[blue_message] Three translations Tony Barnstone and Chou Ping

Thoughts While Night Traveling ????

Du Fu (712-770) ??

Slender wind shifts the shore’s fine grass.

Lonely night below the boat’s tall mast.

Stars hang low as the vast plain splays;

the swaying moon makes the great river race.

How can poems make me known?

I’m old and sick, my career done.

Drifting, just drifting. What kind of man am I?

A lone gull floating between earth and sky.

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Note on the Translation: In translating this famous regulated verse (??) poem by Du Fu, I had in mind a few basic principles that derived from the form in which it is written—a complex and beautiful short form that is in some ways the Chinese version of the sonnet. The regulated verse poem has 8 lines (and it can be easiest to think of it as four couplets) and this one is written in 5-character lines. The form has a tonal meter and a regular rhyme scheme in which every other line shares a single rhyme. The regulated verse poem also contains syntactical parallelism in the second and third couplets. A final element of the regulated verse poem is the caesura, or the implicit pause in meaning and rhythm after the first two syllables of each five syllable line. Chou Ping and I did a free verse version first, but in the revision process the poem was pushed to become closer to the original form. 1) We didn’t use the original rhyme scheme, but did revise to turn the lines into rhyming couplets, which seemed appropriate, given the structure of the poem. 2) We did our best to incorporate syntactical and ideational parallelism, where possible, notably in the first two couplets. 3) We tried to honor the notion of the caesura, without hammering it home through punctuation. Thus: Slender wind // shifts the shore’s fine grass. Lonely night // below the boat’s tall mast. Stars hang low // as the vast plain splays; the swaying moon // makes the great river race. How can poems // make me known? I’m old and sick, // my career done. Drifting, just drifting. // What kind of man am I? A lone gull floating // between earth and s I like the idea that, in general, the Chinese poem in English should sound closer to Emily Dickinson than to Walt Whitman, and therefore we used what I call the “power word” theory of translation, in which as much as possible we translated to maintain the key nouns, verbs and adjectives and to minimize less powerful elements of speech (articles, prepositions, pronouns), with the ideal of converting a 5-character Chinese line into a 5-7 word line of English poetry. In English translation, the lines are in terms of word count: 7, 7, 8, 8, 6, 7, 9, 8. I’ve argued over the years that Chinese poetry should when possible be brought across into English with at least a nod to the meter, rhyme, and syntactical structures of the original, and not simply as a form of imagistic free verse, but of course that is easier to say than it is to do. My translation practice is to take the opportunity to maintain elements of the original form when that opportunity presents itself, but the majority of my work in translating Chinese is more concerned with voice and image and rhetoric than it is with sound.
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