Sunday, January 28, 2018

In Praise of Snow, by Jakdan

Jakdan’s poems tend to be longer than the Staatsbibliothek poems, and full of literary allusions that need to be tracked down, so they are not easy to work on. This one has taken a few weekends to complete, and in the end I needed the help of my Manchu reading group to understand parts of it—and even then I am not to certain about parts of it.

Like the earlier Snow poem that was set to the tune of Wind in the Pines, this one invokes the imagery of scales falling from dragons fighting in the sky. This imagery is used in Chinese poetry at least as far back as the late Sòng or early Míng, as in these lines by Yè Yóng (葉顒):

庚子雪中十二律 其十一    Number 11 of 12 Poems amid the Snow of the Year 1120
攪碎銀河戰玉龍,    Breaking up the Milky Way, jade dragons are fighting,
紛紜鱗甲舞天風。    many scattered scales dance on the wind of Heaven.
江山浩浩芳塵逺,    Fragrant powder is spread far over vast rivers and mountains,
宇宙茫茫醉眼空。    the boundless universe makes the eyes drunk with emptiness.
春老不香雲樹裏,    The bygone Spring no longer perfumes the clouds and trees,
鶴歸無影月明中。    the cranes return without a shadow in the brightness of the moon.
霜橋驢背尋詩罷,    On the frosty bridge, a donkey carries what will end my poem:
自爇寒爐榾柮紅。    Red kindling and wood to fire my cold stove.

Jakdan’s poem below mentions a lady Daoyun, who must be the Eastern Jìn female poet Xiè Dàoyùn (謝道蘊). Her uncle Xiè Ān is supposed to have been talking with his nieces and nephews about similes that could describe the flying snow, when Xiè Lǎng said “One could more or less compare it to ‘salt sprinkled in the sky’” (撒鹽空中差可擬). At this, Xiè Dàoyùn responded, “That’s not as good as ‘catkins rising on the wind’” (未若柳絮因風起).

The poem also references Lan Kiyoo, perhaps the “Blue Bridge” mentioned in the following lines from Táng poet Yuán Zhěn (元稹). In this poem, the ‘flour market’ describes a village dusted with snow. Thanks to Keith Dede and Steve Wadley for helping me understand the that the ‘flour market’ in this poem describes a village dusted with snow.

西歸絕句十二首 其十一

    Number 11 of 12 Quatrains on Returning West
雲覆藍橋雪滿溪,    Clouds cover Blue Bridge and snow fills the creek,
須臾便與碧峰齊。    suddenly it has become like the jade peaks.
風回麵市連天合,    The wind returns, and the ‘flour market’ melds into the sky,
凍壓花枝著水低。    encasing ice presses the blooming branches down under water.

I have not yet been able to track down the Yan Qi of line 23.

nimanggi be maktahangge    In Praise of Snow
Jakdan 8.12
nimanggi kai nimanggi,    Snow, it’s snow!
terei tucin aibici,    Where does it come from?
geli ilhai moo akū,    There are no flowering trees,
ainu fiyentehe canggi,    how can there be petals on their own?
5mere juhe nicuhe,    Ice pearls like grains of buckwheat,
labsan suku inggari,    snowflake fuzz on the thickets.
beri beri samsitai,    They sprinkle bit by bit,
siran siran urkuji,    one after the other without interruption,
buru bara bitele,    till everything is hazy,
10šanyan šeyen bengneli,    then suddenly white, pure white,
ekisakai singkeyen,    and quietly frigid.
jalutala šarapi,    Everything is full of white,
tugi sisere manda,    and the clouds sift slowly,
edun bošoro hahi,    but the wind presses them on.
15šeyen muduri aise,    Perhaps it is as though white dragons
becunure adali,    are fighting each other,
maka esihe huru,    maybe their scaly shells,
gari mari garjafi,    have been broken asunder,
hūrgirengge hon garsa,    and their nimble spinning,
20maksihangge ten faksi,    their skilled dancing,
tuweri erin-i ferguwen,    are the auspicious sign of winter time,
bayan aniya-i serki,

    the harbinger of a rich year.

saisa yan ki-i dalba,    The scholar next to the Yan Qi,
amban lan kiyoo-i ergi,    the official beside the Blue Bridge,
25yaka boode deduhei,    Someone who has passed the night at home,
eici guyoo fehumbi,    now may tread on green jasper.
ba na heni ni akū,    There isn’t even the slightest bit of ground,
ne je amba gu bini,    right now it is just a giant jadestone,
gehun gahūn bolokon,    shining bright and clear.
30aide toron buraki,    Where is the dust and grime?
acan ninggun giyalan juwe,    The whole universe and both realms,
bolgomire samadi,    is locked in fasting meditation,
niša soninggai tuwabun,    an intensely interesting scene,
gu-i efin unenggi,

    a game of jade made real.

35erei muke cai fuifu,    Boil its water to make tea,
abkai wa su be omi,    and drink the scent and gusts of Heaven.
terei jafu nisihai,    With his directive,
tondo amban-i empi,    the nonsense of a loyal minister,
murui duibulen hojo,    [produced] a beautiful simile,
40doo yūn tere gege i,    [from] lady Daoyun herself,
gubci jalan saišacun,    and the praise of the whole world:
šuwe gūwa akū damu si,

    Only you are utterly peerless.

šumin sahangge fe ya,    Deep knowledge is ancient, oh,
niorokongge manggai bi,    what is profound is difficult to attain.
45tanggū jeku-i simen,    The essence of a hundred foods,
tumen ilha-i šugi,    the nectar of ten thousand flowers,
jing cak sere šahūrun,    is presently freezing cold,
emhulehe niyengniyeri,    and the Spring season which lays claim to them,
nenden ilha gaibuha,    has made the plum flower take them,

maise antaka kesi,

    and shown such mercy to the grain.

juhe secen-i gucu,    Friends of ice and frost,
tugi aga-i fusi,    under clouds and rain,
gaha bulehen duwali,    are the confederation of crows and cranes
jakdan cuse-i hoki,

    and the society of pines and bamboo.

55na-i dolo a weihun,    Yang is alive in the earth,
ba-i oilo e fempi,    and yin envelopes the land,
fuserengge jing luku,    thick in its propagation,
gingkarangge hon beki,    very powerful in its stifling grip,
ton akū-i sain ba,    but numberless are its good points,
60šošorongge hoošan fi,    what it heaps up are paper and brushes.
saikan kai nimanggi.    Beautiful, indeed, is snow.

Translation Difficulties

mere juhe nicuhe. This is more of an observation than a difficulty. Norman has mere nimanggi, “snow that has frozen into small beads the size of a grain of buckwheat.” I think that must be what is intended here.

tugi sisere manda. Literally it seems like this means “the sifting of the clouds is slow.” Though this line feels unnatural to me (why not tugi mandai sisembi?), I suppose the poet chose this phrasing to parallel the next line, edun bošoro hahi.

acan ninggun giyalan juwe. This feels like a calque of a Chinese chéngyǔ, but I can’t find the exact original. There is 六合之内, “all within the universe,” and it’s easy to imagine a coordinate phrase like *六合二世, so that is how I have read it for now.

terei jafu nisihai / tondo amban-i empi. These lines present multiple alternate readings, and in the end I’m not convinced I have found the right one, but what I have here makes more sense than the others I have tried.

  • jafu may mean “directive” or “blanket.” I originally wanted to read this as “blanket” to parallel the prior couplet, thinking that tea and a blanket would make a pair of comforting elements in winter. However, with that reading I couldn’t make sense of the whole couplet, so I abandoned it in favor of “directive.” Given the word-play that Jakdan has engaged in elsewhere, it is possible he intended both meanings simultaneously.
  • empi. This word is attested with the meaning of “artemesia,” but what is the “artemesia of a loyal minister?” Tom Larsen suggested the reading of “nonsense” for empi, based on empirembi, “to speak nonsense,” which looks like it could be formed from a noun like *empi(n), together with the deverbal morpheme -rA that appears in words like gisurembi < gisun, nikarambi < nikan, manjurambi < manju. Since “nonsense” and “directive” both fit into the semantic domain of spoken things, I decided to use that reading.
  • tondo amban. This is not a translation problem so much as a problem of reference: Who is the loyal minister? Since the following couplets refer to Xiè Dàoyùn, perhaps this refers to her uncle Xiè Ān, and maybe the “directive” is the one he gave to his nieces and nephews to produce similes for snow.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Sled

I’ve been laboring over a Jakdan poem on snow, but needed to take a break, so here’s another fun Staatsbibliothek poem. As it happens, this weekend I went sledding in the mountains, so it’s seasonally quite appropriate.

This poem is composed of four couplets with seven-syllable lines and an A-rhyme. The sled portrayed in this poem seems to have wooden struts (mooi bangtu) and iron runners (selei siren), perhaps something like the sleds shown in the image below, which comes from an article at

huncu [冰床] be irgebuhengge    Verses on the Sled
Staatsbibliothek 14.2 (View Online)
sejen jahūdai waka    Neither cart nor boat,
mukei oilo icangga,    but comfortable on the surface of the water.
tecenduci jalupi    We sat together and filled it up,
yaburede hahiba    and when we went it was quick.
5 mooi bangtu garsa nio    Aren’t the wooden struts clever?
selei siren nilhūn ya    The iron runners are slick indeed!
jugūn akū yun akū    With neither road nor track,
elemangga hafu ja.    it nonetheless gets through easily.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Ice Skates

A couple of weeks ago I went ice skating for the first time in my life, so now seems like a good time to post this poem.

What I like about this one is that its topic is fun and everyday. I have searched the Sou-Yun database for any similar Chinese poem on ice skates, but I have not found one.

I wrestled with whether the poet was the skater, or whether it was addressed to another person. The important difference, to me, is whether the poem was intended to mock another person or to be humorously self-deprecating. I decided to read it as the latter because of the uttu at the beginning, “like this,” which seems like it would more likely have been tuttu if describing another person.

nisukū-i [冰鞋] uculen    A Little Song on Ice Skates
Staatsbibliothek 14.3 (View Online)
hūdun ai uttu,    I am so quick,
garsangga,    agile,
ildamu,    elegant,
sururengge ben fulu,    most capable at amusing people,
5sain ubu,    first-class,
bonggo uju,    the pinnacle of excellence,
anahūnjan jai akū,    and second to none in modesty.
gelesu,    Careful!
tuhekede —    When I fall —
10amba injeku.    it is very funny.

Sunday, December 31, 2017

An Untitled Poem in 7-Syllable Couplets

I’ve recently received the excellent facsimile and translation of the diary of Mucihiyan titled 閑窗錄夢譯編. It seems this Mucihiyan was connected with Jakdan, and I harbor a hope that his diary could give some clues about other Manchu poets.

One of the interesting things I learned from skimming through the diary is the place of literature in Beijing society. Mucihiyan often goes out to drink tea or wine, and someone provides entertainment by singing or reading. When I see the words ele mila in these poems, I imagine a lifestyle like this, wandering from teahouse to wine house with little to do but meet old friends. Perhaps the following untitled poem from SB 14 was performed in such a place one evening.

Staatsbibliothek 14.16 (View Online)
niyalma seme banjifi,    Since we were born to be human,
selara fon udu ni,

    how many happy times are there?

sain gucu acame,    When meeting good friends,
ele mila leoleki,

    let’s chat casually and at ease.

5 tanggū aniyai bilagan,    When the span of a century
jalukangge ya weci,

    is fulfilled, and alas you change,

uju marire siden,    and in the turning of a head
juru šulu šarapi,

    both temples have turned white,

šolo bici sebjele,    then if you have free time, rejoice!

aliya seci atanggi,

    If you want to put it off, then when?

hafu tuwame ohode,    When one has seen through it,
eici nimeku seri.    perhaps illness will be rare.

Translation Difficulties

tanggū aniyai bilagan / jalukangge ya weci. I think the whole phrase from tanggū to jalukangge is a single noun phrase, which overflows from the first line to the second in a case of enjambment. The verb wembi is intransitive, and it means “to transform; become cultured,” but what transforms? The noun phrase ending in jalukangge doesn’t seem like the appropriate subject, and ya as “which” doesn’t make a lot of sense in a subordinate phrase like this, so I have taken it to be the reader (and the poet) who changes. So what do we do with the ya, then? I have decided to take this as a wistful exclamation, as seems to work in other poems. I wonder, though, if it is more like the  (兮) of Chinese  poetry.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Snow, to the tune of Wind in the Pines

I have been exploring the idea that some or all of the Wind in the Pines poems in SB 11 are written in response to the corresponding Black-Naped Oriole poems earlier in the same fascicle.

If that is true then the poem below is a response to the Snow of my last post. Certainly some relationship between the two is likely in the fact that they both start with the same word, untuhun. With the consistent alliteration within each line it seems likely that this one would have been written by the same author that wrote Wind to the same tune.

nimanggi [雪],    Snow
Staatsbibliothek 11.19 (View Online)
untuhun ulejefi,    The sky tumbled down,
šahūn šarapi,    turned white as white,
beri beri benjime,    bringing one after another,
sisaha, sisa canggi,    it sprinkled, only sprinkles
5tuheke tuhekei,    fell, but as it fell,
inggaha inggari,

    it became fluff and down.

murušeme muduri,    Seeming that dragons
becunuhei bi,    were fighting,
emke emken esihe,    one scale after another,
10 fasar farsi farsi,    scattered piece by piece,
tucinjihe tucin,    came forth in order
sabubuha sabi.    to make an omen known.

Translation Difficulties

sisa. The usual meaning of sisa is “bean, pea,” which might suggest the idea of hail if it weren’t for the fact that Manchu has a much more common word for hail with the same number of syllables (bono). Given that sisambi means “to sprinkle,” I have read sisa as “sprinkes,” perhaps meaning snowflakes, or else maybe small icy drops.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Snow, to the tune of The Black-Naped Oriole

It hasn’t snowed here yet, but we have freezing temperatures and frost, and there is snow on the other side of the Cascades. Snow is a popular theme in Manchu poetry (as in Chinese), so there is no risk that I will run out of snow poems this winter.

nimanggi,    Snow
Staatsbibliothek 11.7 (View Online)
untuhun deri,    Down through the void
gukiong moo,    the gemwillow trees
sigapi,    have dropped their leaves.
gu-i jalan adali,    It is like a world of jade.
5ba kiyoo [灞橋] ya nofi,    Who has heard
gisun bahambi,    of Baqiao?
lan guwan morin [藍關擁馬] libki,    The horse at the Blue Pass is worn out.
niyengniyeri,    With the plum flowers
nenden ilha —    of Spring —
10juru ufuhi.    a matched set.

Literary Allusions

Baqiao (灞橋) is a district of Xi’an city. The reference here may be to a line of Huáng Tāo (黃滔) from the late Táng. Here is my tortured translation of those lines:

背將蹤跡向京師,On the trail with a load on my back, I headed for the capital,
出在先春入後時。I left the prior Spring, I got here a while later.
落日灞橋飛雪裏,The setting sun and Baqiao in the flying snow,
已聞南院有看期。I had heard of the southern court, now I have time to see it.

The Horse of Blue Pass (藍關擁馬) is a literary allusion used in poetry about snow back to the Táng. I am not sure what the original reference is, but a commonly cited one is from Hán Yù (韓愈):

雲橫秦嶺家何在?Clouds across the Qinling range. Where is my home?
雪擁藍關馬不前:Snow gathers on the blue passes, and the horse will not go forward.

With the blue passes and the remoteness of the scene, this poem by Hán Yù reminds me of some lines from W. E. B. Du Bois, in The Souls of Black Folk (ch. 4, “On the Meaning of Progress”):
So I walked on and on—horses were too expensive—until I had wandered beyond railways, beyond stage lines, to a land of “varmints” and rattlesnakes, where the coming of a stranger was an event, and men lived and died in the shadow of one blue hill.

Translation Difficulties

gukiong moo. Norman has guki moo, “an exotic tree resembling the weeping willow,” as well as gukiong, “hyacinth (a gem).” This seems like a portmanteau, so I’ve translated it with a portmanteau of my own.

gisun bahambi. I am not aware of this being a set phrase, but the meaning “to hear of” seems possible. Perhaps the lines ba kiyoo ya nofi / gisun bahambi are meant to contrast with the 已聞南院 of Huáng Tāo’s poem, pitting the fame of the Táng court against that of Baqiao, a district that surely would not have been as well known in its own time, but has since become famous in poetry.

juru ufuhi. The word juru means “a pair,” and ufuhi “a portion,” but I’m not entirely sure how to put them together. I think the pair in question must be the snow and the plum flowers (which drift like snow when they fall). Several expressions containing juru, such as juru gisun, have a sense of two different things that fit together, so that is how I have read it.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Moon, to the tune of Black-Naped Oriole

The first eight poems of fascicle 11 of Staatsbibliothek 34981 are set to the Black-Naped Oriole tune, and written on the following themes:

  • The Firsherman
  • The Woodcutter
  • The Plowman
  • The Reader
  • Wind
  • Flower
  • Snow
  • The Moon

Poems 13-20 of the same fascicle are on nearly the same themes, but set to the tune Wind in the Pines. (The only difference is that the theme of poem 16 is “The Herdsman” instead of “The Reader.”) I don’t know what it means that these themes occur in this order, but I previously noted that the second poem on The Wind looks like a response to the first one, so perhaps the entire second set was written in response to the first set.

Since my last post was about the beautiful (and shocking) second poem on the Moon, I thought I would make this post about the first one.

biya,    The Moon
Staatsbibliothek 11.8 (View Online)
bulekui yangse,    This mirror-like thing,
atanggi,    when
werihe,    was it left behind?
tumen jalan genggiyengge,    It has been ten thousand generations of illumination.
5can o [婵娥] wei gege,    Whose princess is Chang’e?
u g'ang ya doose,    Which Daoist priest is Wugang?
guwang han gurung [廣寒宮]    Is the “Vast Cold Palace”
cibsunggeo,    full of silence?
ten-i e,    The lofty feminine,
10šungga moo ai biretei holo.    the osmanthus tree, are they completely false?

Translation Difficulties

werihe. Who is leaving what behind? Does this refer to Chang’e and Wugang leaving the earth behind? Or does it refer to the moon being left behind in the sky? I have decided to read it as the latter because otherwise the first line, bulekui yangse, is left hanging.

cibsunggeo. Norman has cibsu hiyan, “incense used at sacrifices,” apparently connected with the vocalically unusual cibsonggo, “harmony; the right side of an ancestral temple” and cibsen, “quietness; stillness.”

ai biretei holo. The phrase biretei holo seems to clearly mean “completely false,” but what is the ai doing? Since so many of the lines in this poem are questions, I took this to be a final question, rather than an assertion like “alas, they are completely false.”