Monday, November 13, 2017

The Ever-Turning Horse Lantern, a translation by Jakdan

The 17th translated poem in Jakdan's second fascicle is titled Torhoho moringga dengjan be irgebuhengge 咏走馬燈詩, by the Monk Wu Ji.

I was initially interested in this poem because of the word “lantern” in the title, which I thought could shed some light on the Manchu lantern poems.

團團游了又來游, šurdeme šurdeme sarašame wajinggala geli ebsi sarašahai,
無箇明人指路頭。 jugūn on be jorire getuken niyalma ai.
除卻心中三昧火, dulimba ba-i ilan unenggi tuwa akū ohode,
槍刀人馬一齊休。 gida loho niyalma morin gemu aššarakū bai.

My somewhat free translation from the Manchu (which is subtly different from the Chinese):

Around and around it goes, it stops, and then it goes again,
There is no lucid person there to point it on its way,
But when the fire of Triple Truth is extinguished from the center,
Neither spear nor sword nor man nor horse will move.

When I read this poem, I imagine some kind of clever shadow paper lantern where the hot air rising from a candle causes a lightweight frame to turn, casting moving shadows onto the outside of the lantern. In this case, the shadows would show a man with sword and spear riding a horse.

The word 三昧 (samādhi) is the clue that tells us that the lantern is a metaphor for the mind, and that the extinction of the candle in the middle, which causes the restless movement of the mind to stop, is a metaphor for enlightenment.

There are a number of interesting little features in Jakdan’s translation from the Chinese:

無 X -> X ai. Autochthonous Manchu poetry frequently uses the formula X ai or X ya, which is not very commonly seen in non-poetic Manchu texts. I have been interpreting it as a rhetorical question, as in In Praise of Fire where I translated cing cing serengge gidabure ai as “When it is blazing, what can stamp it out?” Given that that Jakdan uses this formula as a translation for “there is not” (無), perhaps we could read the line from Fire above as “Nothing can stamp it out when it is blazing.”

三昧 -> ilan unenggi. The Chinese term 三昧 originates as a phonetic representation of the Sanskrit term samādhi, referring to a set of meditative states of mind. Jakdan could have used a literal translation like samadi, but instead he chose a play on words and gave us ilan unenggi, “the Three Truths.”

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