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.

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