Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The New Moon

ice biya [新月]    New Moon
Staatsbibliothek 14.10 (View Online)
mudanggai faitan,    A curved eyebrow,
ijifun    a comb
oncohon,    on its back,
gu-i gohon bokšokon,    the elegance of a jade hook,
5hitahūn mudan,    the curve of a fingernail,
fatha toron,    the mark of a talon,
bulekui jerin saliyan,    just the edge of a mirror,
hon hihan,    most precious,
juhei weihu –    a canoe of ice —
10 hiyotohon saikan.    crescent-shaped and beautiful.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Portrait of Official Advancement

This is one of a series of four “portraits” of different careers. This seems to have a lot in common with the Weiqi of Political Advancement, which describes the career of an official in similar terms.

hafan wesire durugan [升官圖],    Portrait of Official Advancement
Staatsbibliothek 11.29 (View Online)
nirugan gese,    Like a picture,
hafasa,    the officials
faidame,    line up,
ilhi anan-i tolo,    score them rank by rank.
5 wesici ne je,    Now they rise,
wasici ne je,    now they fall,
dele wala andande,    suddenly on top or at bottom.
naka joo,    Stop! Enough!
tongki ton bi,    There is a score—
10ume bodoro.    Don’t calculate it!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Crows, to the tune Drunk on the East Wind

gaha [烏鴉],    Crows
Staatsbibliothek 11.56 (View Online)
ya gasha,    What are crows?
kara boco,    Their color is black.
ai jilgan,    What is their call?
lurgin hele,    Rough and raucous.
5 hiyoošunggai banin,    Like filial people,
gulu hing seme,    they are plain and sincere.
amasi,    Henceforth
ulebure,    feed them.
feniyen feniyelerede,    When they form up in flocks
10sasari,    together,
hūwangga uhe.    they’ll join you on good terms.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Bound Foot Lantern Poem

This dense and complex poem about bound feet touches on themes of beauty, loneliness, pain, forbidden love, suicide and injustice, all in 15 enigmatic lines.

I still haven’t figured out what the “lantern poems” are. Were they riddles written on lanterns at the New Year festival? Were they poems that ostensibly used decorated lanterns as the inspiration for describing something?

In this post I’m going to take the poem apart because I think that’s the best way to understand what is going on.

giogiyan bethengge dengjan [小腳兒燈],    Bound Foot Lantern
Staatsbibliothek 14.29 (View Online)

The Shoe

harha fulgiyan,    The shoe leather is red,
eldengge saikan,    bright and beautiful,
cece nilgiyan,    the silk is shiny,
yasahangga hihan,    with small holes and rare.

The poem opens with a description of a beautiful shoe, no doubt one of the tiny shoes that adorned bound feet. Just as the first thing you saw with a bound foot was the beautiful shoe, so the first lines the poet gives us are beautiful.

Loneliness and Isolation
5can o [嬋娥] suhe fon,    Cháng’é, when she takes them off,
duruhai lakiyan,

    having grown old and weak, she hangs them up.

biya-i argan,    The crescent of the moon,
gu tanai ujan,

    is a jade pearl boundary.

Turning from the beautiful shoe, the poem then invokes the goddess Cháng’é, who lives alone in the vast cold palaces of the moon. It is not strictly clear whether the goddess or the shoe grows old and weak, but in this season of waning the shape of the moon resembles a bound foot. Compare the lines in the Jīn Píng Méi describing Xīmén Qìng’s first intimate encounter with Pān Jīnlián (in Chinese original and Manchu translation):

lo-i wase be ten tukiyefi, juwe gohon-i ice biya be meiren-i dele sabubuha
Having lifted the gauze stockings up, the two-hooked new moon could be seen over his shoulders.

The poet then goes on to describe the shrinking moon as a beautiful but confining boundary for the goddess. The same idea that the goddess is trapped within the confines of the moon was expressed in Moon, to the tune Wind in the Pines. Like the shoe around the foot, the confines are beautiful, but sorrow lies within it. Like the limited sphere of the moon, the bound foot constrains a woman.

tuwa-i haksan,    The cruelty of fire,

šu ilhai okson,

    is the lotus step.

The phrase tuwa-i haksan is a double entendre. The word haksan can mean a golden or reddish brown color, or else it can mean “cruel, brutal.” On the one hand, this could be describing the bound foot in a red shoe, or perhaps the dried blood on the wrapping of the foot, or else the cruel pain of walking with bound feet.

The reason I have chosen the word “cruelty” for my translation is that the poet could have used a less ambiguous word like jaksan to describe the red color, but instead opted for the ambiguous word haksan, a choice that I think was motivated to capture the meaning of cruelty.

Forbidden Love
lo fei mukei on,    The path of concubine Luò across the water,
suman-i toron,    is a trail of mist.
sabu ne da an,

    The shoes are now as they have always been.

These lines turn from the burning of fire to the cool of feet passing over water. The name “concubine Luò” [洛妃] refers to Lady Zhēn, but the description of her crossing the water is an allusion to the Rhapsody on the Goddess of the Luò River [洛神賦] by Cáo Zhí [曹植], which contains the following lines describing the vision of the goddess on the surface of the river:

She walks in decorated shoes for distant journeying, trailing light garments of misty silk.

By using the name “concubine Luò” [洛妃] for the goddess of the river, the author of this Manchu poem is invoking a well-known story that Lady Zhēn had a secret affair with Cáo Zhí, who was said to have written the Rhapsody about Lady Zhēn after she was forced to commit suicide.

Surely the poet must have known that Lady Zhēn lived long before the practice of binding feet, and the description in the Rhapsody of shoes made for distant journeying [遠遊之文履] could not possibly be understood to mean a shoe that contains a bound foot. The first two lines seem to evoke a temporary sense of freedom and relief, but this is crushed by the third line: “The shoes are now as they have always been.”

Unjust Death
abai yang ioi hūwan [楊玉環],    Where is Yáng Yùhuán?
15weri suinggai maiman    It was someone else's wicked business. 

The poem ends by invoking the memory of Yáng Yùhuán, another imperial concubine and one of the four great beauties of Chinese tradition, who was strangled as a result of her cousin’s involvement in the An Lushan rebellion. Clearly the poet believes this death to have been unjust, because the crime was someone else’s, not hers.

What do all of these images and allusions mean when they are put together in a poem? It may be that only the intended audience would fully understand the hints, but to me this could be the arc of a tragic story in a particular woman’s life: Her feet are bound, she experiences loneliness, isolation, confinement and pain, then a secret and forbidden love and a momentary feeling of freedom, but ending in an unjust death.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Drinking a while under Lanterns

This is a Manchu song about the joys of drink and companionship, set to a tune made famous by a female poet of the Sòng dynasty. The tune is called One Plum Blossom [一剪梅], named for a poem by Lǐ Qīngzhào [李清照].

In case you want to sing it, two variant melodies in traditional gōngchě notation can be found in fascicle 30 of 新定九宮大成南北詞宮譜.

dengjan-i fejile taka omirengge [燈下小酌],    Drinking a while under Lanterns
Staatsbibliothek 14.43 (View Online)
bolgo dere genggiyen fa,    A clean table, a bright window,
dengjan fiyangga,        the lanterns are colorful,
nure wangga,        the wine is fragrant.
yenden amtan juwe sasa,    Interest is paired with flavor,
5 elhe alha,        easy going,
sulfa sula,        relaxed and free.
kesi fengšen dabala,    Aside from grace and fortune,
gebu yaka,        is anyone famous?
aisi aba,        Is there any profit?
10bodorongge ai tusa,    What benefit is there to planning?
beyei baita,        One’s own affairs
abkai ciha.

        are Heaven’s whim.

terei jacingge [其二]

    Second Verse

bolgo edun gehun biya,    A clean breeze and a bright moon,
15genggiyesakai fa,        a rather clear window,
ekisakai hūwa,        a still garden.
emu coman wangga wa,    A goblet and a fragrant scent,
erin sula,        free time,
gūnin sulfa,        and relaxed minds.
20selacukai abka na,    Heaven and earth are blissful.
ai ai naka,        Quit all those various things!
šuwe šuwe waliya,        Completely, utterly abandon them!
damu sebjen baicina,    Let’s seek out joy.
amtan amba,        Great is delight,

yobo niša.

        amusement is ample.

terei ilacingge [其三]

    Third Verse

soninggai yenden noho,    Something novel and interesting
arki dolo,        is that in the liquor,
dengjan holo,        there is a false lantern.
30 gu-i mukei nicuhe,    A pearl of jade water,
elden yobo,        amusing is its light,
boco hojo,        beautiful its color.
omire de nioroko,    Moved by drinking,
niyaman bolgo,        the heart is sincere,
35 tunggen onco,        the breast broad.
sebjen bici oyonggo,    It is important for there to be joy.
yaka sure,        Who is wise
yaka moto.        and who is foolish?

Translation Notes

moto. Based on context, this is apparently a form of modo, “foolish.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Poem about Manchus

This poem reflects on the privilege of being Manchu in (presumably) the 19th century, and also casts a jaundiced eye towards Manchu life at the founding of the Qing. Who could be gloomy, the poet asks, when it’s so nice to be Manchu.

manju irgebun [滿洲詩]    A Poem about Manchus
Staatsbibliothek 14.39 (View Online)
baibi ališacuka,    Depressed for no reason?
ede tookabucina,    Let this banish your melancholy.
fukjin neire manju šu,    Manchu culture at the founding of the dynasty,
gūnin suse gisun muwa,    was crude in thought and coarse in speech.
5 giyangnan baici aibini,    If we seek an explanation, what is there?
ulhiljeme gūninja,    Snap out of it and consider:
huwekiyen yendere jalin,    For happiness and prosperity,
se selaci wajiha.    all we do is enjoy the years.

Translation Notes

ulhiljeme. This is ulhi-, “understand,” with a suffix -lje-. This suffix appears in verbs with a meaning of “winding, shaking, twisting,” but also in dekde-lje-mbi, “to start (from fright while sleeping).” I’ve chosen the translation “snap out of it” to convey the idea of coming suddenly and unexpectedly to realization.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The last Plum Blossom poems (for now)

These are the last of the plum blossom poems that I have found so far. Over the last few weeks I have learned that the plum blossoms symbolizes hope for Spring in the dark months of Winter, as well as the harmonizing influence of sweetness that balances salt.

The first is a poem in seven-syllable couplets, with one extra non-rhyming line at the end. The second is to the tune of Black-Naped Oriole.

nenden ilha be kidurengge [憶梅],    Longing for Plum Blossoms
Staatsbibliothek 11.41 (View Online)
nenden ilha atanggi,    When will there be plum blossoms?
emu tolgin kidumbi,    I long for them in a dream.
bolori fon manaha,    The Autumn season is worn out,
tuweri yasai juleri,    Winter is before me.
5ilarangge jing teisu,    Anything blooming just now,
sitahangge ainu ni,    how could it hang on?
dergi edun talihūn,    The east wind is uncertain,
buyan yafan simeli,    humble is my garden, and wretched.
fon toloci erin giyan,    If I count the seasons, the time is right,
10biya bodoci esi bi,    if I calculate the months, it is certain.
ho ging [和靖] sargan aibide,    Where is the wife of Hé Jìng?
hoo žan [浩然] gucu absi,    Whither the friend of Hàorán?
ilha geren secibe,    Though one may speak of many flowers,
gecen fonde ya beki,    which ones are strong enough for the icy season?
15jiki jiki jiki bai.    Come, come, come, please!

nenden ilha    Plum Flower
Staatsbibliothek 11.79 (View Online)
tuweri alin de,    In the winter mountains,
eiten moo,    all the trees,
tuheke,    have lost their leaves.
juhe gecen edede,    Frozen is the ice, (shivers)
5 šeyen boco,    White in color,
nenden bonggo,    the plum is first,
nimanggi de sur sere,    laughing on the snow.
biyai dolo,    From within the moon,
ebunjiheo,    has it descended?
10endurin gege.    Goddess.

Translation Notes

tuweri yasai juleri. The text actually has tuwari, which looks like it could be some form of tuwa-, so I’m not sure if this is a play on words or just a misspelling.

buyan yafan simeli. The use of buyan instead of buya is interesting because it is not motivated by requirements of meter or rhyme. If the author had intended to say “the humble garden is wretched” it would have been fine to say buya hafan simeli. Instead, it seems the writer used the predicate form of the adjective, which you might expect to see in a sentence like hafan buyan “the garden is a humble one,” and lifted it up to the head of the line. I tried to recreate this effect in my translation.

ho ging sargan. Hé Jìng [和靖] was another name for the poet Lín Bū [林逋], who lived the life of a recluse, and was famously said to have taken “the plum tree as his wife and the crane as his son” [以梅为妻,以鹤为子]. Compare the allusion in Jakdan’s poem to gu šan alin where this poet was buried.

hoo žan gucu. Mèng Hàorán [孟浩然] wrote a poem about an early-blooming plum tree in his garden [早梅].