Tuesday, December 11, 2018

G45.25: A Translation from Chinese

It is generally held that most Manchus (at least urban ones) could speak Chinese in the 19th century, and many could no longer speak Manchu at all.

If that is true, it is all the more interesting that some apparently enjoyed reading Chinese poetry in Manchu, when they could presumably have read it equally well or better in Chinese. Jakdan’s own translations of Chinese poetry are an example of this, as is the poem below from Grebenshchikov 45. I think this type of translation must have been appreciated as an art form of its own.

As I have been reading through G45 I have been struck by the fact that the poetry does not conform to the metrical and rhythmic conventions of Jakdan and the Staatsbibliothek poet(s), and that had caused me some angst. I have previously used syllabic meter and the unique Manchu rhyme scheme as a way to tell autochthonous poetry apart from translated poetry, but in G45 this distinction seemed to break down, since the poetry did not appear to be metrical, and yet I could not find Chinese originals.

In the case of the poem below, since it listed a tune (sumozhe 蘇莫遮), I was able to track down the original Ming poem and confirm that it is indeed a translation.

This is both heartening and disheartening. On the one hand, I don’t feel like I know enough about Manchu intellectual culture to understand how a translation “works” as an art form. On the other hand, it underscores the value of using syllabic meter and Manchu rhyme categories to identify autochthonous poetry.

Here are the G45 poem and the Ming original, side-by-side.

šanggiyan tugi-i alin,    白云山,
fulgiyan abdaha-i moo,    红叶树,
mukdehe gukuhe be akūmbume,    阅尽兴亡、
duwali tede ofi geli yamjire adali,    一似朝还暮。
tuhere šun amtangga orho
    wajihangge ai ton,

furgin hekceme, furgin cilciname    潮落潮生,
niyalma be amasi julesi fudembi,


žuwan gung-ni jugūn,
yang dzy-i tala,
honin duha-i gese
    uyun mudan-i bade,

sejen-i muheren be tookabume
    kemuni ejehengge singgiyan,


šunehe morin incara bade    记得寒芜嘶马处,
saikan ficako, menggun-i yatuhan,    翠管银筝
dobori dari uculeme
    taktu de gerembumbihe,


    su mo je mudan,    to the tune Sumozhe

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Where did Grebenshchikov 45 come from?

Studying Manchu poetry requires a great deal of detective work. Certainly much of this poetry did not survive to modern times, and the scraps that have survived are somewhat enigmatic. Jakdan is the exception among Manchu poets in that we know his name and details of his life, but no authors are named for the Staatsbibliothek and Grebenshchikov poems, and it’s difficult to see how the different stylistic traditions relate to each other chronologically.

Grebenshchikov 45 (G45) is stylistically quite different from Jakdan and the Staatsbibliothek poetry. The rules of meter and rhyme that reign in most of the SBJ poems do not seem to apply to G45, nor do we see the Mongolian-style head rhyme that we see in many early Sibe poems. If we could establish the provenance of the manuscript, it might help fit this piece into the larger puzzle.

G45 was written in a European-style notebook, so dates to the early 20th century. It seems most likely that it was written by someone that Grebenshchikov visited on one of his research trips to Northeast China. Indeed, the handwriting looks similar to that which appears on some of pages of the Yasen sama-i bithe manuscript that he acquired near Aigun in 1909, particularly the pages toward the end of that manuscript. Given that the end pages of a manuscript are easily damaged by handling, it seems quite possible that the end pages of Yasen sama-i bithe are replacements, copied out from damaged originals by the owner.

If my handwriting comparison is valid, then perhaps G45 was written out for Grebenshchikov in Aigun in 1909. However, it was not necessarily composed in Aigun, because a note at the beginning suggests it is a copy of another text which was becoming damaged by Grebenshchikov’s handling of it:

wesihun-i beye ere bithe be tuwara hūlara oci, usihin eici derbehun gala-i afaha be neici bithe mafulabumbi.    When your honorable self looks at and reads this book, if you open the pages with moist or damp hands, the book is being [warped?]
geli sahaliyan icebumbi.    And it is also being stained with black.
uttu ofi donjibume arahabi.    So I had it written out through dictation.

It may be that this text was composed in Aigun, even by the person who gave it to Grebenshchikov, or it may be that it was collected from somewhere else. So far most of the pieces I have read are not strongly connected to a particular place or time, though I will soon share a poem describing scenes of Hénán province. Ultimately the content of the works in this manuscript may be the best clues to its origin.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Jug of Mystery

This poem looks like a riddle. If you didn’t have the title and the explanatory note, it might be quite difficult to figure out that this is talking about a piggy bank. Over time you put money into it until it won’t fit more, then you break it open and relish the reward of having a heap of cash.

butu tamse,    Dark Jug
擈滿俗名悶葫芦罐兒    A vernacular name for a piggy bank is “covered gourd bottle”
Staatsbibliothek 11.42 (View Online)
jiha-i aha,    Money servant:
tebuci,    If you put some in,
jing fita,    and it’s on the point of being tight,
yondorakū ainara,    what do you do when it won’t fit more?
5hen tan jaluka,    With difficulty it was filled,
ne je hūwalaha,    in an instant broken open.
funcehengge geli ya,    What is still left over?
hafu tuwa,    Look through it,
fulu akū —    there is nothing better —
10 kesi dabala.    except for generosity.

Translation Whatnots

fulu akū — kesi dabala. It seems like this is saying “there is nothing left over — except kindness,” but since we have just cracked open the piggy bank that doesn’t quite make sense. Instead, I think the fulu must have the meaning of “excelling, surpassing, better, superior” (Norman), so the last two lines mean that there is nothing better than opening up the piggy bank — except for generosity itself.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

G45.15: Go lead the horses out

When the Staatsbibliothek poems talk about getting away from it all, they evoke the image of the fisherman idling away his hours with rice and wine on remote rivers and lakes. In those poems it is easy to imagine the poet as a scholar-official retreating from his busy duties.

In contrast, this couplet from Grebenshchikov 45 seems to be born on the frontier. You can imagine the speaker talking to someone who has been cooped up through the winter, telling him to take the horses out and enjoy the quiet and lonesome high meadows.

From a metrical perspective this couplet is different from those found in Staatsbibliothek/Jakdan poems. In the SBJ poems a couplet doesn’t stand on its own, but is part of a couplet poem where the second line of each couplet shares a common rhyme. In the example below, however, the couplet stands alone and the two lines rhyme with each other (A-rhyme). There is also a caesura in each line after the sixth syllable. (Alternately, I suppose it could be described as a quatrain with a syllabic structure of 6,10,6,10 and a rhyme scheme of x,A,x,A.)

gūnin duyen age, morin be elgiyeme1 niyengniyeri omo de elbi šecina2,

   You, sir, with your reclusive heart, please go lead the horses out1 and bathe2 in the spring lakes.

   “niyalmai jilgan goro,
   morin-i incarangge nakaha,
   ula-i abka den,
   alin-i biya ajige mujangga”
      “Far from people’s voices,
   the neighing of the horses grew quiet.
   The heaven of the river was high,
   the moon of the mountains was small indeed.”
sehebi.   So it has been said.

1 elgiyeme. As Guillaume Lescuyer points out in the comments to this post, this could be a form of elgembi, “to lead an animal by the reins.”

2 elbi šecina. Written as two words in the text, but from context apparently this is the verb elbimbi.

Monday, October 1, 2018

G45.14: A Letter from a Single Mother

This is a letter from a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock, written to the father of her twin children, who left her two months before they were born. It shows that this particular Grebenshchikov manuscript (F. 75, Op. 1, No. 45) includes other types of short literary works beyond poems and songs.

Soon after her children were born, her parents died, leaving her to raise the babies alone. The letter is written three years after her parents’ death. The children are now toddlers, but still young enough to nurse.

bodoci amga emge-i beye gemu sain fulgiyan buraki de enteheme giyalabuhangge geri fari ilan aniya oho,

   I think it has been roughly three years since my parents became permanently parted from us by the good red dust.

yacin gashan jasigan hafumbure de manggangge hūwai sere emu mukei haran, ede kidume gūniha tolgin banjinafi, monggo sambi1 nimeku de darubuha,

The disaster that made it difficult to get letters through to you was a high flood, because of which I was haunted by dreams of longing, and then I sprained my neck1 and was sick for a while.

buru bara abka na korsocun bihe seme ainaci ojoro,

But what can one do about the vague misfortunes of Heaven and Earth?

geli gūnici biya de baime genehe heng o, šungga gurung de hono beye teile, komso maktame2 jodoro jy nioi, sunggari bira de kemuni emhun usaka bade, muse oci ai gese niyalma,

And then I think about Heng’e, who went pleading to the moon and continues to live by herself in the Osmanthus Palace, and also the weaving2 girl Zhinü who is still alone in that forsaken place on the Milky Way, and I wonder: What kind of people are we?

adarame enteheme hajilame banjime mutembi,

How is it that we can live continually in love?

ubade gūnime isinaha de uthai, songgoro be nakafi injehe,

When I arrive at this place in my thoughts, I stop crying and I smile.

fakcafi juwe biyai dubede bahafi kaba jui banjiha, 

Two months after you left, I gave birth to twins.

te emgeri huhuri jui ofi, juju jaja injere gisurere be, mujako ulhimbi,

Now they are still nursing, but I really do understand their babbling, laughing chatter!

soro baime šulehe3 jafame mutufi, eniye ci aljaha seme banjici ombi,

Since they have grown old enough to ask for jujubes and to hold pears3, it think it would be OK for them to be parted from their mother.

gingguleme agu sinde amasi buki,

I would respectfully like to present them to you.

werihe fulgiyan gu-i šu ilha be, mahala de hadafi, temgetu obuhabi,

I have taken the red jade lotus flower you left behind and affixed it to my hat, making a memento of it.

jui be buhi de sindafi tebeliyehe erinde, uthai fusihūn beye hashū ici de bisire adali oki,

When I put the kids on my knees and hug them, I want it to be like I am all around them.

agu sini da gashūha babe tuwakiyame mutehe be donjifi, gūnin-i dolo kek sehe,

I heard that you were able to garrison in the place you were originally sworn to, and it pleased my heart.

fusihūn beye ere jalan de juwederakū, bucetele gūwabsi akū,

I am loyal in this world, and there is nowhere else for me until I die.

sithen-i dolo buyecuke jaka šunggeri ilha nimanggi4 be šuwe-i sarahabi,

I have taken the lovely things and elegant catkins4 that were in the box and spread them out.

buleku de bakcilame injeme miyamirengge, fiyen fiyan be aifini ijuhakakūbi,

I have stood before the mirror smiling and dressing up, but it has been a long time since I have put on makeup.

agu si dailanara niyalmai adali, fusihūn beye sula hehe ombi,

You are like someone who has gone off to war, and I have become a single mother.

udu giyalabufi dere acahakū bicibe, eigen sargan waka seci, ojoro kooli bio,

Though we have parted and not seen each other, is there any sense in saying that we are not husband and wife?

damu gūnici amga emge emgeri omolo tuwaha bime, kemuni ice urun be emgeri sabuha akūngge,

Yet I think of my parents, who saw the grandchildren, but have still not seen the bride.

gūnin giyan de tolbime gūnici, inu acanarakū babi,

If you think about what is right and reasonable, there is something unsuitable about it.

ishun aniya emge-i icihiyame sindara erinde, giyan-i tomon de genefi, urun-i teisu be emgeri akūmbuci acambi,

Next year, on the date of my mother’s burial, we should go to her grave, and I will stand in the place of the bride and do my utmost to meet you at that time.

ereci julesi lung gung5-i hesebun sain ofi, gala be seferere erin edelerakū, musei jui fuhai6 jalgan golmin de, hono amasi julesi yabure jugūn bi,

After that, the fate of the Dragon Palace5 being good, there will be no shortage of opportunities for them to take your hand, and as it seems6 our children’s lives will be long, there is a road by which they may often go back and forth.

banjirengge agu-i beyebe olhošome ujelereo, 

Has life been treating you well and generously?

fi-i dubede gisurehe seme wajirakū, 

I have talked to the point that the brush is used up, but I am still not done.

erei jalin fusihūn sargan agu-i elhe be baime gingguleme donjibume jasiha,For this reason, this humble woman dictates this letter, respectfully asking after your health.

Translation Notes

1 monggo sambi. In this context I can’t make sense of the obvious literal meanings of these words, “Mongol” and “know.” It is possible that these are the names of the twins, but she hasn’t introduced them yet at this point in the narrative. I think this may describe her illness, perhaps something like monggon sampi, “my neck stretched.”

2 komso maktame. The same as homso maktame, “passing a shuttle back and forth.”

3 šulehe. The same as šulhe, “pear.”

4 ilha nimanggi. I provisionally take this to be a calque of Chinese 花雪, which can mean catkins.

5 lung gung. The only poetic allusion I can find that might match this is the Dragon Palace (龍宮), but I am not sure how that fits here. Perhaps she means 冷宮, a metaphorical place where unnecessary things are placed aside.

6 fuhai. I am taking this to be the same as fuhali, but not entirely happy about that.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

A roadside wine shop

This is another Grebenshchikov poem describing a wine shop waiting for business at the end of the day.

wenjehūn boo-i duka bade birgan yohoron bakcilafi,
alin weilefi orho suiha banjihangge ser seme,
fai hanci mei hūwa ilhai, gui bonggo fushuhebi,
ajige fai juleri janda moo de sakda muduri deduhebi,
iolehe sahaliyan dere de budun malu faidame sindahabi,
suwayan boihon-i ilbaha fude nurei enduri irgebuhe, antaha be niruhabi,
emu defe boso be lakiyafi šahūrun edun de maksimbi,
juwe gisun-i irgebun arafi dulere antaha be elbimbi,
        yargiyan-i sain morin be yalufi, yabure urse sa wabe donjime morin be tatambi,
        edun de pun tukiyehe urse amtan be safi ciowan be ilibumbi,

At the gate of a lively house, opposite a creek and a canal,
having worked in the hills, the grower of grass and artemisia is quiet,
while by the window the jade tips of the plum blossoms bloom.
In the pine tree before the small window an old dragon is sleeping.
On the black lacquer table jugs and bottles are lined up.
On the yellow stucco wall are verses to the wine god, painted by a guest.
Someone has hung a length of cloth, and it dances on the cold wind.
Two lines of verse beckon to passing guests:
        “Truly, riding on fine steeds, travelers hear of the aroma and whip their horses,
         Those whose sails are lifted by the wind, learning of the flavor, weigh anchor.”

Translation Notes

janda moo. I have taken this to be a mistake for jakdan moo, “pine tree,” but it is also possible that this is the name of another tree.

ciowan be ilibumbi. From context, this seems like it ought to be a nautical term related to setting out in a boat or hurrying in a boat. Possibly it is a calque from Chinese, in which case we would expect to find *li quan (立?). I have made a guess at “weigh anchor” but it could as easily have something to do with sails, oars or mooring.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Sample Grebenshchikov Poem

I am only starting to look at the Grebenshchikov poems, and I still have many questions about them. Here is one of the poems, together with my initial observations and the questions it provokes for me.

Manchu Text:
emu dobori amargi šahūrun edun de,
tumen bade fulgiyan tugi jiramin-i sektehebi,

untuhun dorgici nimanggi hiyahanjame tuhefi,
alin giyang-i arbun be halahabi,

abkai baru oncohon tuwaci,
gu muduri becunere de esihe sihara gese,
sor seme deyeme,
gaitai andande abkai fejergi de jalukabi,

gocika menggun-i gese,
funiyehe šaraka sakda sa,
abkai sabdara de inu olhobi,

eihen yalufi ajige dooha be dome,
mei hūwa ilha-i macuha turgunde sejilembi.

One night, on the cold north wind,
red clouds spread out thickly for ten thousand miles.

Snow fell from the empty sky and piled up,
and the appearance of the mountains and rivers changed.

Lying on one’s back and looking toward Heaven,
it was like the falling of scales from jade dragons fighting,
flying in confusion,
suddenly filling up all under Heaven.

Old people with hair turned white like silver,
waded through what Heaven was dropping.

Mounting a donkey and crossing a small bridge,
one sighs because the plum blossoms have grown sparse.

Observations and Questions
I have broken the poem into lines according to where there are “commas” in the Manchu text, but no clear pattern of meter and rhyme emerges, other than a general tendency for finite forms ending in -hAbi.

Perhaps because of this relatively free verse structure, the poem is fairly easy to read in comparison with the Staatsbibliothek and Jakdan poems. One doesn’t get the sense that the poet spent hours with a dictionary looking for words with the right number of syllables and rhymes, but rather wrote naturally and continuously.

One difficulty I did have, however, was with the word olhobi, which I decided to read as olohobi, “wade across.” It is also possible that it was meant to be olhohobi, “dried up; became afraid.”

The literary allusions in this poem clearly tie it into the traditions of Chinese poetry. We have already seen the simile of the dragons’ scales in Jakdan and the Staatsbibliothek poetry. In addition, the ten thousand miles of red clouds recall the opening lines of Táng poet Gāo Shì (高适) in his Two Quatrains on Parting with Dǒng Dà (别董大二首):

千里黄云白日曛,     Ten thousand miles of yellow clouds as the day turns to twilight,
北风吹雁雪纷纷。     the north wind blows the wild geese and snow, one after the other.
莫愁前路无知己,     Do not worry that there are no friends on the road ahead,

    who in the world could not know you?

六翮飘飖私自怜,     Like six quills floating on the wind, full of sorrow for ourselves,
一离京洛十余年。     it has already been more than ten years since we left Luoyang.
丈夫贫贱应未足,     The husband is poor, there is never enough,
今日相逢无酒钱。     today we meet and have no money for wine.

Given the literary allusions and the unrestricted nature of the verse, it is natural to ask whether this is a translation of a Chinese work, but I don’t think it is. The original, if it existed, would presumably contain some variation on Gāo’s “ten thousand miles of yellow clouds,” but searching through the Sou-Yun database for poems with the phrases “ten thousand miles,” “red clouds” and “yellow clouds” I have so far not found any poems of similar length that look like they could be the source for this work.