Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Asking of Heaven, a lament composed during the Taiping rebellion?

This song laments a dark and bloody time during which the government was ineffective, the troops unfed, bandits proliferated, and neither the gods nor the buddhas would respond to calls for help.

It echoes the same themes as the Lament on the State of the Times, and while neither song mentions anything concrete that relates to a specific time period, there are a number of hints that suggest (to me, anyway) that this refers to the Taiping rebellion, one of the bloodiest civil wars in history. For example:
  • There is a clear feeling of betrayed religious faith the poem, daring to ask Heaven to explain itself, complaining that the gods are useless and the buddhas don’t care. It seems this could reflect the poet’s emotional response to the military successes of the alien religion of the Taiping rebellion.
  • This lament begs Heaven to “let the proper places of father and mother be in true balance,” which seems like it could be a response to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’s declaration that the sexes were equal.
  • This lament asks “Where are goods and property now?” This seems like it could be a response to the Taiping abolition of private property.

abka de fonjire ucun [問天歌]    A Song Asking of Heaven
Staatsbibliothek 4.4 (View Online)
abkai gūnin be dacilara.    I  will inquire of Heaven’s mind,
ai turgun be muten ala.    empower me by telling me the reason.
banjirede amuran.    The love of life
abka na-i giyan giyangga,    is the proper order of Heaven and Earth.
5tumen jaka serengge,    The myriad things
abka na-i juse dasu,    are the children of Heaven and Earth.
abka na oci    Heaven and Earth are
     tumen jaka-i ama aja,         the mother and father of the myriad things,
geren ergengge-i wesihungge,    they raised up the many living beings,
niyalmai teile dabala,    not only us human beings,
10urunderahū seme,    but they fear that we should become hungry,
tuttu banjiha jeku bele fulu,    so there are grains and food in plenty,
beyeburahū seme,    and fear that we might freeze,
tuttu mutuha kubun kima niša,    so there are cotton and hemp in profusion,
eture hacin,    and things to wear:
15jodon hiyaban cece ceri    garments of grass, hemp, gauze, netting,
     boso suje-i adu,         cloth and silk.
jetere jaka    and things to eat:
handu šušu turi    rice, sorghum, beans,
     maise ira mere-i buda,         wheat, millet and buckwheat.
fusu fasa tugi aga,    Clouds and rain rush by,
kete kata šun biya,    the sun and moon roll on,
20šahūrun halhūn-i ujire,    nurturing us through cold and heat,
edun akjan-i hūwašara,    raising us through wind and thunder.
aikan faikan jilaka,    They adored us as adorable things,
uttu tuttu gosiha,

    this way and that way they loved us.

te oci ajaja,    But now, oh,
25ai uttu gūwaliyaka,    how things have changed.
mujakū oshon,    Truly cruel,
umesi kiriba,    very barbaric.
ehengge,    Evil
kesingge,    is treated as a blessing,
30saingge,    Good
suingga,    is treated as harmful.
hūlha holo yendengge,    Robbers and thieves are on the rise,
nomhon sain susaka,    honesty and goodness perish.
boigon hethe te aibi,    Where are goods and property now?
35beye ergen bai waliya,    Cast away our bodies and lives,
usin yafan šuwe akū.    the fields and gardens are utterly gone.
menggun jiha ne aba,

    Where are silver and cash now?

haha hehe,    Men and women,
asiha sakda,    children and the elderly,
40fifaka fosoko,    are scattered hither and thither,
jailaha ukaka,    they have hidden and they have fled.
senggi eyepi,    Blood has flowed
giran iktaka,    and corpses piled up.
tumen boo-i ehe [凶] so [兆],    Evil omens on ten thousand households,
45tanggū ba-i wahūn wa,    a foul stench for a hundred miles,
geren irgen ai weile,    but what crime did the people commit?
sui akū de sui mangga,

    It is an injustice on those who did no harm.

jiyanggiyūn amban coohai dade,    Among the generals, officials and soldiers,
arga bodon eden tongga,    plans and calculations are poor and few.
50coohai baitalan,     Implements of war
dembei ambula,    are great in number,
namun funtuhun,    but the storehouses are empty,
caliyan wajiha,    and the provisions are finished.
tule edede,    Freezing on the outside,
55dolo gosime,    hungry on the inside,
dain de tuhekei,    they are falling in battle,
jeyen de wabuhai,    they are being slain by the blade,
dube ai, wajin ya    and what is the end of it? What is the finish of it?
enduri baitakū,    The gods are no use.
60fucihi wei guwanta,    The buddhas don’t care.
ba bade gelecuke,    Every region is frightened,
boo tome akacuka,    each home is full of grief.
genggiyen ejen ai baliya,    Oh enlightened lord! Alas!
abka ya,    Oh Heaven!
65abka ya,    Oh Heaven!
dutu doko ai waka,    Who could blame the deaf and blind?
šan waliya,    Discard your ears.
yasa de,    How can your eyes
uttungge ai jempi,    tolerate this kind of thing?
70 uttungge ai tusa,    What benefit is there to this kind of thing?
g'alab ton okini,

    Let the end of the world come!

šar sere gūnin ainara,    What would a sympathetic mind do?
jobolon be aitubu,    Revive sorrow,
jobocun be sucina,    and redeem grief.
75gashan be wasifi,    Descend upon the calamity,
hūlha sabe hūdun wa,    quickly kill the bandits,
taifin de forgošo,    restore the peace,
necin de dahūna,    and return tranquility.
ama emei teisu giyan,    Let the proper places of father and mother

teherere mujangga,

    be in true balance.

uttu akū ohode,    Since it has not been thus,
turgun gūnin yamaka,    there must be some reason for it.
gisun wacihiya,    Complete my words,
jorin hafukiya,    inform me in detail.
85aide uttu babe,    How can it be like this?
getuken-i alara.    Clearly tell.

Translation Notes

dutu doko ai waka. From context it is clear that doko is the same as dogo, “blind.”

g'alab ton okini. A similar line appeared in the Lament on the State of the Times, where the poet said g'alab ton esi giyan, and Jakdan used similar expressions a couple of times. I think the idea is that times have become so bad that the poet calls for the end of the kalpa and the dissolution of the world.

enduri baitakū, fucihi wei guwanta. Alternately, it seems like this might read “no one resorts to the gods, no one cares about the Buddhas.” Jakdan has a very similar couplet in his Ballad in a Drunken Ramble, where he says enduri wei guwanta, fucihi bai bodon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Another Fisherman

This poem about a fisherman is to the tune The Immortal of Linjiang (臨江仙).

Like the previous fisherman poems, this one paints the fisherman’s home as the outdoor landscape in which he fishes, and like 11.1 this one has the fisherman trade his catch for wine.

nimaha butara niyalma    Fisherman
Staatsbibliothek 11.80 (View Online)
suman weren hūwai seme,    Mist and ripples swirl,
mini beye boo hūwa,    around me, my home, my garden.
baha nimaha sampa,    The fish and shrimp we’ve caught,
nure udafi,    let’s trade them for wine,

sasa omica,

    and drink together.

niša baturu kiyangkiyan,    Cast strength, bravery and heroism
boljon ici waliya,    on the waves.
bi jalan ci jailaha,    I have hidden from the world,
gucu ulai su,    my friends are the whirlwinds of the river,
10 hoki alin biya.    my companions, the mountains and moon.

Translation Notes

boljon ici waliya. The use of ici in this line is interesting, reminiscent of the use of ci in Sibe to mean “towards.”

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Old Fisherman

In this poem, the fisherman is both poor and rich at the same time. While he has little in the way of valuable goods and property, with his simple outdoor livelihood he is rich in what he wants: Food, wine and a beautiful landscape.

nimaha butara mafa [漁翁],    The Old Fisherman
Staatsbibliothek 11.13 (View Online)
banjin ai,    What is he like?
borgon ambula,    With great heaps
dehe sijin welmiyeku,    of hooks, lines, fishing poles,
nure nimaha sampa,    of wine, fish and shrimp

bayakan mafa.

    the old man is rich.

teku ai,    What is his dwelling?
ūlen hon fiyangga,    His house is very colorful,
tugi suman boo leli,    his home of clouds and mist is vast,
ula alin hūwa amba,    his garden of rivers and mountains is great,
10mukei falangga.    in a watery neighborhood.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Fishing, a poem that appears twice

The three fascicles of Manchu poetry in the Staatsbibliothek manuscript have different characters, which suggests to me that they are really three separate collections. SB 4 contains longer works with a greater emphasis on couplet poems, while SB 11 is almost exclusively made up of -style poems, and SB 14 has a mix of the two styles. The poem below is (I think) the only poem that can be found in more than one fascicle, appearing as SB 11.1 and SB 14.30.

It is also interesting because it seems to use pivot lines similar to those used in Japanese tanka. These are lines that could make sense either with the lines above them or the lines below. For example, mini boo looks like a turning line:
tugi mukei ba / mini boo
A place of clouds and water is my home. 
mini boo / ya falga
In what quarter is my home?
And similarly, the line ula tenggin hūi ciha:
mini boo / ya falga / ula tenggin hūi ciha
In what quarter is my home? Wherever I please among the rivers and lakes.
ula tenggin hūi ciha / asu maktara
I will cast my net wherever I please among the rivers and lakes.
In my translation I couldn’t find a way to recreate the pivot lines without making a hash of the poem, so I chose a simple reading.

nimaha butarangge [漁]    Fishing
Staatsbibliothek 11.1 (View Online)
tugi mukei ba,    A place of clouds and water.
mini boo,    In what quarter
ya falga,    is my home?
ula tenggin hūi ciha,    Among rivers and lakes, wherever I please,
5asu maktara,    I will cast my net.
nimaha niša,    The fish are plentiful,
nure hūlašacina,    I hope I can trade them for wine.
wei sasa,    Who am I with?
nurei hoki --    The companions of wine —
10 bele edun biya.    Rice, wind and moon.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Verses on a Line-Fishing Platform, by Jakdan

Jakdan wrote four poems in seven-syllable quatrains with an AAxA rhyme scheme, a style not found in the Staatsbibliothek poems, but similar to the form used in some Sibe epic poems like Ba na-i ucun and Hašigar ucun (though Jakdan did not use the Mongolian-influenced head-rhyme that those poems employ).

The seven-syllable quatrain form does not require the same rhyme to be used throughout the poem, and this one uses a different rhyme in each quatrain. Jakdan often ends his poems with a remark to the reader on the poem itself, which can be seen in this poem as well as in his Plum Blossoms and Lotus Flowers.

The topic of the poem is a fishing platform associated in tradition with Yán Guāng [嚴光], a high official of the Eastern Han who was styled Zǐlíng [子陵].

nimaha welmiyere karan
be irgebuhe irgebun
    Verses on a Line-Fishing Platform
Jakdan 8.18
fu cun alin yan dzy ling,    Yán Zǐlíng of Fùchūn [富春] mountain,
te welmiyere karan jing,    now frequents a line-fishing platform,
ninggun biya-i furdehe,    in a fur jacket, even in the sixth month,
jilan beki tuwakiyan teng,

    strong in compassion, resolute in watchfulness.

5han gurun i han guwang u,    Emperor Hàn Guāngwǔ of the Hàn dynasty,
siyan šeng ini fe gucu,    the master being an old friend of his,
emu erin kidufi,    one time was missing him,
werešehei šuwe akū,

    and sought him out, but he was gone.

arkan acaha erin,    They had barely met when
10amban obuci sain,    he thought it good to make him an official.
canjurame acafi    They clasped hands on meeting.
yaka baisin ya ejen,

    Which one is unemployed, and which is lord?

hafan ohongge waka,    He was not to be an official,
yala somiha saisa,    but indeed, a reclusive sage,
15emu bade dedufi,    spending the night in one place,
guwelke dzy wei usiha,

    attentive to the northern stars.

aibi gebu ai gungge,    Where is fame, what is merit?
ula tenggin hon hojo,    Rivers and lakes are very beautiful.
hanja girutu ujen,    Taking honesty and humility seriously,

bolgo algin tetele,

    his reputation is clean even now.

minggan jalan goidapi,    Though a thousand generations may pass,
entekengge hon seri,    people like him will be scarce.
ere ucun arafi,    I have made this song,
sain durun obuki    and now you give it good form.

Translation Notes

te welmiyere karan jing / ninggun biya-i furdehe. There is no verb here, but it if you have a fishing platform and a fur jacket, presumably the subject is on the former and wearing the latter.

dzy wei usiha. The “Purple Forbidden Enclosure” (zǐ wēi yuán, 紫微垣) refers to the northern part of the sky, whose stars circle the north star and do not drop below the horizon.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Bird in a Cage

horho-i cecike [籠鳥],    Bird in a Cage
Staatsbibliothek 11.45 (View Online)
watai šosiki,    Fiercely quick-tempered one,
guwecina,    I hope you will sing.
atanggi,    But when?
uba tuba šacambi,    You look sideways here and there,
5 jing monggon sampi,    always stretching your neck,
bai jaja jiji,    just twittering away.
kolo onggolo doosi,    You are greedy before you are gentle.
ya oci,    However it may be,
sinda nakū --    after I let you out,
10kesi oihori.    the kind act will be splendid.

Translation Difficulties:

kolo onggolo doosi. For kolo Hu Zengyi points to kolon, with the following example: kolon gaha dobori jilgaranggei《33·教》慈鸟夜啼. In Hu’s example the translator has apparently read 烏, “crow” for 鳥, “bird”, but in any case assuming kolo is meant to translate 慈 then it apparently refers to a gentle temperament. I take the line to mean that the bird can be gentle, but demands feeding first.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Realizations from Chiu’s Bannermen Tales

I have just received a copy of Elena Chiu’s 2018 book on zǐdìshū, and as I read I realize how much work could be done on Manchu poetry to understand how it fits into the cultural ecosystem of the Qing. The tunes, styles and subjects used in various poems could give us some idea of other cultural influences, and might hint at the eras in which the anonymous poems were composed.

The immense wealth of scholarship in Chiu’s book is also showing me where I have missed important details in some of my translations. For example, it seems clear that the poem Diagram of Official Advancement is about the game of shēngguān tú (陞官圖), which is the subject of a zǐdìshū by that name. That poem occurs in a group of four similar ones that I now realize may be descriptions of four games. The complete list is:
  • hafan wesire durugan, “Diagram of Official Advancement,” about the game shēngguān tú (陞官圖)
  • nadan faksingga durugan, “Diagram of Seven Clever Things,” about the game qīqiǎo bǎn (七巧板), known to the West as the “tan gram.”
  • sejen ušara durugan, “Diagram of Pulling a Cart.” Is there a game called yè chē tú (拽車圖)?
  • meiren teyere durugan, “Diagram of Resting the Shoulders.” Is there a game called xījiān tú (息肩圖)?

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Tin Maidservant

The Tin Maidservant is a name for a pot (汤婆子) that could be filled with hot water, wrapped in a quilt, and placed in a bed to keep it warm. Like the Clay Daughter-in-Law, this poem simultaneously talks about a woman and a household article. Maybe it is a riddle, intended to make the listener think of a woman, while the answer is a household article. Or maybe the household article is a thin disguise and it really is about the woman.

toholon nehū [錫奴],    The Tin Maidservant
Staatsbibliothek 11.87 (View Online)
gebu fusihūn,    Of humble reputation,
saikan banin,    but beautiful appearance,
banjinjiha wenjehun,    is the warmth that has come to live here.
adanjici icangga,    Pleasant when accompanying one,
5abai duyen,    never indifferent,
dembei nesuken,    very gentle,
haji halhūn,    amorous.
beye ufuhi ujen,    Body partly heavy,
ume foihori tuwara,    do not treat her carelessly,
10urui ginggun.    be always respectful.