Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Poetic departures

Manchu grammar is usually fairly structured and predictable. In poetry, many departures from the usual rules appear to be permissible.

In my last post I translated an anonymous Lament on the State of the Times, and here I want to look at two of the cases of poetic usage I had to deal with.

Missing genitive marker

It is not normally permissible to drop the genitive marker in Manchu, except under specific circumstances. In Old Manchu, for example, it was permissible to drop the genitive marker -i after words ending in -i, but not in other cases.

In the Lament, there are at least three clear cases where the genitive appears to have been dropped after a word ending in -n, and some other cases that could be read that way. This was probably metrically motivated, since the genitive marker would have added an extra syllable after a word ending in -n.

The clearest cases are the following phrases:

taifin fon, "season of peace", for taifin-i fon
irgen ergen, "the spirit of the people", for irgen-i ergen
irgen banin, "the state of the people", for irgen-i banin

Wistful ya

The word ya can be found in ordinary literary Manchu, where it has the meaning of “which? what?”. However, this reading is often awkward in poetry, where the word ya occurs much more frequently.

The Lament uses it twice, and based on this usage I am inclined to understand it as a wistful or despondent exclamation.

1) dasarangge weke ya

Norman defines weke as “hey you! (word used for calling people whose name is unknown or forgotten)”. Presumably this is somehow related to the word we, “who?”. I suppose we could read dasarangge weke as “Hey you, repairer!” But then what do we do with the ya?

The line occurs in a context describing how the country is in disorder, and the feeling of the poem suggests that the speaker longs for a repairer who is not there. A despondent exclamation would fit the feeling of this line.

2) mergen jiyanggiyūn ya waci

The heart of this phrase is mergen jiyanggiyūn waci, “if the heroes and generals kill’, but normally that expression cannot stand on its own in Manchu because the conditional -ci is a converb, not a finite form.

I think the poet is using ellipsis here, and leaving the remainder of the phrase unspoken. “If the heroes and generals would kill [them, then we wouldn't have so much trouble].” We do the same thing in English when we say “If only the heroes and generals would kill them!” I think the ya in this phrase serves a similar adverbial function to the “only” in the English phrase, expressing a wish that the proposition of the sentence were true.

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