Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The New Moon

ice biya [新月]    New Moon
Staatsbibliothek 14.10 (View Online)
mudanggai faitan,    A curved eyebrow,
ijifun    a comb
oncohon,    on its back,
gu-i gohon bokšokon,    the elegance of a jade hook,
5hitahūn mudan,    the curve of a fingernail,
fatha toron,    the mark of a talon,
bulekui jerin saliyan,    just the edge of a mirror,
hon hihan,    most precious,
juhei weihu –    a canoe of ice —
10 hiyotohon saikan.    crescent-shaped and beautiful.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Portrait of Official Advancement

This is one of a series of four “portraits” of different careers. This seems to have a lot in common with the Weiqi of Political Advancement, which describes the career of an official in similar terms.

hafan wesire durugan [升官圖],    Portrait of Official Advancement
Staatsbibliothek 11.29 (View Online)
nirugan gese,    Like a picture,
hafasa,    the officials
faidame,    line up,
ilhi anan-i tolo,    score them rank by rank.
5 wesici ne je,    Now they rise,
wasici ne je,    now they fall,
dele wala andande,    suddenly on top or at bottom.
naka joo,    Stop! Enough!
tongki ton bi,    There is a score—
10ume bodoro.    Don’t calculate it!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Crows, to the tune Drunk on the East Wind

gaha [烏鴉],    Crows
Staatsbibliothek 11.56 (View Online)
ya gasha,    What are crows?
kara boco,    Their color is black.
ai jilgan,    What is their call?
lurgin hele,    Rough and raucous.
5 hiyoošunggai banin,    Like filial people,
gulu hing seme,    they are plain and sincere.
amasi,    Henceforth
ulebure,    feed them.
feniyen feniyelerede,    When they form up in flocks
10sasari,    together,
hūwangga uhe.    they’ll join you on good terms.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Bound Foot Lantern Poem

This dense and complex poem about bound feet touches on themes of beauty, loneliness, pain, forbidden love, suicide and injustice, all in 15 enigmatic lines.

I still haven’t figured out what the “lantern poems” are. Were they riddles written on lanterns at the New Year festival? Were they poems that ostensibly used decorated lanterns as the inspiration for describing something?

In this post I’m going to take the poem apart because I think that’s the best way to understand what is going on.

giogiyan bethengge dengjan [小腳兒燈],    Bound Foot Lantern
Staatsbibliothek 14.29 (View Online)

The Shoe

harha fulgiyan,    The shoe leather is red,
eldengge saikan,    bright and beautiful,
cece nilgiyan,    the silk is shiny,
yasahangga hihan,    with small holes and rare.

The poem opens with a description of a beautiful shoe, no doubt one of the tiny shoes that adorned bound feet. Just as the first thing you saw with a bound foot was the beautiful shoe, so the first lines the poet gives us are beautiful.

Loneliness and Isolation
5can o [嬋娥] suhe fon,    Cháng’é, when she takes them off,
duruhai lakiyan,

    having grown old and weak, she hangs them up.

biya-i argan,    The crescent of the moon,
gu tanai ujan,

    is a jade pearl boundary.

Turning from the beautiful shoe, the poem then invokes the goddess Cháng’é, who lives alone in the vast cold palaces of the moon. It is not strictly clear whether the goddess or the shoe grows old and weak, but in this season of waning the shape of the moon resembles a bound foot. Compare the lines in the Jīn Píng Méi describing Xīmén Qìng’s first intimate encounter with Pān Jīnlián (in Chinese original and Manchu translation):

lo-i wase be ten tukiyefi, juwe gohon-i ice biya be meiren-i dele sabubuha
Having lifted the gauze stockings up, the two-hooked new moon could be seen over his shoulders.

The poet then goes on to describe the shrinking moon as a beautiful but confining boundary for the goddess. The same idea that the goddess is trapped within the confines of the moon was expressed in Moon, to the tune Wind in the Pines. Like the shoe around the foot, the confines are beautiful, but sorrow lies within it. Like the limited sphere of the moon, the bound foot constrains a woman.

tuwa-i haksan,    The cruelty of fire,

šu ilhai okson,

    is the lotus step.

The phrase tuwa-i haksan is a double entendre. The word haksan can mean a golden or reddish brown color, or else it can mean “cruel, brutal.” On the one hand, this could be describing the bound foot in a red shoe, or perhaps the dried blood on the wrapping of the foot, or else the cruel pain of walking with bound feet.

The reason I have chosen the word “cruelty” for my translation is that the poet could have used a less ambiguous word like jaksan to describe the red color, but instead opted for the ambiguous word haksan, a choice that I think was motivated to capture the meaning of cruelty.

Forbidden Love
lo fei mukei on,    The path of concubine Luò across the water,
suman-i toron,    is a trail of mist.
sabu ne da an,

    The shoes are now as they have always been.

These lines turn from the burning of fire to the cool of feet passing over water. The name “concubine Luò” [洛妃] refers to Lady Zhēn, but the description of her crossing the water is an allusion to the Rhapsody on the Goddess of the Luò River [洛神賦] by Cáo Zhí [曹植], which contains the following lines describing the vision of the goddess on the surface of the river:

She walks in decorated shoes for distant journeying, trailing light garments of misty silk.

By using the name “concubine Luò” [洛妃] for the goddess of the river, the author of this Manchu poem is invoking a well-known story that Lady Zhēn had a secret affair with Cáo Zhí, who was said to have written the Rhapsody about Lady Zhēn after she was forced to commit suicide.

Surely the poet must have known that Lady Zhēn lived long before the practice of binding feet, and the description in the Rhapsody of shoes made for distant journeying [遠遊之文履] could not possibly be understood to mean a shoe that contains a bound foot. The first two lines seem to evoke a temporary sense of freedom and relief, but this is crushed by the third line: “The shoes are now as they have always been.”

Unjust Death
abai yang ioi hūwan [楊玉環],    Where is Yáng Yùhuán?
15weri suinggai maiman    It was someone else's wicked business. 

The poem ends by invoking the memory of Yáng Yùhuán, another imperial concubine and one of the four great beauties of Chinese tradition, who was strangled as a result of her cousin’s involvement in the An Lushan rebellion. Clearly the poet believes this death to have been unjust, because the crime was someone else’s, not hers.

What do all of these images and allusions mean when they are put together in a poem? It may be that only the intended audience would fully understand the hints, but to me this could be the arc of a tragic story in a particular woman’s life: Her feet are bound, she experiences loneliness, isolation, confinement and pain, then a secret and forbidden love and a momentary feeling of freedom, but ending in an unjust death.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Drinking a while under Lanterns

This is a Manchu song about the joys of drink and companionship, set to a tune made famous by a female poet of the Sòng dynasty. The tune is called One Plum Blossom [一剪梅], named for a poem by Lǐ Qīngzhào [李清照].

In case you want to sing it, two variant melodies in traditional gōngchě notation can be found in fascicle 30 of 新定九宮大成南北詞宮譜.

dengjan-i fejile taka omirengge [燈下小酌],    Drinking a while under Lanterns
Staatsbibliothek 14.43 (View Online)
bolgo dere genggiyen fa,    A clean table, a bright window,
dengjan fiyangga,        the lanterns are colorful,
nure wangga,        the wine is fragrant.
yenden amtan juwe sasa,    Interest is paired with flavor,
5 elhe alha,        easy going,
sulfa sula,        relaxed and free.
kesi fengšen dabala,    Aside from grace and fortune,
gebu yaka,        is anyone famous?
aisi aba,        Is there any profit?
10bodorongge ai tusa,    What benefit is there to planning?
beyei baita,        One’s own affairs
abkai ciha.

        are Heaven’s whim.

terei jacingge [其二]

    Second Verse

bolgo edun gehun biya,    A clean breeze and a bright moon,
15genggiyesakai fa,        a rather clear window,
ekisakai hūwa,        a still garden.
emu coman wangga wa,    A goblet and a fragrant scent,
erin sula,        free time,
gūnin sulfa,        and relaxed minds.
20selacukai abka na,    Heaven and earth are blissful.
ai ai naka,        Quit all those various things!
šuwe šuwe waliya,        Completely, utterly abandon them!
damu sebjen baicina,    Let’s seek out joy.
amtan amba,        Great is delight,

yobo niša.

        amusement is ample.

terei ilacingge [其三]

    Third Verse

soninggai yenden noho,    Something novel and interesting
arki dolo,        is that in the liquor,
dengjan holo,        there is a false lantern.
30 gu-i mukei nicuhe,    A pearl of jade water,
elden yobo,        amusing is its light,
boco hojo,        beautiful its color.
omire de nioroko,    Moved by drinking,
niyaman bolgo,        the heart is sincere,
35 tunggen onco,        the breast broad.
sebjen bici oyonggo,    It is important for there to be joy.
yaka sure,        Who is wise
yaka moto.        and who is foolish?

Translation Notes

moto. Based on context, this is apparently a form of modo, “foolish.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Poem about Manchus

This poem reflects on the privilege of being Manchu in (presumably) the 19th century, and also casts a jaundiced eye towards Manchu life at the founding of the Qing. Who could be gloomy, the poet asks, when it’s so nice to be Manchu.

manju irgebun [滿洲詩]    A Poem about Manchus
Staatsbibliothek 14.39 (View Online)
baibi ališacuka,    Depressed for no reason?
ede tookabucina,    Let this banish your melancholy.
fukjin neire manju šu,    Manchu culture at the founding of the dynasty,
gūnin suse gisun muwa,    was crude in thought and coarse in speech.
5 giyangnan baici aibini,    If we seek an explanation, what is there?
ulhiljeme gūninja,    Snap out of it and consider:
huwekiyen yendere jalin,    For happiness and prosperity,
se selaci wajiha.    all we do is enjoy the years.

Translation Notes

ulhiljeme. This is ulhi-, “understand,” with a suffix -lje-. This suffix appears in verbs with a meaning of “winding, shaking, twisting,” but also in dekde-lje-mbi, “to start (from fright while sleeping).” I’ve chosen the translation “snap out of it” to convey the idea of coming suddenly and unexpectedly to realization.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The last Plum Blossom poems (for now)

These are the last of the plum blossom poems that I have found so far. Over the last few weeks I have learned that the plum blossoms symbolizes hope for Spring in the dark months of Winter, as well as the harmonizing influence of sweetness that balances salt.

The first is a poem in seven-syllable couplets, with one extra non-rhyming line at the end. The second is to the tune of Black-Naped Oriole.

nenden ilha be kidurengge [憶梅],    Longing for Plum Blossoms
Staatsbibliothek 11.41 (View Online)
nenden ilha atanggi,    When will there be plum blossoms?
emu tolgin kidumbi,    I long for them in a dream.
bolori fon manaha,    The Autumn season is worn out,
tuweri yasai juleri,    Winter is before me.
5ilarangge jing teisu,    Anything blooming just now,
sitahangge ainu ni,    how could it hang on?
dergi edun talihūn,    The east wind is uncertain,
buyan yafan simeli,    humble is my garden, and wretched.
fon toloci erin giyan,    If I count the seasons, the time is right,
10biya bodoci esi bi,    if I calculate the months, it is certain.
ho ging [和靖] sargan aibide,    Where is the wife of Hé Jìng?
hoo žan [浩然] gucu absi,    Whither the friend of Hàorán?
ilha geren secibe,    Though one may speak of many flowers,
gecen fonde ya beki,    which ones are strong enough for the icy season?
15jiki jiki jiki bai.    Come, come, come, please!

nenden ilha    Plum Flower
Staatsbibliothek 11.79 (View Online)
tuweri alin de,    In the winter mountains,
eiten moo,    all the trees,
tuheke,    have lost their leaves.
juhe gecen edede,    Frozen is the ice, (shivers)
5 šeyen boco,    White in color,
nenden bonggo,    the plum is first,
nimanggi de sur sere,    laughing on the snow.
biyai dolo,    From within the moon,
ebunjiheo,    has it descended?
10endurin gege.    Goddess.

Translation Notes

tuweri yasai juleri. The text actually has tuwari, which looks like it could be some form of tuwa-, so I’m not sure if this is a play on words or just a misspelling.

buyan yafan simeli. The use of buyan instead of buya is interesting because it is not motivated by requirements of meter or rhyme. If the author had intended to say “the humble garden is wretched” it would have been fine to say buya hafan simeli. Instead, it seems the writer used the predicate form of the adjective, which you might expect to see in a sentence like hafan buyan “the garden is a humble one,” and lifted it up to the head of the line. I tried to recreate this effect in my translation.

ho ging sargan. Hé Jìng [和靖] was another name for the poet Lín Bū [林逋], who lived the life of a recluse, and was famously said to have taken “the plum tree as his wife and the crane as his son” [以梅为妻,以鹤为子]. Compare the allusion in Jakdan’s poem to gu šan alin where this poet was buried.

hoo žan gucu. Mèng Hàorán [孟浩然] wrote a poem about an early-blooming plum tree in his garden [早梅].

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The ultimate origin of the “tripod” and “harmonizing stew”

I have been suggesting that references to “harmonizing stew” in the last three flowering plum poems indicated a relationship between the poems. After a bit of digging, I have found that the “harmonizing stew” allusion itself has a long history prior to the Qing, so the relationship may not be as close and immediate as I had thought. In the discourse below, the king of Shang uses the term “harmonious stew” when asking Yuè for guidance and teaching:

The Book of Documents, fascicle 10, Book of Shang: Charge of Yuè, part III: The king said, “Come, Yuè [说]. I, the humble one, used to study with Gān Pán [甘盘], then went and lived in the wild and dwelt on the Yellow River [河]. From the river I went to Bó [亳], and yet in the end I have not attained prominence. You, consider my aspirations, as when making sweet wine you consider the yeast, or when making a harmonious stew you consider the salt and prunes. Try to polish me, without giving up, and I will be able to follow your instructions.” 
The prune, of course, is the fruit of the plum tree [梅] whose flower is called nenden ilha in Manchu and is the subject of these poems. It turns out this is connected with the idea of the tripod through an ancient “container-for-the-thing-contained” metonymy, wherein the term 和鼎 can refer to salt and prunes, since these were used by the ancients for flavoring. (Thanks to 漢語大詞典 for this explanation!)

So going back to original poem, I am no longer so confident that the mucihiyan of last lines necessarily hints at authorship by Mucihiyan, the colleague of Jakdan.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Plum Blossoms, to the tune Journey of Youth

[Note--I have updated this post since discovering that references to “harmonious tripods” and “harmonious stew” have long been allusions to the fruit of the plum tree.]

In addition to the Poem on White Plum Blossoms and Jakdan’s Song on Plum Blossoms, there is another plum blossom poem in the Staatsbibliothek material that mentions “harmonizing stew.”

This shorter poem is set to a  style double tune. The poem ends with a reference to a Táng dynasty official named Sòng Guǎngpíng (宋廣平), who was famously described as having “iron intestines and stone heart” (鐵腸石心), but despite this “hard heartedness” once wrote a rhapsody on plum blossoms (梅花賦). This seems to echo the reference to sele gu-i duha do “iron and jade internal organs” of the first poem.

nenden ilha [梅花],    Plum Blossoms
Staatsbibliothek 14.22 (View Online)
tumen wanggai da uju,    Principal among the myriad fragrances,
i esi encu,    of course it stands apart.
juhe canggi,    There is nothing but ice,
gecen niša,    the frost is hard,

nememe luku,

    not only that, but thick.

šasigan hūwaliyambure,    At harmonizing stew
dzaisiyang ben fulu,    the zǎixiàng [宰相] was clever and excellent.
selei niyaman,    An iron heart,
gu-i dere,    and a jade face:
10 sung guwang ping [宋廣平] agu.    Mister Song Guangping

Friday, May 11, 2018

Jakdan’s Take on Plum Blossoms

[Note--I have updated this post since discovering that references to “harmonious tripods” and “harmonious stew” have long been allusions to the fruit of the plum tree.]

The previous poem about plum blossoms ended with a call for the reader to “harmonize the tripod of stew.”

The following poem could be Jakdan’s response to that challenge. Certainly the two poems seem to be related, given the dizzying number of references and phrases they share in common, but further analysis will be necessary to clarify the exact relationship between them.

In this poem, it seems that Jakdan is trying to encourage a dispirited friend, using the image of the flower blooming in the bleak winter, whose appearance betokens the coming of Spring, as a reminder that dark times will pass.

nenden ilha be irgebuhe ucun    A Song on Plum Blossoms
Jakdan 8.16
nenden ilha ai colo,    What shall we call the plum blossom?
lo fuo endurin gege,    The fairy lady of Luofu.
tuweri forgon-i tuwabun,    In a winter scene,
tumen ilha-i bonggo,    the first of the myriad flowers.
5abai silenggi aga,    Where is the dew and the rain?
niša nimanggi juhe,    Heavy are the snow and the ice.
tuwaci hūwantahūn hada,    When I look, barren are the crags,
šaci olhoho holo,    when I gaze, dry are the valleys,
yaya ilha layapi,    every flower has withered,
10eiten orho soroko,    and all the grass has yellowed,
geren bujan niohušun,    the many forests are naked,
erei teile injehe,

    but this alone is smiling.

butui fangšaha wangga,    A dark, smoky fragrance,
tumin šahūri boco,    a deep, frigid color,
15gecehengge ten beikuwen,    what has frozen is so cold,
ilakangge jing hojo,    what has bloomed is suddenly lovely,
selei cikten sargiyakan,    the iron tree trunks are sparse,
šušu dasiha niokso,    a purple covering of lichen,
simacuka udu da,    though solitary its origin,
20dulembuhe aniya fe,    the years it has experienced are ancient,
gengge gangga simeli,    wandering alone, spartan,
hūwanta alin-i hošo,    at the edges of the empty mountains,
gaksi manggai bulehen,    with only a crane for companion,
emgi yaka cecike,    and no other bird.
25buru bara biyai elden,    The hazy light of the moon,
bolgo micihiyan muke,    the clean shallow water,
yadan nimalan hailan,    the exhausted mulberry and elm,
niyere toro foyoro,    the weak peach and plum,
ilan šahūrun gucu,    three cold friends,
30jakdan mailasun cuse,    the pine, cypress and bamboo,
nimanggi-i sasari,    together with the snow,
niyengniyeri be meljere,

    striving towards Spring.

terei da banin kulu,    Its fundamental nature is strong,
teni emhun enteke,    that is why it is solitary like this.
35ioi ling antu halukan,    The south slope of Yuling is warm,
tuttu nenden fushuhe,    so the plum blossoms have burst open,
yuwan lu jidun soningga,    The north slope of Yuanlu is interesting,
gu šan alin gebungge,    Gūshān [孤山] is renowned,
ho hiowen dergi asari,    The eastern tower of Hexuan,
40inu gebu tucike,    has also become famous.
lu k'ai mukei jugūn ci,    From the road of the Lukai water,
benjihengge hon yobo,    what was brought is quite amusing.
bayan wesihun hafan,    An official of honor and wealth,
tuwaki seci ai šolo,

    wants to see it but has no free time.

45giru gulu de fulu,    In form it is full of innocence,
yangse saikan ci moco,    unskilled at looks and beauty,
banjitai uttu hican,    so frugal by nature,
ainahai tuttu oilo,

    but not so on the outside.

jalan an-i asari,    The tower of the Order of the World,
50saha niyalma geli we,    who still knows of it?
aika niyengniyeri erin,    If everyone is groaning
niyalma tome eyoyo,    for Springtime,
hūwaliyambure šasigan,    it is fair to set for them
terei tebuhe tondo,

    a harmonizing stew.

55kuri kari hacingga,    Dappled and spotted,
yaka šahūrun bongko,    with whatever cold buds,
manggai erere aga,    and the earnestly hoped-for rain,
geli gelere bono,    and also the feared hail,
edun fulgiyeme jaka,    as the wind blows it,
60teci biretei mokto,

    but when it settles, everything is bare.

yasa tuwahai wajiha,    I have seen it with my own eyes,
emu tolgin kumungge,    a dream that is lively.
tuttu wesihun saisa,    Thus, honored gentleman
nenden ilha nioroko,    the plum blossoms have appeared.
65geren wangga gurun de,    In all the countries of fragrance,
erei teile encungge,    this alone is different.
uthai yadahūn saisa,    Just so the poor gentleman,
jalan akdun-i gese,    with the strength of the world,
taifin erin somitai,    hiding away in times of peace,
70mohon fonde serehe,    has appeared in the season of depletion.
banjinjiha baitangga,    A useful one who has come to be born,
tucikede oyonggo,    his coming forth is important.
enduri-i fun beye,    Just like a god,
damu yoo cy-i omo,    only to Yaochi lake,
75wasibume ebufi,    he was sent down, he descended,
jalan tuwakū ojoro,    and takes on a worldly aspect.
ede ucun arafi,    For him I have made a song,
akūmbume henduhe,    and completely recited it.
erin tuwabun serenggeo,    Do we speak of seasons and scenes?
80šumin mujilen noho,    It conceals a deeper thought.
erei adali oci,    If this is similar to it,
yabun hamimbi dere.    I think I have done well enough.

Translation Notes

tumin šahūri boco. I cannot find šahūri in my dictionaries, but I think it must be connected with šahūrun, “cold.”

šušu dasiha niokso. For niokso Norman has a form of algae found on the surface of water, but given the context I think this must refer to lichen on the bark of trees or something similar.

gu šan alin. This seems to be a reference to Gūshān [孤山], where the poet Lín Bū [林逋] was buried. Lín Bū was famously said to have taken “the plum tree as his wife and the crane as his son” [以梅为妻,以鹤为子].

Tuesday, May 8, 2018

A Poem on White Plum Blossoms, possibly by Mucihiyan?

In Manchu, the plum blossom is called nenden ilha, “first flower,” apparently because it blooms before other flowers. Like the earlier Flowers to the tune of the Black-Naped Oriole, this poem associates the flower with a spirit from White Jade Terrace (瑤台).

The imagery of the poem is wonderful, but also interesting are the concluding lines:

agu sinde ai fulu / cingkai minde ala se / mucihiyan-i šasigan / hūwaliyambure!
“Brother, what have you to add? By all means, tell me. Harmonize with this tripod of stew.”

The word for “tripod” here is mucihiyan, which is also the name of Mucihiyan Ioi Fan, a collaborator of Jakdan who translated at least three essays on Chinese poetry into Manchu (see here, here and here). It seems like we could understand these last lines to be Mucihiyan inviting his reader to respond to his poem, which he refers to humorously as a “stew.”. [Edit: see the later post on harmonious stew, which shows that references to tripods and harmonious stew are ancient allusions to the prunes that are the fruit of this tree. It is still possible that this poem is by Mucihiyan, but the case is not so clear.]

In the Staatsbibliothek manuscript this poem is not written in Mucihiyan’s distinctive hand, so if he was the original author then the SB text is a copy made by someone else.

šanyan nenden ilha be irgebuhengge    A Poem on White Plum Blossoms
Staatsbibliothek 14.15 (View Online)
tuweri beikuwen edede,    Brrrr...the winter cold
moo anan-i gecehe,    has frosted tree after tree,
juhe nimanggi canggi [extra tooth],    nothing but ice and snow
edun gecen kejine,

    and wind and frost for a long time.

5 damu yoo tai [瑤台] endurin,    But the fairy of White Jade Terrace,
utulihekūi gese,    as though unaware of it,
gengge gangga durungga,    takes form, wandering alone,
nitan hican murungge,    takes shape, spartan and frugal,
hojo saikan banin wen,    beautiful and lovely in appearance,

sele gu-i duha do,

    with iron and jade internal organs.

gecuhun-i ucaran,    The frost is met with
halukan-i mejige,    tidings of warmth.
šahūrun-i hesebun,    The fate of the cold,
niyengniyeri-i šošonggo,

    is to conclude with Spring.

15 hūwanta kenggehun alin,    In the bare and empty mountains,
genggiyen micihiyan muke,    the bright shallow water,
ilha umai ai akū,    not a flower at all
emhun ilaka teile,    but one alone has bloomed.
bolokon-i wa wangga,    A clean fragrant scent,
20jenduken-i wen wengge,    a secret refined influence,
buya bongko fulhuren,    tiny sprouting buds
amba hafun todolo,    an omen of great passage.
bocoi falan ya nenden,    In the realm of color, what is first?
wanggai gurun-i bonggo,    In the country of fragrance it is chief.
25 lo foo [羅浮] tolgin-i saisa,    The gentleman of the dream of Luófú,
biya-i fejile gege,    a lady beneath the moon,
beye giru buruhun,    dim of body and form,
juru akū ten hojo,    peerless in its high beauty.
agu sinde ai fulu,    Brother, what have you to add?
30cingkai minde ala se,    By all means tell me.
mucihiyan-i šasigan,    With this tripod of stew
hūwaliyambure.    harmonize!

Translation Notes

šošonggo. This word normally means “having a chignon” or “shaped like a chignon,” but in this case I think it must be connected with the word šošombi, “to compile; to summarize,” and I think the meaning is that the cold is destined to come to an end with Spring.

Friday, May 4, 2018

Praying Mantis

This is the fourth in the series of poems on lowly creatures set to the Double Tune Celebrating the Sacred Dynasty. Like Dragonfly, this one seems to show a kind of admiration for the subject at the beginning, but true to the form it ends with disparaging lines.

heliyen [螳螂]    Praying Mantis
Staatsbibliothek 11.40 (View Online)
bi tuwaci,    To me, it looks
baturu kiyangkiyan,    heroic and intrepid.
tede sejen muheren,    It has a cart and wheels,
minde suhe arhacan,    I have an axe and halberd,

geli ai yadan.

    still, it is not dismayed.

bai gūni,    Just think!
ergen hairakan,    Its strength is pitiable,
fahūn mekele amba,    its courage irrationally great,
beye umesi uyan,    its body very thin,
10banin oilohon.    its appearance ridiculous.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Dragonfly, to the Double Tune Celebrating the Sacred Dynasty

The dragonfly is called a “needle thief” in Manchu. (In 2008 I heard this name still being used by Sibe people in Cabcal). It is a lowly creature, but unlike Frogs and Autumn Cicada, the poet is sympathetic to this beautiful little insect, and saves the apparently mandatory disparaging last lines for children who play with dragonflies while they are mating.

ulme hūlhatu [蜻蜓]    Dragonfly
Staatsbibliothek 11.39 (View Online)
gebu ai,    What is its name?
ulme hūlhatu,    Needle thief.
niowanggiyan yasa beiduri,    Eyes of green sapphire,
šanyan ashan bolosu,    wings of white glass,
5banjitai encu.

    unusual by nature.

deyeci,    When flying,
daruhai emu,    often, if the single ones
holbon juru latuci,    hook up in mating pairs
buya jusei efiku,    they become the playthings of little brats.
10koro suisiru.    May sorrow and misery befall them!

Translation Notes

buya juse. I chose the translation “little brats” because of the negative connotation implied by the word buya.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Jakdan’s Song on Lotus Flowers

Jakdan engaged in clever wordplay, both in his translations and in his own poetry. I doubt I will ever have the subtlety or refinement to see all of his clever plays, but sometimes I catch one.

The lotus flower is called šu ilha in Manchu, and Jakdan opens his song by asking why this is. He follows by saying that the flower is dignified in its color and elegant in its appearance, alluding to the meaning of the word šu as “culture” or “refinement.”

Interestingly, like the two flower poems from SB 11, Jakdan makes a reference to the “yang spirit” (fayangga) of the flower.

šu ilha be irgebuhe ucun    A Song on Lotus Flowers
Jakdan 8.17
ilhai gebu šu sembi,    The flower is named “Lotus,”
ere yala ai turgun,    and indeed, why is this?
ambalinggū boco fiyan,    Dignified is its bright color,
fujurungga banin wen,

    elegant its appearance.

5emte darhūwa emteli,    Each stalk is solitary,
yaka faju ya siren,    with neither fork nor tendril.
cikten emhun ilingga,    The stem stands alone,
geli yaka nikebun,

    and without a support.

niohokon-i saracan,    A green parasol,
10abdaha-i muheliyen,    is the roundness of the leaf.
fulgiyakan-i fiyentehe,    The pink petals,
jaksan icehe tumin,

    deeply stained with the color of dawn clouds.

nantuhūn ci banjifi,    It grows from the filth,
aide heni nantuhūn,    but where has it the least bit of filth?
15usihin de šekehei,    It’s submerged in wetness,
aide heni usihin,    but where is it the least bit of wet?
boihon muke fosofi,    Though sprinkled with earth and water,
aide heni icebun,    where is it contaminated at all?
šun-i fiyakiyan fiyakiyahai,    Though exposed to the burning sun,
20aide heni lalahūn,    where is it the least bit wilted?
mukei siden de bifi,    Being in the midst of the water,
abai buraki hukun,

    where is its dust and soil?

colo ambasa saisa,    Its nickname, to wise gentlemen,
muke biya-i guwan ši yen,    is Guanyin of the Water and Moon.
25ere ilhai fayangga,    The spirit of this flower
yoo cy omoi endurin,    is the fairy of Yaochi lake.
fusai amaga beye,    The incarnation of a bodhisattva,
iceburakū banin,

    its uncontaminated body.

boihon sahaliyan seme,    Though the soil is black,
30banjiha de hon šeyen,    what grows from it is so white.
lifagan ci faššahai,    Bestirring itself from the mud,
watai baibuha hūsun,    with a strength to kill for,
colgoropi ja waka,    Imposing, not ordinary,
ten gosihon mujilen,    an exalted and compassionate heart.
35saisai mujingga gese,    Strong-willed like a hero,
šadacuka suilacun,

    tiring are its labors.

yanggar sere mudan ai,    What is that resounding tune?
ilha gurure ucun,    A flower-gathering song.
saikan gege kejine,    Many pretty ladies,
40sasa nioboro efin,    together in deep green play,
hojo gilha inenggi,    on a beautiful clear day,
yala kumunggai tenggin,

    truly a sea of melody.

geren fucihi teku,    Seating for a crowd of Buddhas,
suman dolo getuken,    is discernible in the mist,
45goro tuwaci oihori,    splendid when seen from afar,
hanci šari felehun,    shining and brash up close.
jortai wangga benjihei,    Pretending to carry its fragrance,
yobo arara edun,

    the wind plays around.

šu ilha be jonoci,    If one reflects upon the lotus blossom,
50wajin akū-i sain,    it is infinitely good.
taka joringga gaifi,    This creation in the Manchu language
manjurara banjibun,    takes it as the theme of the moment,
emu tookabure ton,    a diverting enumeration
irgebuhe muwa gisun,    of crude words of verse.
55gisun cinggiya bicibe    Though the words are superficial,
gūnin mujakū šumin,    the idea is extremely deep.
agu cincilame tuwa,    Brother, scrutinize
erei baktaka jorin.    the meaning this contains.

Translation Notes

yaka faju ya siren. This is structured like a rhetorical question, “Which fork? What tendril?” But as we can see in the second line of Jakdan’s translation of the Ever-Turning Horse Lantern, this type of rhetorical question can be used to simply convey that something is not, e.g. “there is neither fork nor tendril.”

gosihon mujilen. For gosihon Norman has “bitter; miserable,” and the Qianlong dictionary says that it refers to extremely pitiful grieving and weeping. Norman often commented on the semantic connection between this word and gosin, “pity; mercy; love,” and indeed we see gosingga with the meaning of compassionate, so I think it is not completely untenable to translate this as “compassionate heart.” The Qianlong dictionary also says gosihon can refer literally to a bitter flavor, in which case I wonder if this could also refer to the bitter germ of the lotus seed.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Three poems to The One Part Tune

There are three poems in SB 11 set to a tune called The One Part Tune (一半兒調). These short poems describe their subject and conclude with a line summarizing its attractive qualities as made of “one part this and one part that.”

[春] tuwabun    Spring Scene
Staatsbibliothek 11.69 (View Online)
niyengniyeri fiyan hojo ya,    The colors of spring are pretty, oh,
tuwabun sabugan ba ba,    everywhere the scenes and the sights,
cecikei wei ilhai wa,    the calls of birds and the scent of flowers.
amtangga,    What is appealing:
5dulin donji dulin tuwa.    It’s one part “listen” and one part “look”!

toro ilha [桃花]    Peach Blossoms
Staatsbibliothek 11.70 (View Online)
toro ilha hon fiyangga,    Peach blossoms, so colorful,
saikan gege-i cira,    the face of a beautiful lady,
fiyan fiyen hojo de wangga,    a perfume on the beauty of rouge.
soningga,    The novelty is:
5 dulin boco dulin wa.    It’s one part color, one part fragrance!

gefehe [蝴蝶]    Butterfly
Staatsbibliothek 11.71 (View Online)
urhu haihū gefehe,    Staggering butterfly,
goiman dedenggi yangse,    charming, frivolous form,
ilha baime šodoro,    galloping off after flowers.
hon yobo,    What is so amusing:
5 dulin gakda dulin juwe.    It’s one part single, one part double.

Translation Notes:

cecikei wei. I infer the meaning of “calls” for wei based on the last line of the poem, but I don’t find this term in my dictionaries.

fiyan fiyen. This pair also came up in Flowers. The word fiyan means “color” and fiyen means “powder.” Together I think these must refer to makeup or rouge.

dulin gakda dulin juwe. I suppose this means that the butterfly is, in one sense a single creature, but with its two broad wings also a double creature.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Autumn Cicada, another grumpy poem

This poem is the second in the series of poems about lowly life forms, set to the tune Double Tune Celebrating the Sacred Dynasty, which included the Frogs of the last post.

Interestingly, the line jooci jooki bai suggests that the poem is directed at the cicadas, rather than being a complaint to a sympathetic listener. Verbiest explains the -ki suffix as follows (translation by Pentti, 1977): “When we are speaking to our equals or superiors, however, we have to add the suffix -ki to the second person imperative in order to express and invitation and not a command.”

bingsiku [秋涼兒]    Autumn Cicada
Staatsbibliothek 11.38 (View Online)
eimede,    Repugnant!
jamarangge ai,    What is this commotion?
arkan teni nakafi,    You barely stop and then,
baji geli hūlahai,    soon you are calling again.

jaci muritai.

    How stubborn!

eyoyo,    Ugh.
jooci jooki bai,    If you’re going to stop, then please just stop!
erin hahi dulekei,    As the hours rushed by,
geli ainu bošohoi,    why did you drive them on?
10dembei yangšan kai.    You’re so exceedingly noisy!

Translation Notes:

eyoyo. I could not find this one in dictionaries, but from context I think it is most likely onomatopoeia for a groaning noise.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Frogs, an unhappy poem to a suspicious tune

SB 11 has a group of four poems that take lowly forms of life as their subjects: Frogs, Cicadas, Dragonflies and Praying Mantises. Each of these poems casts the subject in a negative light, as in the poem below, where the frogs keep the poet awake all night with their incessant noise.

These four works are all set to a tune called Double Tune Celebrating the Sacred Dynasty (双調賀聖朝). There is a  tune attested in the Táng, Sòng and Yuán with a similar name (examples of which can be found on Sou-Yun).

wakšan [蝦蟇]    Frogs
Staatsbibliothek 11.37 (View Online)
dobonio,    All night,
ulu wala ya,    oh, the murmuring,
kunggur kunggur gūwaššame,    the grumbling, rumbling, throbbing,
corgin corgin kaicara,    the chattering, nattering, shouting

mudan hahiba.

    in rapid tones.

fuhali,    It seems like
tungken urangga,    the resonance of drums
jilgan uhei šašahai,    sounding all together
tolgin gemu tookaka,    have delayed all my dreams.
10jaci ubiyada.    So very detestable!

Monday, April 23, 2018

Flowers, to the tune of the Black-Naped Oriole

There is some kind of dialog between the Black-Naped Oriole poems in SB 11 and the Wind in the Pines poems that follow them. The Black-Naped Oriole poems are fun-loving, while the Wind in the Pines poems use many of the same words and themes to produce a more profound and bittersweet effect.

The following is the Black-Naped Oriole pair to the poem in my earlier post about A Flower. The last line of a Black-Naped Oriole poem often has a surprising twist on the theme of the poem, and this one is a good example of that. After describing flowers in glowing terms, the poet ends by suggesting the scene might be strange and unearthly.

ilha [花]    Flowers
Staatsbibliothek 11.6 (View Online)
hojo fayangga,    Beautiful spirits
yoo tai [瑤台] ci,    from White Jade Terrace
wasika,    descended.
booci jalan šanggaha,    From that home, finishing in this world,
5hocikon sasa,    lovely together,
gincihiyan baba,    shining everywhere,
fiyangga fiyan jai,    a flush blush and
wangga wa,    a fragrant scent.
agu tuwa,    Brother, look,
10kumungge ten –    the height of festivity –
hode faijuma.    perhaps it is unearthly.

Translation Notes

yoo tai. Yaotai is an abode of immortals. My translation of 瑶 as “white jade” comes from the fact that 瑶 can mean, by extension, brilliantly and purely white (zdic: 光明洁白).

faijuma. The word faijuma apparently has a negative connotation. The Qianlong dictionary explains it as follows: baita hacin sain akū jalin jobošome hendumbihede faijuma sembi, “When people talk about being distressed by things and affairs that are not good, they use the word faijuma.” I think the poet does not mean to say that flowers are creepy or unsettling, but at the same time I think he doesn’t want the reader to be completely comfortable with these strange and beautiful things that seem to have descended from some other realm.

Saturday, April 21, 2018

A Song on Forsythia to the tune of Wind in the Pines

About 18 of the SBJ poems are about flowers. I’ve previously posted A Chrysanthemum at the End and A Flower, which used the aging flower to talk about human life. In A Song on Forsythia the flower is still used to talk about people, but in a different way.

The name okdori ilha could refer to forsythia or winter jasmine, both yellow flowers that bloom in late Winter or early Spring. This poem showers the flower with backhanded praise, acknowledging its beauty but deriding its simplicity and eagerness.

okdori ilha-i [迎春花] uculen    A Song on Forsythia
Staatsbibliothek 14.4 (View Online)
manggai buyasi sure,    Merely simpleminded,
sahiba teile,    only fawning,
niyengniyeri de tosohoi,    as it ambushes Spring,
bucetei saišabume,    and flatters it to death.
5 guwele mele saikan,    Furtively, stealthily pretty,
dede dada hojo,

    frivolously lovely.

dembei dedenggi boco,    The silliest color,
baibi gicuke,    simply disgraceful,
halukan ici kani,    in league with the warm weather,
10te uthai kūwasa cokto,    so now boastful and arrogant,
banjitai oilohon,    superficial by nature,
funiyagan ajige.    of little forbearance.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

A Flower, to the tune of Wind in the Pines

A lot of the SBJ poems are about flowers. Since it’s now Spring, it seems appropriate to start working on some of these. This one is in the same style as Wind and Snow, which use the tune Wind in the Pines and make heavy use of alliteration.

This poem uses many different words for “beautiful,” and in teasing out the different nuances I benefited enormously from being able to look up these terms in Hu Zengyi and Qianlong through the online dictionary at buleku.org.

The first stanza talks about the fresh blooming of a flower, and the second stanza talks about the flower’s decline, a powerful contrast reminiscent of the Moon. This flower was young and shapely once, the center of attention for a cloud of butterflies, but then fades, and longs for that former desire when all the admirers have gone away.

All of the SB poems are anonymous, and perhaps we will never know who wrote them, but the SB 11 poems to the tune of Wind in the Pines seem very sympathetic to the emotional lives of women, and I wonder if we will ever learn that the poet was a woman.

ilha [花],    A Flower
Staatsbibliothek 11.18 (View Online)
ice icebuhengge,    A new thing stained,
boconggo boco,    with colorful colors,
fiyangga fiyan fiyen, wangga wa,    a flush blush and rouge, a fragrant scent, 
yangsanggai yaya yangse,    every shape is shapely,
5hojo kai hocikon,    lovely, indeed, and beautiful,
yebken ni yebcungge.

    fine, oh, and striking.

geren gemu gefehe,    All settled and thick
noroko noho,    with butterflies.
fayangga ai farapi,    But alas, the spirit faints away,
10buyenin buyecuke,    the desire is longed for,
tuhen tuhekede,    when what falls has fallen,
gegese genehe.    and the ladies have gone.

Translation Notes

boconggo boco and fiyangga fiyan fiyen. While boconggo and fiyangga may seem to be nearly the same in meaning, in poetry it seems like the latter is used more often to describe bright pink, orange and red colors, like autumn trees, sunsets and a person’s complexion, while the former is used more broadly. The Qianlong Manchu dictionary gives cira boco sain, beye ambalinggū be fiyangga sembi, “A good color of the face, or a stalwart body, are called fiyangga.” I chose “flush blush” as my translation for fiyangga fiyan to reflect this nuance.

hojo kai hocikon and yebken ni yebcungge. For these words Norman gives a set of overlapping meanings in the range of cute, attractive, likable, beautiful. A look at the Qianlong dictionary suggests that the former represents a specifically feminine type of beauty, as hehesi umesi hocikon be hojo sembi, “when women are very beautiful (hocikon) it is called hojo.” It is tempting to assume the latter is a more masculine type of beauty, but that is almost certainly not the case. Hu Zengyi gives an example sargan jui i arbun yebken saikan bisire fon i adali, “like the time when a girl’s appearance is yebken and saikan.” QL gives us getuken dacun niyalma be yebken sembi, “a lucid and shrewd person is called yebken.”

Sunday, January 28, 2018

In Praise of Snow, by Jakdan

Jakdan’s poems tend to be longer than the Staatsbibliothek poems, and full of literary allusions that need to be tracked down, so they are not easy to work on. This one has taken a few weekends to complete, and in the end I needed the help of my Manchu reading group to understand parts of it—and even then I am not to certain about parts of it.

Like the earlier Snow poem that was set to the tune of Wind in the Pines, this one invokes the imagery of scales falling from dragons fighting in the sky. This imagery is used in Chinese poetry at least as far back as the late Sòng or early Míng, as in these lines by Yè Yóng (葉顒):

庚子雪中十二律 其十一    Number 11 of 12 Poems amid the Snow of the Year 1120
攪碎銀河戰玉龍,    Breaking up the Milky Way, jade dragons are fighting,
紛紜鱗甲舞天風。    many scattered scales dance on the wind of Heaven.
江山浩浩芳塵逺,    Fragrant powder is spread far over vast rivers and mountains,
宇宙茫茫醉眼空。    the boundless universe makes the eyes drunk with emptiness.
春老不香雲樹裏,    The bygone Spring no longer perfumes the clouds and trees,
鶴歸無影月明中。    the cranes return without a shadow in the brightness of the moon.
霜橋驢背尋詩罷,    On the frosty bridge, a donkey carries what will end my poem:
自爇寒爐榾柮紅。    Red kindling and wood to fire my cold stove.

Jakdan’s poem below mentions a lady Daoyun, who must be the Eastern Jìn female poet Xiè Dàoyùn (謝道蘊). Her uncle Xiè Ān is supposed to have been talking with his nieces and nephews about similes that could describe the flying snow, when Xiè Lǎng said “One could more or less compare it to ‘salt sprinkled in the sky’” (撒鹽空中差可擬). At this, Xiè Dàoyùn responded, “That’s not as good as ‘catkins rising on the wind’” (未若柳絮因風起).

The poem also references Lan Kiyoo, perhaps the “Blue Bridge” mentioned in the following lines from Táng poet Yuán Zhěn (元稹). In this poem, the ‘flour market’ describes a village dusted with snow. Thanks to Keith Dede and Steve Wadley for helping me understand the that the ‘flour market’ in this poem describes a village dusted with snow.

西歸絕句十二首 其十一

    Number 11 of 12 Quatrains on Returning West
雲覆藍橋雪滿溪,    Clouds cover Blue Bridge and snow fills the creek,
須臾便與碧峰齊。    suddenly it has become like the jade peaks.
風回麵市連天合,    The wind returns, and the ‘flour market’ melds into the sky,
凍壓花枝著水低。    encasing ice presses the blooming branches down under water.

I have not yet been able to track down the Yan Qi of line 23.

nimanggi be maktahangge    In Praise of Snow
Jakdan 8.12
nimanggi kai nimanggi,    Snow, it’s snow!
terei tucin aibici,    Where does it come from?
geli ilhai moo akū,    There are no flowering trees,
ainu fiyentehe canggi,    how can there be petals on their own?
5mere juhe nicuhe,    Ice pearls like grains of buckwheat,
labsan suku inggari,    snowflake fuzz on the thickets.
beri beri samsitai,    They sprinkle bit by bit,
siran siran urkuji,    one after the other without interruption,
buru bara bitele,    till everything is hazy,
10šanyan šeyen bengneli,    then suddenly white, pure white,
ekisakai singkeyen,    and quietly frigid.
jalutala šarapi,    Everything is full of white,
tugi sisere manda,    and the clouds sift slowly,
edun bošoro hahi,    but the wind presses them on.
15šeyen muduri aise,    Perhaps it is as though white dragons
becunure adali,    are fighting each other,
maka esihe huru,    maybe their scaly shells,
gari mari garjafi,    have been broken asunder,
hūrgirengge hon garsa,    and their nimble spinning,
20maksihangge ten faksi,    their skilled dancing,
tuweri erin-i ferguwen,    are the auspicious sign of winter time,
bayan aniya-i serki,

    the harbinger of a rich year.

saisa yan ki-i dalba,    The scholar next to the Yan Qi,
amban lan kiyoo-i ergi,    the official beside the Blue Bridge,
25yaka boode deduhei,    Someone who has passed the night at home,
eici guyoo fehumbi,    now may tread on green jasper.
ba na heni ni akū,    There isn’t even the slightest bit of ground,
ne je amba gu bini,    right now it is just a giant jadestone,
gehun gahūn bolokon,    shining bright and clear.
30aide toron buraki,    Where is the dust and grime?
acan ninggun giyalan juwe,    The whole universe and both realms,
bolgomire samadi,    is locked in fasting meditation,
niša soninggai tuwabun,    an intensely interesting scene,
gu-i efin unenggi,

    a game of jade made real.

35erei muke cai fuifu,    Boil its water to make tea,
abkai wa su be omi,    and drink the scent and gusts of Heaven.
terei jafu nisihai,    With his directive,
tondo amban-i empi,    the nonsense of a loyal minister,
murui duibulen hojo,    [produced] a beautiful simile,
40doo yūn tere gege i,    [from] lady Daoyun herself,
gubci jalan saišacun,    and the praise of the whole world:
šuwe gūwa akū damu si,

    Only you are utterly peerless.

šumin sahangge fe ya,    Deep knowledge is ancient, oh,
niorokongge manggai bi,    what is profound is difficult to attain.
45tanggū jeku-i simen,    The essence of a hundred foods,
tumen ilha-i šugi,    the nectar of ten thousand flowers,
jing cak sere šahūrun,    is presently freezing cold,
emhulehe niyengniyeri,    and the Spring season which lays claim to them,
nenden ilha gaibuha,    has made the plum flower take them,

maise antaka kesi,

    and shown such mercy to the grain.

juhe secen-i gucu,    Friends of ice and frost,
tugi aga-i fusi,    under clouds and rain,
gaha bulehen duwali,    are the confederation of crows and cranes
jakdan cuse-i hoki,

    and the society of pines and bamboo.

55na-i dolo a weihun,    Yang is alive in the earth,
ba-i oilo e fempi,    and yin envelopes the land,
fuserengge jing luku,    thick in its propagation,
gingkarangge hon beki,    very powerful in its stifling grip,
ton akū-i sain ba,    but numberless are its good points,
60šošorongge hoošan fi,    what it heaps up are paper and brushes.
saikan kai nimanggi.    Beautiful, indeed, is snow.

Translation Difficulties

mere juhe nicuhe. This is more of an observation than a difficulty. Norman has mere nimanggi, “snow that has frozen into small beads the size of a grain of buckwheat.” I think that must be what is intended here.

tugi sisere manda. Literally it seems like this means “the sifting of the clouds is slow.” Though this line feels unnatural to me (why not tugi mandai sisembi?), I suppose the poet chose this phrasing to parallel the next line, edun bošoro hahi.

acan ninggun giyalan juwe. This feels like a calque of a Chinese chéngyǔ, but I can’t find the exact original. There is 六合之内, “all within the universe,” and it’s easy to imagine a coordinate phrase like *六合二世, so that is how I have read it for now.

terei jafu nisihai / tondo amban-i empi. These lines present multiple alternate readings, and in the end I’m not convinced I have found the right one, but what I have here makes more sense than the others I have tried.

  • jafu may mean “directive” or “blanket.” I originally wanted to read this as “blanket” to parallel the prior couplet, thinking that tea and a blanket would make a pair of comforting elements in winter. However, with that reading I couldn’t make sense of the whole couplet, so I abandoned it in favor of “directive.” Given the word-play that Jakdan has engaged in elsewhere, it is possible he intended both meanings simultaneously.
  • empi. This word is attested with the meaning of “artemesia,” but what is the “artemesia of a loyal minister?” Tom Larsen suggested the reading of “nonsense” for empi, based on empirembi, “to speak nonsense,” which looks like it could be formed from a noun like *empi(n), together with the deverbal morpheme -rA that appears in words like gisurembi < gisun, nikarambi < nikan, manjurambi < manju. Since “nonsense” and “directive” both fit into the semantic domain of spoken things, I decided to use that reading.
  • tondo amban. This is not a translation problem so much as a problem of reference: Who is the loyal minister? Since the following couplets refer to Xiè Dàoyùn, perhaps this refers to her uncle Xiè Ān, and maybe the “directive” is the one he gave to his nieces and nephews to produce similes for snow.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Sled

I’ve been laboring over a Jakdan poem on snow, but needed to take a break, so here’s another fun Staatsbibliothek poem. As it happens, this weekend I went sledding in the mountains, so it’s seasonally quite appropriate.

This poem is composed of four couplets with seven-syllable lines and an A-rhyme. The sled portrayed in this poem seems to have wooden struts (mooi bangtu) and iron runners (selei siren), perhaps something like the sleds shown in the image below, which comes from an article at kaiwind.com.

huncu [冰床] be irgebuhengge    Verses on the Sled
Staatsbibliothek 14.2 (View Online)
sejen jahūdai waka    Neither cart nor boat,
mukei oilo icangga,    but comfortable on the surface of the water.
tecenduci jalupi    We sat together and filled it up,
yaburede hahiba    and when we went it was quick.
5 mooi bangtu garsa nio    Aren’t the wooden struts clever?
selei siren nilhūn ya    The iron runners are slick indeed!
jugūn akū yun akū    With neither road nor track,
elemangga hafu ja.    it nonetheless gets through easily.