Saturday, October 6, 2018

G45.15: Go fatten the horses

When the Staatsbibliothek poems talk about getting away from it all, they evoke the image of the fisherman idling away his hours with rice and wine on remote rivers and lakes. In those poems it is easy to imagine the poet as a scholar-official retreating from his busy duties.

In contrast, this couplet from Grebenshchikov 45 seems to be born on the frontier. You can imagine the speaker talking to someone who has been cooped up through the winter, telling him to take the horses out and enjoy the quiet and lonesome high meadows.

From a metrical perspective this couplet is different from those found in Staatsbibliothek/Jakdan poems. In the SBJ poems a couplet doesn’t stand on its own, but is part of a couplet poem where the second line of each couplet shares a common rhyme. In the example below, however, the couplet stands alone and the two lines rhyme with each other (A-rhyme). There is also a caesura in each line after the sixth syllable. (Alternately, I suppose it could be described as a quatrain with a syllabic structure of 6,10,6,10 and a rhyme scheme of x,A,x,A.)

gūnin duyen age, morin be elgiyeme1 niyengniyeri omo de elbi šecina2,

   You, sir, with your reclusive heart, please go fatten1 the horses and bathe2 in the spring lakes.

   “niyalmai jilgan goro,
   morin-i incarangge nakaha,
   ula-i abka den,
   alin-i biya ajige mujangga”
      “Far from people’s voices,
   the neighing of the horses grew quiet.
   The heaven of the river was high,
   the moon of the mountains was small indeed.”
sehebi.   So it has been said.

1 elgiyeme. Norman has elgiyen, “prosperous, rich, plentiful, abundant.” It seems like the verb elgiyembi could mean “to breed horses” (i.e. make them abundant) or “to fatten horses.” The former seems semantically closer to the meaning of elgiyen, but the reference to “spring lakes” suggests a time that is earlier than the breeding season, when the horses might be taken up to higher pastures to start to regain the weight they have lost over the winter. The season for mares in China’s horse-breeding provinces begins in late May, which means breeding happens primarily in what would be considered summer in the lunar calendar. (For the season, see “Animal Agriculture in China”, CSCPRC Report no. 11, National Academy Press, Washington DC, pg. 100)

2 elbi šecina. Written as two words in the text, but from context apparently this is the verb elbimbi.

2 comments:

  1. I done a bit of thinking about elgiyeme and I wonder if it is not rather a variation of elgembi "to lead an animal by the reins" (Norman).
    As was the case for cuwan/ciowan, I don't have clear parallels but the context would fit rather nicely and there are some well attested variations that come quite close, like -i->-iye- in words like elgin/elgiyen or filembi/fiyelembi (the latter also mentioned in the 清語易言 as fi-le-mbi pronunced fiye-le-mi).

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    1. Since elgembi would fit semantically with horses, and it doesn't require us to propose a new verb, I think that is the better candidate to explain elgiyeme.

      It will be interesting to see if there are other similar examples in the rest of the text. Certainly there have been some unusual variations in spelling so far...maybe these features can be used to pin down a specific dialect.

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