Wednesday, November 29, 2017

A Manchu Song on Winter Rain in Seven-Syllable Couplets

The rain has set in in Portland, and according to the traditional Chinese agricultural calendar we have entered winter, so it seems appropriate to post a song about winter rain.

Rain is an uncommon theme for Manchu poetry, and winter rain seems all the more dreary and unlikely as a topic of verse. But as the last lines make clear, this song is really about being happy regardless of your circumstances. It may be cold, but the rain at night is fragrant, and instead of flimsy flowers the world is decorated by yellow chrysanthemums and red maple leaves.

tuweri aga be irgebuhe manju uculen    A Manchu Song on Winter Rain
Staatsbibliothek 4.10 (View Online)
emu dobori beikuwen,    One night it was cold,
dule agai šahūrun,    it was actually the chill of rain.
erin ba be burakū,    I could not tell you where or when,
ara tuwahai gecuhun,    but oh, in the blink of an eye, there was frost,

wangga wa wen wasika,

    and an aromatic scent descended.

fiyangga fiyen fiyan filtahūn,    Bare of colorful makeup,
eiten ilha sigapi,    every flower had fallen,
boco ice juwe hacin,    but there were two new kinds of color,
bojiri hon sohokon,    the chrysanthemum being very yellow,
10 molo ele fulahūn,    and the maple all the more red,
elemangga kalcunggi,    but nonetheless vibrant,
utulihekū gecen,

    despite the frost.

sasa tuweri bolori,    Winter together with Autumn,
uhei kulun dahasun,    the Celestial and Earthly together,
15ainu cingkai encu ni,    aren’t they vastly different?
ere yala ai turgun,    So what is the reason for this?
teisu teisu banjitai,    They each have their nature,
meni meni sukdun wen,

    their various vital forces.

ilakangge hahiba,    That which blooms is quick,
20baharangge nekeliyen,    that which can do it is flimsy.
sigahangge amala,    After the falling of leaves,
alihangge jiramin,

    what remains is thick.

fulibuha giyan fiyan-i,    There is an order to the forms things take,
neigen akū de neigen,    an equality in their inequality.
25 tere tenteke giru,    That one has an appearance like that,
ere enteke banin,    this one has a shape like this,
ere tuttu jilakan,    this one is pitiful in that way,
ere uttu elehun,    this one is composed in this way.
daci adali akū,    Fundamentally different,

aide gese teheren,

    how are they equally balanced?

sence seci se seri,    A mushroom’s years are scanty,
jakdan jaci jalafun,    the pine has a very long life,
goiha goidaha,    stricken, and long-lived,
baji banjiha banjin,

    appearing only scarcely alive.

35manda bime hon manda,    When something is slow, it is really slow,
hūdun dade ten hūdun,    when quick it is fundamentally quick,
ehe dade ten ehe,    when bad it is fundamentally bad,
sain bime hon sain,    when good it is really good.
erei haran ai seci,    What do you say is the reason for this?

gemu meimeni sukdun,

    They are all vital forces.

hafu tuwaha sehede,    When you have seen through it,
teksin akū-i teksin,    it is a neatly arranged disorder.
arbun bisirelengge,    All forms that exist,
dubentele efujen,    in the end are subject to destruction,
45taka bisire beye,    the temporary body,
yaha tuwai fon erin,

    the seasons and hours of embers and fire.

sebjen bici sebjele,    When there is happiness, rejoice.
ainu urui jobocun,    Why be constantly miserable?
kuwai fai seme gūnici,    If one thinks about it lightly,

ne je yooni selabun,

    immediately one is entirely content.

jalan doroi mengde fa,    This is a window on the way of the world,
agu hūtukan neilen,    sir, a quick revelation:
encu emu abka na,    Different yet the same are heaven and earth;
nimaha še urgun ten,    fish and black kite are both extremely happy.
55 elhe baire dasargan,    A formula for seeking peace,
ere emu uculen.    is this single song.

Translation Difficulties

erin ba be burakū. Literally “not giving the time or the place.” The “giving” here is presumably metaphorical, but what type of giving is this? Who is the giver and who is the receipient? The default subject would be the topic of the previous line, “the chill of rain,” but I can’t make sense of that. Instead, I am reading this as the poet being unable to give the reader the time and place that the event occurred.

utulihekū gecen. From the verb utulimbi, “to be aware,” I take utulihekū to be a converb literally meaning “having been unaware,” but by extension “regardless of.”

encu emu abka na / nimaha še urgun ten. I wrestled with this for a very long time, and while I am not entirely happy with the reading I landed on, it is the best I could come up with. The poet has repeatedly touched on the idea of sameness within difference, in lines like neigen akū de neigen and teksin akū-i teksin. In these lines I think he means to say that heaven and earth are both different and the same, like the fish and black kite, which inhabit different realms yet both experience happiness.

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