Monday, October 30, 2017

In Praise of Fire

In the surviving body of Classical Manchu poetry, Jakdan was the master of the symmetrical couplet poem. This is a poem built of couplets where the primary rule of meter is that the two lines of a couplet must have the same number of syllables as each other, but may have a different number of syllables from other lines in the poem. (I used to think that the term fujurun applied exclusively to this type of poem, but now I think the evidence for that is quite weak.)

The poem In Praise of Fire has been previously translated in Bosson and Toh (2006). My translation below explores a few ideas that I have about the poem. Among these is the idea that Jakdan was playing with multiple meanings of the words tuwa and ya in the first three lines.

The word tuwa may be the imperative “look!” or the noun “fire.” Similarly, the word ya can mean “which” or “what,” but can also be an exclamation. There is no textual way of knowing whether Jakdan meant to play on these multiple meanings, but I wouldn’t put it past him.

Another possible instance of word-play is in the line weniyere wembure aisi. In the previous lines Jakdan has touched on the relationship between Fire and the elements Earth, Wood and Water, but he has conspicuously left out Metal, aisin. This line, which refers to melting and refining could be his indirect reference to that fifth element, with the word aisi, “aid” being a near-homophone to aisin, “metal.”

I have not been able to determine what places are referred to by Chibi Mountain and Efang Palace, but I hope to find that the former is a volcano and the latter was destroyed by fire.

tuwa i maktacun    In Praise of Fire
tuwa tuwa tuwa,    Look at Fire! Look!
ya ya ya,

    What is it? Oh, what?

na i juwe,    Paired with Earth,
šun i da,

    and the foundation of the Sun.

5mooi tucin,    Arising by means of Wood,
mukei bata,

    and enemy of Water.

e i boo,    The house of yin,
a i hūwa,

    and the garden of yang.

dolo butu,    Dark within,

oilo fiyangga,

    and brilliant without.

weniyere wembure aisi,    Helpful for refining and melting,
bujure boolara tusa,

    and advantageous for boiling and roasting.

fulhureci umesi heni,    It takes only a little to germinate it,
badarakai mujakū amba,

    but when it grows it is truly great.

15cing cing serengge gidabure ai,    When blazing, what can stamp it out?
hūr hūr serengge mukiyebuci ja,

    Yet when flaming it is easy to douse.

aššan eldehen jijuhan,    The trigram of movement and light,
fulgiyan fulahūn aniyangga,

    and the “red” and “reddish” heavenly stems.

abka de bici,
    akjan nioron usiha i acabun,
    When in the heavens,
    its effect is thunder, rainbows and stars,

niyalma de bici
    sukdun jili girucun i harangga,

    and in people
    it is the cause of zeal, anger and shame.

cy bi alin tede sanggū,    Mount Chibi is gratified therein,
o fang gurung ede waliya,

    the Efang palace is dismayed herein.

tuwa ya adada.    What, indeed, is fire!

Translation Difficulties

adada, Norman has “Brrr–an exclamation used when it is very cold,” and also adada ebebe, “1. an exclamation of surprise 2. clicking the tongue in amazement.” In this context I think this is intended to convey wonder, but I’m not sure how to render it in English. Traditional exclamations like “lo!” seem awkward and stuffy, while more modern exclamations like “wow!” seem out of place. I handled this by a combination of the somewhat stuffy “indeed” and the enthusiastic exclamation mark!

gidabu- vs. mukiyebu-, Jakdan says of a blazing fire that it is difficult to gidabu- but easy to mukiyebu-. I had some trouble sorting out the distinction he was trying to make, but it seems that mukiye- could be etymologically connected with muke, “water” and refer to the extinguishing of fire by water, while gidabu- could refer to the more literal stamping out of fire.

sukdun, the core meaning is “breath” which does, of course, exist in human bodies. But since it was coordinated with jili and girucun—“anger” and “shame”—I felt it should refer to a powerful emotion. Treating it as within the same semantic domain as 氣, I decided to read it as “zeal.”

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Shadow Play, to the tune of Matching Jade Bracelet / Prelude to Clear River

In Staatsbibliothek 14 there are eight poems set to a tune called 对玉環帶清江引. This is a Chinese  tune popularized by a late Yuan poet named Tāng Shùnmín (湯舜民), and also the title of a work set to the same tune by a Ming poet named Táng Bóhǔ (唐伯虎). All lines rhyme, and the metrical scheme is 4,5,4,5,5,5,4,5,4,5,7,5,5,5,7. In addition to meeting the requirements of meter and rhyme, the author of Shadow Play also made extensive use of alliteration in the first four lines.

Of the eight Staatsbibliothek poems set to this tune, five have titles ending in the word dengjan, “lantern,” such as giogiyan bethe dengjan, “Bound Foot Lantern.” One possible explanation for this is that these are a kind of riddle meant to be written on a lantern (燈謎) in the Spring Lantern Festival.

The poem below doesn’t have the word dengjan in the title, but it looks like a riddle anyway. The last three lines seem like an admonition to the reader who figures it out to not reveal the answer.

helmešere jucun [影戯]    Shadow Play
tekte takta,    flickering and guttering,
talihūn tuwara,    uncertain to the eye,
buru bara,    dim and hazy,
buruhun baita,    shadowy events.
5oilo hoošan fa,    A paper pane on the outside,
dolo dengjan tuwa,    a lantern flame within,
goci tata,    restless and unsettled,
jucun durungga,    in the form of a play,
ulu wala,    unclear and muddled,
10mudan urkingga,    the sound is noisy.
elden gaire dabala,    It is merely catching the light,
fosorongge gūwa,    something different from shining.
jooci joocina,    If you’re going to mention it, then mention it,
aiseme kūwasa,    but why boast?
15neifi tuwaci ai baliya.    If you open it and look, what a pity.

Translation difficulties

tekte takta, I was not able to find this term in any of my dictionaries. From context I take it to refer to the way candle light flickers.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Fallen Leaves, to the tune of The Black-Naped Oriole

Thirteen of the poems in Staatsbibliothek 34981 are set to a tune called The Black-Naped Oriole (黃鶯兒). There is a Chinese  tune by the same name, but it is different in structure from the Manchu version, which is much shorter and allows for fewer words per line.

Chinese Black-Naped Oriole

        Manchu Black-Naped Oriole

(First Stanza)        (All Stanzas)
    平平平仄平平仄 (Rhyme)            5 syllables (Rhyme)
    仄仄平平            3 syllables
    平仄平平            3 syllables (Rhyme)
    平平平平            7 syllables (Rhyme)
    仄平平仄 (Rhyme)            5 syllables (Rhyme)
    平仄仄仄平平            5 syllables (Rhyme)
    仄仄平平仄 (Rhyme)            7 syllables (Rhyme)
    仄平平仄平平            3 syllables (Rhyme)
    仄仄平平平仄平仄 (Rhyme)            4 syllables
(Second Stanza)            5 syllables (Rhyme)
    平仄 (Rhyme)
    仄仄平平仄 (Rhyme)
    平平仄平平仄 (Rhyme)
    仄仄平平仄 (Rhyme)
    平仄平平仄 (Rhyme)

The caesura in the Manchu version stands before the last line of the poem, and is marked in the Staatsbibliothek manuscript by either a small dot (instead of a circle) or a long line, as in the example to the right. The last line of this type of poem usually carries a kind of surprise or punch-line that clarifies an image at the end.

The Manchu Black-Naped Oriole challenges the poet with extremely short lines, and when combined with an N-rhyme it must have been very difficult to achieve. Below I have shared another take on autumn leaves, composed according to this strict form.

The reference to the Sunggari river places this poem in the far Northeast, but it is difficult to imagine it being crossed by a fallen tree anywhere except in its upper reaches in the Long White Mountains. Perhaps the poet intends to invoke the memory of this legendary Manchu homeland, or perhaps it is intended to be reminiscent of one of the Odes of Wei, which asks: “Who says the river is broad? A reed crosses it.” (誰謂河廣,一葦杭之, we bira be onco sembi? ulgū-i dombi).

sigaha abdaha

    Fallen Leaves

aimaka dondon,    Seeming like butterflies,
jing tui tui,    always overlapping,
hūi son son,    and freely scattered,
pita piti-i yangšan,    with a drip-dripping sound.
moo ci gorokon,    Farther from the trees
non de hancikan,    and nearer to you, little sister,
hamirakū ya toron,    I am unable to reach. Alas, the way
mukei on,    is a stretch of water
emgi kamni –    with a narrow passage –
sunggari tuhan.    a tree fallen over the Sunggari.

Translation Difficulties:

Many of my difficulties arose from how I understood the first line. I visualized leaves in the air looking like butterflies in flight, but the title of the poem in fact refers to leaves that have already fallen (sigaha), and once I realized that it was easier to make sense of the rest.

tui tui, Norman: “from mouth to mouth; from hand to hand.” I initially thought that tui tui must mean something like “fluttering,” but after standing in the rain looking at fallen leaves I decided it must refer to the way that fallen leaves overlap each other on the ground.

pita piti, Norman has pata piti, “the sound of fruit falling from a tree.” Initially I thought this must somehow refer to the sound of leaves falling, but later decided it must refer to the sound of drops falling on wet leaves, either dripping from the branches of the trees or of rain.

non, “little sister”. Though there is no explicit reason to read this as a direct address to the intended recipient of the poem, I decided to treat it as an analog of agu, which can be used in that way.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Elegy for Monggojeje

The 20th of October this year marks the beginning of the ninth lunar month according to the traditional calendar. It was in the ninth lunar month, 416 years ago, that Nurhaci’s young wife Monggojeje died. The following passage from the Manju-i yargiyan kooli tells of her death, and its effect on Nurhaci.

In describing Monggojeje the text departs from the usual narrative style of the Yargiyan kooli and adopts instead a poetic form with vivid imagery, ragged short lines, and a kind of rhyme involving the repeated use of verbs ending in -kū. I believe this may be the oldest surviving Manchu poem, though it has probably suffered at the hands of a few editors between the time that it was originally composed and when it was printed in its final version.

The prose section following the poem is raw and brutal. Nurhaci has Monggojeje’s four handmaidens “follow her” in death, and over seven days he sacrifices a hundred horses and a hundred cattle. He wages war on Yehe because they refused to allow Moggojeje’s mother to visit her when she was sick, captures two walled towns and seven villages, and brings back two thousand captives.

tere aniya bolori uyun biya de manju gurun i taidzu sure beilei dulimbai amba fujin nimeme urihe.

In the ninth month of that year, the middle principal wife of the Wise Prince Taizu became sick and died.

    fujin-i hala nara    The lady’s clan was Nara,
    gebu monggojeje    Her name was Monggojeje,
    yehei gurun-i yangginu beilei sargan jui,    The daughter of Prince Yangginu of Yehe,
    juwan duin se de,    when she was fourteen
    taizu sure beile de holboho,    she married the Wise Prince Taizu.
    banjin fiyan saikan    Lovely in appearance,
    jaluka biyai adali hojo bime,    beautiful like the full moon,
    banin mujilen onco urgun,    generous of heart and happy,
    ujen ginggun    respectful of what is important 
    sure mergen gisun dahasu,    obedient to wise words,
    saišaha seme balai urgunjerakū    not vainly pleased by praise.
    ehe gisun be donjiha seme,    On hearing slander
    da banin i urgun i fiyan be gūwaliyandarakū,    her happy countenance was undisturbed. 
    angga ci ehe gisun tucirakū.    wicked words never left her mouth,
    haldaba saišabukū be yebelerakū.    displeased with flattery and admiration,
    acuhiyan koimali be saišarakū,    she never praised sycophancy and deceit,
    hetu weile, facuhūn gisun be donjirakū.    she never listened to gossip and insubordinate talk,
    mujilen be wacihiyame taidzu sure beilei gūnin de acabume.     she completely harmonized her mind with the Wise Prince Taizu’s thoughts,
    daci dubentele sain be akūmbufi.    from beginning to end she strove to do good,
    ufaraha endebuhe ba akū.    she had neither fault nor flaw.

taidzu sure beile haji fujin ofi delheme yadame fujin i takūraha duin sain hehe be dahabuha.

Because the beloved lady had passed away, the Wise Prince Taizu had the four good women who were employed by the lady follow her.

morin tanggū ihan tanggū wame nadan waliyaha.

He made seven sacrifices, killing one hundred horses and one hundred cattle.

taidzu sure beile emu biya funceme arki nure omirakū. yali jeterakū. inenggi dobori akū songgome.

For more than a month, the Wise Prince Taizu drank neither liquor nor wine, ate no meat, and wept day and night.

giran be hūwai dolo sindafi sinagalame ilan aniya oho manggi. giran be hūwa ci tucibufi niyaman alin gebungge munggan de eifu be sindaha.

He placed her body in the courtyard, and after three years of mourning, had her body taken out of the courtyard and placed in the mausoleum called Heart Mountain.

tereci taidzu sure beile haji fujin, eme be acaki seci unggihe akū de korsofi niowanggiyan muduri aniya, aniya biyai ice jakūn i inenggi, yehe be dailame cooha jurafi, juwan emu de, yehei jang, akiran gebungge juwe hoton be afame gaifi, tere goloi nadan gašan be gaiha.

The Wise Prince Taizu was angry that they had not sent the beloved lady’s mother to see her when she asked, and so on the eighth day of the first month of the Green Dragon Year he set out with an army to wage war on Yehe. On the eleventh day they attacked and captured the cities of Yehe called Jang and Akiran, and seized the seven villages of that district.

juwe minggan olji be bahafi cooha bederehe.
They took two thousand captives, and the army returned.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Poems about feelings

My first impression of the Verses on Red Leaves is that it is too sentimental for my taste. But if I look past my own personal preferences and ask why this poem exists and what it is trying to say, I find that it has an interesting kind of depth. It is not really about autumn leaves, but about the feeling of seeing autumn leaves.

Like the Lament on the State of the Times, this poem is written in a way that is completely divorced from any particular era, place and person. We don't know where it is that red leaves are falling, or what kind of trees they are falling from, and we don't know who sees them. All we know, by the end of the poem, is how the narrator felt. Each couplet expresses some aspect of that feeling in a semi-independent way.

The first two couplets introduce the theme. Like many introductory couplets, both lines of the first couplet rhyme, and the rhyme of the poem reflects the theme (fulgiyan, “red”, is an an-rhyme). The mongniohon of the second line means “gasping for breath” (according to Norman) and describes the narrator’s physiological response to the scene.

Part of the experience of surprise is confusion, which begins with the narrator not being able to identify the source of the brilliant color. In lines 5-12, the narrator walks in slow-motion through a pantomime of confusion, mis-identifying the brilliance as lighting, rainbows, a forest fire, or morning clouds illuminated by the sun.

At line 13 the confusion is resolved, the narrator looks closely, and understands that the source of these brilliant colors is a pink autumn wood. From the tension of surprise we move to a more relaxed enjoyment of the experience. The colors are compared to peaches and apricots, and even the biting frost is compared to the flush of wine.

In the final couplet, the narrator departs the scene in a carriage, which he hopes will bring him to a halt in the springtime.

One of the interesting features of the poem is that the couplets can really stand on their own as self-contained expressions of feeling. This could make the poem ripe for allusion, because you could pull out a single couplet and re-use it somewhere else. It will be interesting to see how often one Manchu poem alludes to another in this way.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Verses on Red Leaves

The poems in the 14th fascicle of Staatsbibliothek 34981 often focus on a single concrete theme, like a still life painting, and reveal little or nothing about the poet’s inner mind except the emotional response to the scene. With autumn setting in, I thought I would share Verses on Red Leaves. Like all of the Staatsbibliothek poems, no author is named. This is a seven-syllable couplet poem with an -an rhyme.

I imagine the setting to be a clear, crisp autumn day. The poet, looking out from his carriage, sees the wooded slopes and is astonished by the brilliance of the fall colors.

fulgiyan abdaha be irgebuhengge     A Composition on Red Leaves
Staatsbibliothek 14.5 (View Online)
jing sigara erin fon,The season of the ever falling leaves,
alin bira mongniohon.

mountains and rivers are breathtaking.

gūnihakū gūwaliyapi,They have unexpectedly transformed
elemangga gincihiyan.

to become all the more bright.

5umai agahakūbi,It has not rained at all,
aide kejine talkiyan.

so how is there so much lightning?

maka tulhušehenio,Could it really be cloudy?
ainci gocika nioron.

It seems rainbows have appeared.

dekjin tuwa ai tayahao,Has a forest fire broken out?

ainu akū ai šanggiyan.

Why is there no smoke?

tugi šun de fosokoo,Are the clouds lit by the sun?
abai daruhai jaksan.

How is it like a constant morning sky?

cincilame tuwaha de,If you look closely
dule jamu moo bujan.

it is really a pink wood.

15dubei bolori fonde,At the end of autumn
tuwabun nememe saikan.

the scene is even more beautiful.

toro guilege waka,It is neither peach nor apricot
encu hacin nilgiyan.

but another kind of glow.

abka dembei faksi,Nature is an artisan of high degree

boco soningga hihan.

its colors are precious and rare.

gecen eniken dame,The frost has only begun to bite,
bahabuha nurei fiyan.

like the drunken flush of wine.

yala tuwamehanggai ten,So exceedingly lovely,
beikuwen erin sabugan.

the experience of the cool season.

25aga silenggi aibi,How can the rain and the dew
ini cisui gincihiyan.

shine of their own accord?

sejen ilinjicina,Let the carriage come to a stop,
ilha sarašara the flower-strolling half-month.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Jakdan’s predecessors

Despite the glowing praise that Jakdan receives in the preface for being an expert translator of poetry, he wasn't the translator of the first poem in his collection—or at least he wasn't the only translator, or the first.

The Kangxi emperor apparently produced two works (or two versions of a single work) titled A Free and Unfettered Poem (逍遙詞), of which Jakdan chose the second version as the opening poem for his collection. Despite the carefree feel of the original title, Jakdan calls his version A Lament on the World (Ma. jalan be nasara uculen, Ch. 嘆世詞). In fact, I think some of the wording may have been changed to make it more mournful, but that will have to wait for another blog post.

I say that Jakdan’s translation of this poem is not completely original because much the same Manchu text can also be found, without a Chinese parallel text, in a volume at the Bibliothèque nationale de france. At the end of the BNF poem there is a date of Kangxi 60 (1721), which was probably 60 years before Jakdan was born. Of course that may be a date associated with the original poem and not of the translation, but I believe most of the Manchu materials at the BNF were gathered during the Jesuit missions, which ended with the expulsion of the Jesuits in the mid-18th century. Even if one discounts the date at the end of the poem, it would be quite a stretch to date this text to any time in Jakdan's lifetime.

The most reasonable explanation, I think, is that Jakdan included this earlier translation because he considered it an excellent work, and wanted to begin by paying homage to a predecessor, or to the tradition of poetic translation itself. Perhaps he started with a slightly different version of the text, and maybe he made some minor changes that he saw as improvements, but overall he left much of it alone.

An interesting feature of this poem is that it “works” in both Manchu and Chinese. As a Chinese poem it has an -ang rhyme, and as a Manchu poem it has an -a rhyme. In fact, I have seen nothing textual to say whether the poem was originally composed in Chinese or Manchu, or whether it was composed in both languages at the same time (as was probably done for some other imperial poems.)

Here are the Manchu versions:


Jakdan Manchu

han-i araha emu meyen-i uculen

jalan be nasara uculen

bithei urse,bithei urse,
usin-i haha,usin-i haha,
weilere faksi,weilere faksi,
hūdai niyalma,hūdai niyalma,
inenggidari kata fata,inenggidari kata fata,
niyalma banjifi, niyalma banjifi
erebe gaisuerebe gaju 
terebe gama,terebe gama,
hendure balame,hendure balama
wesihun fusihūn teisu bi,wesihun fusihūn teisu bi,
jabšara ufararangge,jabšara ufararangge
bodoro mangga,bodoro mangga,
gin gu-i yafan,ai gin gu yafan
bolori edun,bolori edun,
u giyang ni bira,u giyang ula
dobori biya,dobori biya,
o fang gurung fulahūn,o fang gurung fulahūn,
tung ciyo kara aba,tung ciyo kara aba,
dule emgeri haṇ dan-i gese tolgišaha,dule emgeri haṇ dan-i gese tolgišaha,
yargiyan-i nasacuka,
yargiyan-i usacuka,
erebe saci,
abka be sebjeleme,damu abka de sebjeleme
hesebun be sacina,hesebun be sacina,
teisu be dahame,teisu be dahame
an be tuwakiya,an be tuwakiya,
nenehe wang,nenehe han
amaga wang serebe ai gana,amaha han sere ai tusa,
yendehe gurun,yendehe gurun
gukuhe gurun serebe, ai gana,gukuhe gurun sere ai ganaha,
bucere hanci uksalara de mangga,bucere hamici ukcara de mangga,
julgeci baturu haha siran siran-i ufaraha,julgeci ebsi baturu kiyangkiyan sa siran siran-i ufaraha,
muduri taktu,
garudai-i leose serebe jocina,
aisi jugūn,
gebu tangka serebe yakacina,
derengge saikan iletu ilgai dele,yala derengge saikan ilhai dele 
bayan wesihun orhoi dubei gecen dabala,bayan wesihun orhoi dubei gecen secina,
jalan-i baita uttu oho be saci,jalan-i baita be tuwaci gemu uttu be dahame,
yendere gukure be aiseme mujilen de dara,yendere gukure be aiseme mujilen de dara,

muduringga taktu

garudai asari sere be jocina,

aisi-i jugūn

gebu-i tangka sere be naka,
yargiyan-i nisicuka-i usacuka,

jabduha ucuri ekisaka tefi,
alin-i dalba,
bigan tala,
aba saha,
sula tehe de,
irgebun irgebume,irgebun nure-i emgi sebjeleme bicina,
nure omime,
gūnin-i cihai emgeri gingsifi bedereci,emgeri gingsici, bedererengge
ai tookan,ai tookan,
emgeri uculefi,emgeri uculeci,
šanyan muke buru bara,mederi muke buru bara,

edun biya be irgebume,

buyecuke sur sere be baihana,
hacingga ilha ilaci,hacingga ilha ilaci,
alha bulha geren gasha guwendeci,alha bulha, geren gasha guwendeci,
jiji jaja,jiji jaja,

alin-i dalba,

muke-i dalba,

bigan tala

aba saha,
ere nergin de absi saišacuka,ere nergin absi saišacuka,
taka emu coman nure be wacihiya,taka emu coman nure be wacihiya,
yasa habtašara sidende,yasa habtašara sidende
juwe erei šulu herecun akū de šaraka.juwe erei šulu herecun akū šaraka.

elhe taifin-i ninjuci aniya