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,    This 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,    The lofty feminine,
10šungga moo ai biretei holo.    the osmanthus tree, are they 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, rather than an assertion like “alas, they are completely false.”

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