nor to Mercury,
Keep we must, if keep we can,
These foreign laws of God and man.
What we really need, she says morosely, is one of those Edwardian polymaths, grounded in Greek and Latin with side forays into Languedoc and Occitan (though the people who cite languedoc poetry when talking about Chinese verse irritate me, for no good reason) who would then undertake to translate Chinese verse. Alas, we had one of those. His name was Arthur Waley and his translations don't rhyme. (They're also, if I may be permitted an heretical opinion, not that wonderful as English poems either. I'll stick with Bynner.)
Tags: chinese, rl_07, translation, verse

  • Post a new comment


    Anonymous comments are disabled in this journal

    default userpic

    Your reply will be screened

    Your IP address will be recorded