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 fierce strength.
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,    The wind plays around,
yobo arara edun,

    pretending to carry its fragrance.

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

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.”