Wednesday, September 26, 2018

A Sample Grebenshchikov Poem

I am only starting to look at the Grebenshchikov poems, and I still have many questions about them. Here is one of the poems, together with my initial observations and the questions it provokes for me.

Manchu Text:
emu dobori amargi šahūrun edun de,
tumen bade fulgiyan tugi jiramin-i sektehebi,

untuhun dorgici nimanggi hiyahanjame tuhefi,
alin giyang-i arbun be halahabi,

abkai baru oncohon tuwaci,
gu muduri becunere de esihe sihara gese,
sor seme deyeme,
gaitai andande abkai fejergi de jalukabi,

gocika menggun-i gese,
funiyehe šaraka sakda sa,
abkai sabdara de inu olhobi,

eihen yalufi ajige dooha be dome,
mei hūwa ilha-i macuha turgunde sejilembi.

One night, on the cold north wind,
red clouds spread out thickly for ten thousand miles.

Snow fell from the empty sky and piled up,
and the appearance of the mountains and rivers changed.

Lying on one’s back and looking toward Heaven,
it was like the falling of scales from jade dragons fighting,
flying in confusion,
suddenly filling up all under Heaven.

Old people with hair turned white like silver,
waded through what Heaven was dropping.

Mounting a donkey and crossing a small bridge,
one sighs because the plum blossoms have grown sparse.

Observations and Questions
I have broken the poem into lines according to where there are “commas” in the Manchu text, but no clear pattern of meter and rhyme emerges, other than a general tendency for finite forms ending in -hAbi.

Perhaps because of this relatively free verse structure, the poem is fairly easy to read in comparison with the Staatsbibliothek and Jakdan poems. One doesn’t get the sense that the poet spent hours with a dictionary looking for words with the right number of syllables and rhymes, but rather wrote naturally and continuously.

One difficulty I did have, however, was with the word olhobi, which I decided to read as olohobi, “wade across.” It is also possible that it was meant to be olhohobi, “dried up; became afraid.”

The literary allusions in this poem clearly tie it into the traditions of Chinese poetry. We have already seen the simile of the dragons’ scales in Jakdan and the Staatsbibliothek poetry. In addition, the ten thousand miles of red clouds recall the opening lines of Táng poet Gāo Shì (高适) in his Two Quatrains on Parting with Dǒng Dà (别董大二首):

千里黄云白日曛,     Ten thousand miles of yellow clouds as the day turns to twilight,
北风吹雁雪纷纷。     the north wind blows the wild geese and snow, one after the other.
莫愁前路无知己,     Do not worry that there are no friends on the road ahead,

    who in the world could not know you?

六翮飘飖私自怜,     Like six quills floating on the wind, full of sorrow for ourselves,
一离京洛十余年。     it has already been more than ten years since we left Luoyang.
丈夫贫贱应未足,     The husband is poor, there is never enough,
今日相逢无酒钱。     today we meet and have no money for wine.

Given the literary allusions and the unrestricted nature of the verse, it is natural to ask whether this is a translation of a Chinese work, but I don’t think it is. The original, if it existed, would presumably contain some variation on Gāo’s “ten thousand miles of yellow clouds,” but searching through the Sou-Yun database for poems with the phrases “ten thousand miles,” “red clouds” and “yellow clouds” I have so far not found any poems of similar length that look like they could be the source for this work.

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