Tuesday, December 11, 2018

G45.25: A Translation from Chinese

It is generally held that most Manchus (at least urban ones) could speak Chinese in the 19th century, and many could no longer speak Manchu at all.

If that is true, it is all the more interesting that some apparently enjoyed reading Chinese poetry in Manchu, when they could presumably have read it equally well or better in Chinese. Jakdan’s own translations of Chinese poetry are an example of this, as is the poem below from Grebenshchikov 45. I think this type of translation must have been appreciated as an art form of its own.

As I have been reading through G45 I have been struck by the fact that the poetry does not conform to the metrical and rhythmic conventions of Jakdan and the Staatsbibliothek poet(s), and that had caused me some angst. I have previously used syllabic meter and the unique Manchu rhyme scheme as a way to tell autochthonous poetry apart from translated poetry, but in G45 this distinction seemed to break down, since the poetry did not appear to be metrical, and yet I could not find Chinese originals.

In the case of the poem below, since it listed a tune (sumozhe 蘇莫遮), I was able to track down the original Ming poem and confirm that it is indeed a translation.

This is both heartening and disheartening. On the one hand, I don’t feel like I know enough about Manchu intellectual culture to understand how a translation “works” as an art form. On the other hand, it underscores the value of using syllabic meter and Manchu rhyme categories to identify autochthonous poetry.

Here are the G45 poem and the Ming original, side-by-side.

šanggiyan tugi-i alin,    白云山,
fulgiyan abdaha-i moo,    红叶树,
mukdehe gukuhe be akūmbume,    阅尽兴亡、
duwali tede ofi geli yamjire adali,    一似朝还暮。
tuhere šun amtangga orho
    wajihangge ai ton,

furgin hekceme, furgin cilciname    潮落潮生,
niyalma be amasi julesi fudembi,


žuwan gung-ni jugūn,
yang dzy-i tala,
honin duha-i gese
    uyun mudan-i bade,

sejen-i muheren be tookabume
    kemuni ejehengge singgiyan,


šunehe morin incara bade    记得寒芜嘶马处,
saikan ficako, menggun-i yatuhan,    翠管银筝
dobori dari uculeme
    taktu de gerembumbihe,


    su mo je mudan,    to the tune Sumozhe

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Where did Grebenshchikov 45 come from?

Studying Manchu poetry requires a great deal of detective work. Certainly much of this poetry did not survive to modern times, and the scraps that have survived are somewhat enigmatic. Jakdan is the exception among Manchu poets in that we know his name and details of his life, but no authors are named for the Staatsbibliothek and Grebenshchikov poems, and it’s difficult to see how the different stylistic traditions relate to each other chronologically.

Grebenshchikov 45 (G45) is stylistically quite different from Jakdan and the Staatsbibliothek poetry. The rules of meter and rhyme that reign in most of the SBJ poems do not seem to apply to G45, nor do we see the Mongolian-style head rhyme that we see in many early Sibe poems. If we could establish the provenance of the manuscript, it might help fit this piece into the larger puzzle.

G45 was written in a European-style notebook, so dates to the early 20th century. It seems most likely that it was written by someone that Grebenshchikov visited on one of his research trips to Northeast China. Indeed, the handwriting looks similar to that which appears on some of pages of the Yasen sama-i bithe manuscript that he acquired near Aigun in 1909, particularly the pages toward the end of that manuscript. Given that the end pages of a manuscript are easily damaged by handling, it seems quite possible that the end pages of Yasen sama-i bithe are replacements, copied out from damaged originals by the owner.

If my handwriting comparison is valid, then perhaps G45 was written out for Grebenshchikov in Aigun in 1909. However, it was not necessarily composed in Aigun, because a note at the beginning suggests it is a copy of another text which was becoming damaged by Grebenshchikov’s handling of it:

wesihun-i beye ere bithe be tuwara hūlara oci, usihin eici derbehun gala-i afaha be neici bithe mafulabumbi.    When your honorable self looks at and reads this book, if you open the pages with moist or damp hands, the book is being [warped?]
geli sahaliyan icebumbi.    And it is also being stained with black.
uttu ofi donjibume arahabi.    So I had it written out through dictation.

It may be that this text was composed in Aigun, even by the person who gave it to Grebenshchikov, or it may be that it was collected from somewhere else. So far most of the pieces I have read are not strongly connected to a particular place or time, though I will soon share a poem describing scenes of Hénán province. Ultimately the content of the works in this manuscript may be the best clues to its origin.

Saturday, December 1, 2018

Jug of Mystery

This poem looks like a riddle. If you didn’t have the title and the explanatory note, it might be quite difficult to figure out that this is talking about a piggy bank. Over time you put money into it until it won’t fit more, then you break it open and relish the reward of having a heap of cash.

butu tamse,    Dark Jug
擈滿俗名悶葫芦罐兒    A vernacular name for a piggy bank is “covered gourd bottle”
Staatsbibliothek 11.42 (View Online)
jiha-i aha,    Money servant:
tebuci,    If you put some in,
jing fita,    and it’s on the point of being tight,
yondorakū ainara,    what do you do when it won’t fit more?
5hen tan jaluka,    With difficulty it was filled,
ne je hūwalaha,    in an instant broken open.
funcehengge geli ya,    What is still left over?
hafu tuwa,    Look through it,
fulu akū —    there is nothing better —
10 kesi dabala.    except for generosity.

Translation Whatnots

fulu akū — kesi dabala. It seems like this is saying “there is nothing left over — except kindness,” but since we have just cracked open the piggy bank that doesn’t quite make sense. Instead, I think the fulu must have the meaning of “excelling, surpassing, better, superior” (Norman), so the last two lines mean that there is nothing better than opening up the piggy bank — except for generosity itself.