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.”

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