Sunday, December 31, 2017

An Untitled Poem in 7-Syllable Couplets

I’ve recently received the excellent facsimile and translation of the diary of Mucihiyan titled 閑窗錄夢譯編. It seems this Mucihiyan was connected with Jakdan, and I harbor a hope that his diary could give some clues about other Manchu poets.

One of the interesting things I learned from skimming through the diary is the place of literature in Beijing society. Mucihiyan often goes out to drink tea or wine, and someone provides entertainment by singing or reading. When I see the words ele mila in these poems, I imagine a lifestyle like this, wandering from teahouse to wine house with little to do but meet old friends. Perhaps the following untitled poem from SB 14 was performed in such a place one evening.

Staatsbibliothek 14.16 (View Online)
niyalma seme banjifi,    Since we were born to be human,
selara fon udu ni,

    how many happy times are there?

sain gucu acame,    When meeting good friends,
ele mila leoleki,

    let’s chat casually and at ease.

5 tanggū aniyai bilagan,    When the span of a century
jalukangge ya weci,

    is fulfilled, and alas you change,

uju marire siden,    and in the turning of a head
juru šulu šarapi,

    both temples have turned white,

šolo bici sebjele,    then if you have free time, rejoice!

aliya seci atanggi,

    If you want to put it off, then when?

hafu tuwame ohode,    When one has seen through it,
eici nimeku seri.    perhaps illness will be rare.

Translation Difficulties

tanggū aniyai bilagan / jalukangge ya weci. I think the whole phrase from tanggū to jalukangge is a single noun phrase, which overflows from the first line to the second in a case of enjambment. The verb wembi is intransitive, and it means “to transform; become cultured,” but what transforms? The noun phrase ending in jalukangge doesn’t seem like the appropriate subject, and ya as “which” doesn’t make a lot of sense in a subordinate phrase like this, so I have taken it to be the reader (and the poet) who changes. So what do we do with the ya, then? I have decided to take this as a wistful exclamation, as seems to work in other poems. I wonder, though, if it is more like the  (兮) of Chinese  poetry.

Friday, December 15, 2017

Snow, to the tune of Wind in the Pines

I have been exploring the idea that some or all of the Wind in the Pines poems in SB 11 are written in response to the corresponding Black-Naped Oriole poems earlier in the same fascicle.

If that is true then the poem below is a response to the Snow of my last post. Certainly some relationship between the two is likely in the fact that they both start with the same word, untuhun. With the consistent alliteration within each line it seems likely that this one would have been written by the same author that wrote Wind to the same tune.

nimanggi [雪],    Snow
Staatsbibliothek 11.19 (View Online)
untuhun ulejefi,    The sky tumbled down,
šahūn šarapi,    turned white as white,
beri beri benjime,    bringing one after another,
sisaha, sisa canggi,    it sprinkled, only sprinkles
5tuheke tuhekei,    fell, but as it fell,
inggaha inggari,

    it became fluff and down.

murušeme muduri,    Seeming that dragons
becunuhei bi,    were fighting,
emke emken esihe,    one scale after another,
10 fasar farsi farsi,    scattered piece by piece,
tucinjihe tucin,    came forth in order
sabubuha sabi.    to make an omen known.

Translation Difficulties

sisa. The usual meaning of sisa is “bean, pea,” which might suggest the idea of hail if it weren’t for the fact that Manchu has a much more common word for hail with the same number of syllables (bono). Given that sisambi means “to sprinkle,” I have read sisa as “sprinkes,” perhaps meaning snowflakes, or else maybe small icy drops.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Snow, to the tune of The Black-Naped Oriole

It hasn’t snowed here yet, but we have freezing temperatures and frost, and there is snow on the other side of the Cascades. Snow is a popular theme in Manchu poetry (as in Chinese), so there is no risk that I will run out of snow poems this winter.

nimanggi,    Snow
Staatsbibliothek 11.7 (View Online)
untuhun deri,    Down through the void
gukiong moo,    the gemwillow trees
sigapi,    have dropped their leaves.
gu-i jalan adali,    It is like a world of jade.
5ba kiyoo [灞橋] ya nofi,    Who has heard
gisun bahambi,    of Baqiao?
lan guwan morin [藍關擁馬] libki,    The horse at the Blue Pass is worn out.
niyengniyeri,    With the plum flowers
nenden ilha —    of Spring —
10juru ufuhi.    a matched set.

Literary Allusions

Baqiao (灞橋) is a district of Xi’an city. The reference here may be to a line of Huáng Tāo (黃滔) from the late Táng. Here is my tortured translation of those lines:

背將蹤跡向京師,On the trail with a load on my back, I headed for the capital,
出在先春入後時。I left the prior Spring, I got here a while later.
落日灞橋飛雪裏,The setting sun and Baqiao in the flying snow,
已聞南院有看期。I had heard of the southern court, now I have time to see it.

The Horse of Blue Pass (藍關擁馬) is a literary allusion used in poetry about snow back to the Táng. I am not sure what the original reference is, but a commonly cited one is from Hán Yù (韓愈):

雲橫秦嶺家何在?Clouds across the Qinling range. Where is my home?
雪擁藍關馬不前:Snow gathers on the blue passes, and the horse will not go forward.

With the blue passes and the remoteness of the scene, this poem by Hán Yù reminds me of some lines from W. E. B. Du Bois, in The Souls of Black Folk (ch. 4, “On the Meaning of Progress”):
So I walked on and on—horses were too expensive—until I had wandered beyond railways, beyond stage lines, to a land of “varmints” and rattlesnakes, where the coming of a stranger was an event, and men lived and died in the shadow of one blue hill.

Translation Difficulties

gukiong moo. Norman has guki moo, “an exotic tree resembling the weeping willow,” as well as gukiong, “hyacinth (a gem).” This seems like a portmanteau, so I’ve translated it with a portmanteau of my own.

gisun bahambi. I am not aware of this being a set phrase, but the meaning “to hear of” seems possible. Perhaps the lines ba kiyoo ya nofi / gisun bahambi are meant to contrast with the 已聞南院 of Huáng Tāo’s poem, pitting the fame of the Táng court against that of Baqiao, a district that surely would not have been as well known in its own time, but has since become famous in poetry.

juru ufuhi. The word juru means “a pair,” and ufuhi “a portion,” but I’m not entirely sure how to put them together. I think the pair in question must be the snow and the plum flowers (which drift like snow when they fall). Several expressions containing juru, such as juru gisun, have a sense of two different things that fit together, so that is how I have read it.

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Moon, to the tune of Black-Naped Oriole

The first eight poems of fascicle 11 of Staatsbibliothek 34981 are set to the Black-Naped Oriole tune, and written on the following themes:

  • The Firsherman
  • The Woodcutter
  • The Plowman
  • The Reader
  • Wind
  • Flower
  • Snow
  • The Moon

Poems 13-20 of the same fascicle are on nearly the same themes, but set to the tune Wind in the Pines. (The only difference is that the theme of poem 16 is “The Herdsman” instead of “The Reader.”) I don’t know what it means that these themes occur in this order, but I previously noted that the second poem on The Wind looks like a response to the first one, so perhaps the entire second set was written in response to the first set.

Since my last post was about the beautiful (and shocking) second poem on the Moon, I thought I would make this post about the first one.

biya,    The Moon
Staatsbibliothek 11.8 (View Online)
bulekui yangse,    A mirror-like thing,
atanggi,    when
werihe,    was it left behind?
tumen jalan genggiyengge,    It has been ten thousand generations of illumination.
5can o [婵娥] wei gege,    Whose princess is Chang’e?
u g'ang ya doose,    Which Daoist priest is Wugang?
guwang han gurung [廣寒宮]    Is the Vast Cold Palace
cibsunggeo,    full of silence?
ten-i e,    How could the high feminine
10šungga moo ai biretei holo.    and the osmanthus tree be completely false.

Translation Difficulties

werihe. Who is leaving what behind? Does this refer to Chang’e and Wugang leaving the earth behind? Or does it refer to the moon being left behind in the sky? I have decided to read it as the latter because otherwise the first line, bulekui yangse, is left hanging.

cibsunggeo. Norman has cibsu hiyan, “incense used at sacrifices,” apparently connected with the vocalically unusual cibsonggo, “harmony; the right side of an ancestral temple” and cibsen, “quietness; stillness.”

ai biretei holo. The phrase biretei holo seems to clearly mean “completely false,” but what is the ai doing? Since so many of the lines in this poem are questions, I took this to be a final question, “how could they be completely false?”

Monday, December 4, 2017

The Moon, to the tune of Wind in the Pines

Here is another poem to the tune of Wind in the Pines. The theme is the moon (biya) so it has the thematic A-rhyme.

This poem is like a diptych, with the two stanzas of the Wind in the Pines form giving us two starkly different views of the moon. The first stanza describes the moon as an object of beauty, a sphere in space that bathes the world in a cold light. The second stanza abruptly turns to the regret Chang’e feels after being parted from the fertile earth to live out a cold eternity in the vast and empty palaces of the moon.

biya [月],    The Moon
Staatsbibliothek 11.20 (View Online)
untuhun ya bai tana,    From what region of the void is this pearl?
buleku fiyangga,    Mirror-colored,
we-i hungkerehengge,    molded by whom?
5 fosoci, gehun ba ba,    When it shines, everywhere it is bright,
gecen helmen jalu,    full of frost shadows,
muke elden niša,

    replete with water light.

da e simen bakjikan,    Her menstrual flow was once thick,
10 te goidatala,    now, after so long,
ekiyehun erin fulu,    thin times remain.
muheliyen ainu tongga,    How limited is this sphere,
selabun seriken,    happiness is sparse,
seyecun utala.    and regret so plentiful.

Translation Difficulties

e simen. Norman has in-i simen, “menstrual discharge,” which must surely be the same thing, the word in being Chinese 陰, and the word e being the native Manchu word for the feminine principle.