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.

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