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.

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