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.

Monday, October 1, 2018

G45.14: A Letter from a Single Mother

This is a letter from a woman who became pregnant out of wedlock, written to the father of her twin children, who left her two months before they were born. It shows that this particular Grebenshchikov manuscript (F. 75, Op. 1, No. 45) includes other types of short literary works beyond poems and songs.

Soon after her children were born, her parents died, leaving her to raise the babies alone. The letter is written three years after her parents’ death. The children are now toddlers, but still young enough to nurse.

bodoci amga emge-i beye gemu sain fulgiyan buraki de enteheme giyalabuhangge geri fari ilan aniya oho,

   I think it has been roughly three years since my parents became permanently parted from us by the good red dust.

yacin gashan jasigan hafumbure de manggangge hūwai sere emu mukei haran, ede kidume gūniha tolgin banjinafi, monggo sambi1 nimeku de darubuha,

The disaster that made it difficult to get letters through to you was a high flood, because of which I was haunted by dreams of longing, and then I sprained my neck1 and was sick for a while.

buru bara abka na korsocun bihe seme ainaci ojoro,

But what can one do about the vague misfortunes of Heaven and Earth?

geli gūnici biya de baime genehe heng o, šungga gurung de hono beye teile, komso maktame2 jodoro jy nioi, sunggari bira de kemuni emhun usaka bade, muse oci ai gese niyalma,

And then I think about Heng’e, who went pleading to the moon and continues to live by herself in the Osmanthus Palace, and also the weaving2 girl Zhinü who is still alone in that forsaken place on the Milky Way, and I wonder: What kind of people are we?

adarame enteheme hajilame banjime mutembi,

How is it that we can live continually in love?

ubade gūnime isinaha de uthai, songgoro be nakafi injehe,

When I arrive at this place in my thoughts, I stop crying and I smile.

fakcafi juwe biyai dubede bahafi kaba jui banjiha, 

Two months after you left, I gave birth to twins.

te emgeri huhuri jui ofi, juju jaja injere gisurere be, mujako ulhimbi,

Now they are still nursing, but I really do understand their babbling, laughing chatter!

soro baime šulehe3 jafame mutufi, eniye ci aljaha seme banjici ombi,

Since they have grown old enough to ask for jujubes and to hold pears3, it think it would be OK for them to be parted from their mother.

gingguleme agu sinde amasi buki,

I would respectfully like to present them to you.

werihe fulgiyan gu-i šu ilha be, mahala de hadafi, temgetu obuhabi,

I have taken the red jade lotus flower you left behind and affixed it to my hat, making a memento of it.

jui be buhi de sindafi tebeliyehe erinde, uthai fusihūn beye hashū ici de bisire adali oki,

When I put the kids on my knees and hug them, I want it to be like I am all around them.

agu sini da gashūha babe tuwakiyame mutehe be donjifi, gūnin-i dolo kek sehe,

I heard that you were able to garrison in the place you were originally sworn to, and it pleased my heart.

fusihūn beye ere jalan de juwederakū, bucetele gūwabsi akū,

I am loyal in this world, and there is nowhere else for me until I die.

sithen-i dolo buyecuke jaka šunggeri ilha nimanggi4 be šuwe-i sarahabi,

I have taken the lovely things and elegant catkins4 that were in the box and spread them out.

buleku de bakcilame injeme miyamirengge, fiyen fiyan be aifini ijuhakakūbi,

I have stood before the mirror smiling and dressing up, but it has been a long time since I have put on makeup.

agu si dailanara niyalmai adali, fusihūn beye sula hehe ombi,

You are like someone who has gone off to war, and I have become a single mother.

udu giyalabufi dere acahakū bicibe, eigen sargan waka seci, ojoro kooli bio,

Though we have parted and not seen each other, is there any sense in saying that we are not husband and wife?

damu gūnici amga emge emgeri omolo tuwaha bime, kemuni ice urun be emgeri sabuha akūngge,

Yet I think of my parents, who saw the grandchildren, but have still not seen the bride.

gūnin giyan de tolbime gūnici, inu acanarakū babi,

If you think about what is right and reasonable, there is something unsuitable about it.

ishun aniya emge-i icihiyame sindara erinde, giyan-i tomon de genefi, urun-i teisu be emgeri akūmbuci acambi,

Next year, on the date of my mother’s burial, we should go to her grave, and I will stand in the place of the bride and do my utmost to meet you at that time.

ereci julesi lung gung5-i hesebun sain ofi, gala be seferere erin edelerakū, musei jui fuhai6 jalgan golmin de, hono amasi julesi yabure jugūn bi,

After that, the fate of the Dragon Palace5 being good, there will be no shortage of opportunities for them to take your hand, and as it seems6 our children’s lives will be long, there is a road by which they may often go back and forth.

banjirengge agu-i beyebe olhošome ujelereo, 

Has life been treating you well and generously?

fi-i dubede gisurehe seme wajirakū, 

I have talked to the point that the brush is used up, but I am still not done.

erei jalin fusihūn sargan agu-i elhe be baime gingguleme donjibume jasiha,For this reason, this humble woman dictates this letter, respectfully asking after your health.

Translation Notes

1 monggo sambi. In this context I can’t make sense of the obvious literal meanings of these words, “Mongol” and “know.” It is possible that these are the names of the twins, but she hasn’t introduced them yet at this point in the narrative. I think this may describe her illness, perhaps something like monggon sampi, “my neck stretched.”

2 komso maktame. The same as homso maktame, “passing a shuttle back and forth.”

3 šulehe. The same as šulhe, “pear.”

4 ilha nimanggi. I provisionally take this to be a calque of Chinese 花雪, which can mean catkins.

5 lung gung. The only poetic allusion I can find that might match this is the Dragon Palace (龍宮), but I am not sure how that fits here. Perhaps she means 冷宮, a metaphorical place where unnecessary things are placed aside.

6 fuhai. I am taking this to be the same as fuhali, but not entirely happy about that.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

A roadside wine shop

This is another Grebenshchikov poem describing a wine shop waiting for business at the end of the day.

wenjehūn boo-i duka bade birgan yohoron bakcilafi,
alin weilefi orho suiha banjihangge ser seme,
fai hanci mei hūwa ilhai, gui bonggo fushuhebi,
ajige fai juleri janda moo de sakda muduri deduhebi,
iolehe sahaliyan dere de budun malu faidame sindahabi,
suwayan boihon-i ilbaha fude nurei enduri irgebuhe, antaha be niruhabi,
emu defe boso be lakiyafi šahūrun edun de maksimbi,
juwe gisun-i irgebun arafi dulere antaha be elbimbi,
        yargiyan-i sain morin be yalufi, yabure urse sa wabe donjime morin be tatambi,
        edun de pun tukiyehe urse amtan be safi ciowan be ilibumbi,

At the gate of a lively house, opposite a creek and a canal,
having worked in the hills, the grower of grass and artemisia is quiet,
while by the window the jade tips of the plum blossoms bloom.
In the pine tree before the small window an old dragon is sleeping.
On the black lacquer table jugs and bottles are lined up.
On the yellow stucco wall are verses to the wine god, painted by a guest.
Someone has hung a length of cloth, and it dances on the cold wind.
Two lines of verse beckon to passing guests:
        “Truly, riding on fine steeds, travelers hear of the aroma and whip their horses,
         Those whose sails are lifted by the wind, learning of the flavor, weigh anchor.”

Translation Notes

janda moo. I have taken this to be a mistake for jakdan moo, “pine tree,” but it is also possible that this is the name of another tree.

ciowan be ilibumbi. From context, this seems like it ought to be a nautical term related to setting out in a boat or hurrying in a boat. Possibly it is a calque from Chinese, in which case we would expect to find *li quan (立?). I have made a guess at “weigh anchor” but it could as easily have something to do with sails, oars or mooring.

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.

Translation:
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,
天下谁人不识君?

    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.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

New poems

With the gracious consent of the council of experts at the Institute of Oriental Manuscripts at the Russian Academy of Sciences in Saint Petersburg, I have been allowed to have scanned two notebooks formerly belonging to the great A. V. Grebenshchikov. Together, these notebooks contain more than 150 Manchu poems.

According to a note on the first page, the first notebook appears to be a copy made for Grebenshchikov from some other book, which was becoming damaged due to frequent handling. Like the Staatsbibliothek poetry, no author seems to be named for these poems. Unlike the Staatsbibliothek poetry, these poems do not seem to have titles.

In terms of literary devices, the new works seem to fit more into Chinese traditions of poetry than Mongolian, but in terms of meter and rhyme they seem quite different from both the Staatsbibliothek and Jakdan poems. I have only begun to dig into this new trove, however, and my impressions are certain to change, so I don’t want to say too much yet.

When I started this blog I only knew of the existence of around 70 Manchu poems, and I thought I could translate them all within a year. Now, with my collection numbering about 329 works, the end of the tunnel seems much farther away than it did before. But the tunnel is also much more interesting than I suspected!

Monday, September 17, 2018

The second After Autumn Rain

This song is a pair to the previous Simple Song after Autumn Rain. While the prior song used an AN-rhyme, this song uses an EN-rhyme. Other parallels tie the two songs together, such as a word derived from the verb gūni- in line 8, the EN-rhyme phrase aga simelen paired with the AN-rhyme phrase aga simeliyan, and the use of ne je opposite en jen.


julergi joringga,    On the Same Topic
Staatsbibliothek 11.74 (View Online)
buyecuke ten,    Much desired,
icangga,    pleasing,
seruken,    and cool,
eiten hacin hon genggiyen,    everything is very bright and clear.
5 edun nemeyen,    The breeze is gentle,
aga simelen,    the rain damp,
bolori fiyan iletun,    and the fall colors bold.
gūnicun,    One longs
kuwai fai seme,    wistfully
10en jen endurin.    for the fairy making things ready.


Translation Notes

simelen. The previous poem had aga simeliyan, a word that I could not find in dictionaries, and decided to read as “lonesome.” The word simelen in the present poem means “marsh,” but I could not fit that meaning into this sentence where I think the phrase aga simelen is supposed to parallel edun nemeyen. For that reason, I have read it as an adjective, “damp.”

 en jen endurin. The celestial being (endurin) is presumably a spirit of autumn. I have chosen to call it a “fairy” in keeping with my usage in the flower poems, though the term does not feel quite right. (Maybe I should use the word “spirit” instead.) In any case, the most obvious reading for this line is to have en jen modify endurin. I could not make sense of “the complete fairy,” so I took this as meaning something like en jen-i belhere endurin, “the fairy who is making things ready.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

A Simple Song after Autumn Rain


This is one of two poems composed on the theme “after an autumn rain.” The image above uses the calligraphy of the Staatsbibliothek manuscript on the background of a painting by Julian Alden Weir titled Autumn Rain.


bolori agaha amala
bai irgebuhe uculen
    A Simple Song After Autumn Rain
Staatsbibliothek 11.73 (View Online)
selacuka fon,    A pleasing season,
seruken,    cool,
bolokon,    and clean,
wangga wa su hon hihan,    rare and wonderful are the smells and whirlwinds.
5aga simeliyan,    The rains are lonesome,
edun mandakan,    the breezes gentle,
bolori fiyan gincihiyan,    the autumn colors brilliant.
gūnigan,    One feels
la li seme,    sharply and clearly
10ne je saikan ton.    that this, right now, is a beautiful time.

Translation Notes

wangga wa. The most obvious English translations for wangga lean heavily in the direction of the negative (smelly, odorous) or flowery (scented, fragrant). While wangga is indeed used to refer to the scent of flowers, it is also used to describe a broad range of other pleasant aromas such as autumn leaves, wine, and winter rain. I chose to reduce wangga wa to simply “smells” to encompass this range of meaning.

hihan. The word hihan conveys the idea that the winds and smells of Autumn are not encountered in any other season, and are precious for that reason. I can’t think of a single English word that really conveys this idea, so I have landed on “rare and wonderful” to capture both parts of the meaning.

simeliyan. My dictionaries don’t have this word, but I do find simeli, “lonely, bleak” and simelen, “marsh.”