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.


  1. I don't know if 'weci' is related to 'wembi' here. I would connect it to 'we' 'who?'. Maybe the same thing occurs in 'ai wei seme'? In the SBJ there are a couple more occurences of 'ya weci)' and it seems to me that these two interrogative pronouns ('what? who?'/'what? from whom?) when used together have come to serve as something akin to a mark of bewilderment, maybe distress: 'X, what is that?'/'X, what about it?'. However I readily admit I haven't done enough thinking or research about this.

    - SBJ, p. 482-483
    (...) taifin fon. atanggi. yala yala akambi. irgen ergen gukuhei. hūlhai songko jalupi. mergen jiyanggiyūn ya weci. (...)

    (...) Peaceful times, when? Truly, truly sad. People are dying. Traces of robbers are full (=everywhere?), what about worthy generals? (...)

    - SBJ, p. 1347
    (...) bayan oyonggo. banin hesebun dele. sahangge ya we. (...)

    Also, SBJ, p. 1432
    bayan wesihun. yaya we. da gūnin. damu beyei hesebun. (...)

    1. Enjambment does not seem to be common in Manchu, so I'm glad of another way to look at the structure of this couplet. But if we see 'ai we' as an expression of bewilderment, what do we do with '-ci'?

      If we think about 'jalumbi' as the literal verb 'to be filled', I suppose you can fill one thing from another, and maybe -ci could mark the source of whatever fills something. So could we read this couplet as follows?

      A span of a hundred years,
      what on earth is it filled with!?