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.

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