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.

Saturday, October 6, 2018

G45.15: Go lead the horses out

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 lead the horses out1 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. As Guillaume Lescuyer points out in the comments to this post, this could be a form of elgembi, “to lead an animal by the reins.”

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 the good red earth.

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.

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.

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.”

Thursday, August 30, 2018

A Song on Begonia

According to the traditional Chinese solar and lunar calendars, Autumn has already started (though we have a few more weeks till the equinox starts the season in the Western calendar). In Chinese the begonia is called the “Autumn Sea Crab-Apple,” a calque of which becomes the Manchu name, bolori fulana ilha.

Begonias grow in China, but south of the Yellow River basin.

bolori fulana ilha be irgebuhe uculen    A Song on Begonia
Staatsbibliothek 11.75 (View Online)
hojo kai,    She is beautiful,
ilhai endurin,    the fairy of the flower.
bolgo gingge boco fiyan,    Clean and pure of color and hue,
urhu haihū banin wen,    her staggered appearance
5fiyanggai geoden.    is a colorful deception.

Is she drunk?
cira jing fuhun,    Her face suddenly looks angry,
elhe alhai aššan,    her movements are languid.
nilgiyan fiyanggai simelen,    The wetland, brilliant with color,
10buyecuke ten.    is the height of loveliness.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Bottle Fish

Whereas the Bird in a Cage was anxious and agitated, this fish is apparently satisfied with its situation.

The title could suggest a fish in a bottle or a fish painted on a bottle.

molu-i nimaha [瓶魚],    Bottle Fish
Staatsbibliothek 11.46 (View Online)
ba na isheliyen,    Its realm is narrow,
daruhai,    but it is always
elehun,    content.
ula bira-i durun,    Like a river or stream,
5dehe aibide,    but where are the fish hooks?
asu seriken,    Nets are scarce,
ele mila mujilen.    and its mind is free and easy.

Translation Notes

molu-i nimaha. The word molu is apparently the same as malu, “liquor bottle.”

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Asking of Heaven, a lament composed during the Taiping rebellion?

This song laments a dark and bloody time during which the government was ineffective, the troops unfed, bandits proliferated, and neither the gods nor the buddhas would respond to calls for help.

It echoes the same themes as the Lament on the State of the Times, and while neither song mentions anything concrete that relates to a specific time period, there are a number of hints that suggest (to me, anyway) that this refers to the Taiping rebellion, one of the bloodiest civil wars in history. For example:
  • There is a clear feeling of betrayed religious faith the poem, daring to ask Heaven to explain itself, complaining that the gods are useless and the buddhas don’t care. It seems this could reflect the poet’s emotional response to the military successes of the alien religion of the Taiping rebellion.
  • This lament begs Heaven to “let the proper places of father and mother be in true balance,” which seems like it could be a response to the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom’s declaration that the sexes were equal.
  • This lament asks “Where are goods and property now?” This seems like it could be a response to the Taiping abolition of private property.

abka de fonjire ucun [問天歌]    A Song Asking of Heaven
Staatsbibliothek 4.4 (View Online)
abkai gūnin be dacilara.    I  will inquire of Heaven’s mind,
ai turgun be muten ala.    empower me by telling me the reason.
banjirede amuran.    The love of life
abka na-i giyan giyangga,    is the proper order of Heaven and Earth.
5tumen jaka serengge,    The myriad things
abka na-i juse dasu,    are the children of Heaven and Earth.
abka na oci    Heaven and Earth are
     tumen jaka-i ama aja,         the mother and father of the myriad things,
geren ergengge-i wesihungge,    they raised up the many living beings,
niyalmai teile dabala,    not only us human beings,
10urunderahū seme,    but they fear that we should become hungry,
tuttu banjiha jeku bele fulu,    so there are grains and food in plenty,
beyeburahū seme,    and fear that we might freeze,
tuttu mutuha kubun kima niša,    so there are cotton and hemp in profusion,
eture hacin,    and things to wear:
15jodon hiyaban cece ceri    garments of grass, hemp, gauze, netting,
     boso suje-i adu,         cloth and silk.
jetere jaka    and things to eat:
handu šušu turi    rice, sorghum, beans,
     maise ira mere-i buda,         wheat, millet and buckwheat.
fusu fasa tugi aga,    Clouds and rain rush by,
kete kata šun biya,    the sun and moon roll on,
20šahūrun halhūn-i ujire,    nurturing us through cold and heat,
edun akjan-i hūwašara,    raising us through wind and thunder.
aikan faikan jilaka,    They adored us as adorable things,
uttu tuttu gosiha,

    this way and that way they loved us.

te oci ajaja,    But now, oh,
25ai uttu gūwaliyaka,    how things have changed.
mujakū oshon,    Truly cruel,
umesi kiriba,    very barbaric.
ehengge,    Evil
kesingge,    is treated as a blessing,
30saingge,    Good
suingga,    is treated as harmful.
hūlha holo yendengge,    Robbers and thieves are on the rise,
nomhon sain susaka,    honesty and goodness perish.
boigon hethe te aibi,    Where are goods and property now?
35beye ergen bai waliya,    Cast away our bodies and lives,
usin yafan šuwe akū.    the fields and gardens are utterly gone.
menggun jiha ne aba,

    Where are silver and cash now?

haha hehe,    Men and women,
asiha sakda,    children and the elderly,
40fifaka fosoko,    are scattered hither and thither,
jailaha ukaka,    they have hidden and they have fled.
senggi eyepi,    Blood has flowed
giran iktaka,    and corpses piled up.
tumen boo-i ehe [凶] so [兆],    Evil omens on ten thousand households,
45tanggū ba-i wahūn wa,    a foul stench for a hundred miles,
geren irgen ai weile,    but what crime did the people commit?
sui akū de sui mangga,

    It is an injustice on those who did no harm.

jiyanggiyūn amban coohai dade,    Among the generals, officials and soldiers,
arga bodon eden tongga,    plans and calculations are poor and few.
50coohai baitalan,     Implements of war
dembei ambula,    are great in number,
namun funtuhun,    but the storehouses are empty,
caliyan wajiha,    and the provisions are finished.
tule edede,    Freezing on the outside,
55dolo gosime,    hungry on the inside,
dain de tuhekei,    they are falling in battle,
jeyen de wabuhai,    they are being slain by the blade,
dube ai, wajin ya    and what is the end of it? What is the finish of it?
enduri baitakū,    The gods are no use.
60fucihi wei guwanta,    The buddhas don’t care.
ba bade gelecuke,    Every region is frightened,
boo tome akacuka,    each home is full of grief.
genggiyen ejen ai baliya,    Oh enlightened lord! Alas!
abka ya,    Oh Heaven!
65abka ya,    Oh Heaven!
dutu doko ai waka,    Who could blame the deaf and blind?
šan waliya,    Discard your ears.
yasa de,    How can your eyes
uttungge ai jempi,    tolerate this kind of thing?
70 uttungge ai tusa,    What benefit is there to this kind of thing?
g'alab ton okini,

    Let the end of the world come!

šar sere gūnin ainara,    What would a sympathetic mind do?
jobolon be aitubu,    Revive sorrow,
jobocun be sucina,    and redeem grief.
75gashan be wasifi,    Descend upon the calamity,
hūlha sabe hūdun wa,    quickly kill the bandits,
taifin de forgošo,    restore the peace,
necin de dahūna,    and return tranquility.
ama emei teisu giyan,    Let the proper places of father and mother

teherere mujangga,

    be in true balance.

uttu akū ohode,    Since it has not been thus,
turgun gūnin yamaka,    there must be some reason for it.
gisun wacihiya,    Complete my words,
jorin hafukiya,    inform me in detail.
85aide uttu babe,    How can it be like this?
getuken-i alara.    Clearly tell.

Translation Notes

dutu doko ai waka. From context it is clear that doko is the same as dogo, “blind.”

g'alab ton okini. A similar line appeared in the Lament on the State of the Times, where the poet said g'alab ton esi giyan, and Jakdan used similar expressions a couple of times. I think the idea is that times have become so bad that the poet calls for the end of the kalpa and the dissolution of the world.

enduri baitakū, fucihi wei guwanta. Alternately, it seems like this might read “no one resorts to the gods, no one cares about the Buddhas.” Jakdan has a very similar couplet in his Ballad in a Drunken Ramble, where he says enduri wei guwanta, fucihi bai bodon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Another Fisherman

This poem about a fisherman is to the tune The Immortal of Linjiang (臨江仙).

Like the previous fisherman poems, this one paints the fisherman’s home as the outdoor landscape in which he fishes, and like 11.1 this one has the fisherman trade his catch for wine.

nimaha butara niyalma    Fisherman
Staatsbibliothek 11.80 (View Online)
suman weren hūwai seme,    Mist and ripples swirl,
mini beye boo hūwa,    around me, my home, my garden.
baha nimaha sampa,    The fish and shrimp we’ve caught,
nure udafi,    let’s trade them for wine,

sasa omica,

    and drink together.

niša baturu kiyangkiyan,    Cast strength, bravery and heroism
boljon ici waliya,    on the waves.
bi jalan ci jailaha,    I have hidden from the world,
gucu ulai su,    my friends are the whirlwinds of the river,
10 hoki alin biya.    my companions, the mountains and moon.

Translation Notes

boljon ici waliya. The use of ici in this line is interesting, reminiscent of the use of ci in Sibe to mean “towards.”

Monday, July 16, 2018

The Old Fisherman

In this poem, the fisherman is both poor and rich at the same time. While he has little in the way of valuable goods and property, with his simple outdoor livelihood he is rich in what he wants: Food, wine and a beautiful landscape.

nimaha butara mafa [漁翁],    The Old Fisherman
Staatsbibliothek 11.13 (View Online)
banjin ai,    What is he like?
borgon ambula,    With great heaps
dehe sijin welmiyeku,    of hooks, lines, fishing poles,
nure nimaha sampa,    of wine, fish and shrimp

bayakan mafa.

    the old man is rich.

teku ai,    What is his dwelling?
ūlen hon fiyangga,    His house is very colorful,
tugi suman boo leli,    his home of clouds and mist is vast,
ula alin hūwa amba,    his garden of rivers and mountains is great,
10mukei falangga.    in a watery neighborhood.

Friday, July 13, 2018

Fishing, a poem that appears twice

The three fascicles of Manchu poetry in the Staatsbibliothek manuscript have different characters, which suggests to me that they are really three separate collections. SB 4 contains longer works with a greater emphasis on couplet poems, while SB 11 is almost exclusively made up of -style poems, and SB 14 has a mix of the two styles. The poem below is (I think) the only poem that can be found in more than one fascicle, appearing as SB 11.1 and SB 14.30.

It is also interesting because it seems to use pivot lines similar to those used in Japanese tanka. These are lines that could make sense either with the lines above them or the lines below. For example, mini boo looks like a turning line:
tugi mukei ba / mini boo
A place of clouds and water is my home. 
mini boo / ya falga
In what quarter is my home?
And similarly, the line ula tenggin hūi ciha:
mini boo / ya falga / ula tenggin hūi ciha
In what quarter is my home? Wherever I please among the rivers and lakes.
ula tenggin hūi ciha / asu maktara
I will cast my net wherever I please among the rivers and lakes.
In my translation I couldn’t find a way to recreate the pivot lines without making a hash of the poem, so I chose a simple reading.

nimaha butarangge [漁]    Fishing
Staatsbibliothek 11.1 (View Online)
tugi mukei ba,    A place of clouds and water.
mini boo,    In what quarter
ya falga,    is my home?
ula tenggin hūi ciha,    Among rivers and lakes, wherever I please,
5asu maktara,    I will cast my net.
nimaha niša,    The fish are plentiful,
nure hūlašacina,    I hope I can trade them for wine.
wei sasa,    Who am I with?
nurei hoki --    The companions of wine —
10 bele edun biya.    Rice, wind and moon.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Verses on a Line-Fishing Platform, by Jakdan

Jakdan wrote four poems in seven-syllable quatrains with an AAxA rhyme scheme, a style not found in the Staatsbibliothek poems, but similar to the form used in some Sibe epic poems like Ba na-i ucun and Hašigar ucun (though Jakdan did not use the Mongolian-influenced head-rhyme that those poems employ).

The seven-syllable quatrain form does not require the same rhyme to be used throughout the poem, and this one uses a different rhyme in each quatrain. Jakdan often ends his poems with a remark to the reader on the poem itself, which can be seen in this poem as well as in his Plum Blossoms and Lotus Flowers.

The topic of the poem is a fishing platform associated in tradition with Yán Guāng [嚴光], a high official of the Eastern Han who was styled Zǐlíng [子陵].

nimaha welmiyere karan
be irgebuhe irgebun
    Verses on a Line-Fishing Platform
Jakdan 8.18
fu cun alin yan dzy ling,    Yán Zǐlíng of Fùchūn [富春] mountain,
te welmiyere karan jing,    now frequents a line-fishing platform,
ninggun biya-i furdehe,    in a fur jacket, even in the sixth month,
jilan beki tuwakiyan teng,

    strong in compassion, resolute in watchfulness.

5han gurun i han guwang u,    Emperor Hàn Guāngwǔ of the Hàn dynasty,
siyan šeng ini fe gucu,    the master being an old friend of his,
emu erin kidufi,    one time was missing him,
werešehei šuwe akū,

    and sought him out, but he was gone.

arkan acaha erin,    They had barely met when
10amban obuci sain,    he thought it good to make him an official.
canjurame acafi    They clasped hands on meeting.
yaka baisin ya ejen,

    Which one is unemployed, and which is lord?

hafan ohongge waka,    He was not to be an official,
yala somiha saisa,    but indeed, a reclusive sage,
15emu bade dedufi,    spending the night in one place,
guwelke dzy wei usiha,

    attentive to the northern stars.

aibi gebu ai gungge,    Where is fame, what is merit?
ula tenggin hon hojo,    Rivers and lakes are very beautiful.
hanja girutu ujen,    Taking honesty and humility seriously,

bolgo algin tetele,

    his reputation is clean even now.

minggan jalan goidapi,    Though a thousand generations may pass,
entekengge hon seri,    people like him will be scarce.
ere ucun arafi,    I have made this song,
sain durun obuki    and now you give it good form.

Translation Notes

te welmiyere karan jing / ninggun biya-i furdehe. There is no verb here, but it if you have a fishing platform and a fur jacket, presumably the subject is on the former and wearing the latter.

dzy wei usiha. The “Purple Forbidden Enclosure” (zǐ wēi yuán, 紫微垣) refers to the northern part of the sky, whose stars circle the north star and do not drop below the horizon.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Bird in a Cage

horho-i cecike [籠鳥],    Bird in a Cage
Staatsbibliothek 11.45 (View Online)
watai šosiki,    Fiercely quick-tempered one,
guwecina,    I hope you will sing.
atanggi,    But when?
uba tuba šacambi,    You look sideways here and there,
5 jing monggon sampi,    always stretching your neck,
bai jaja jiji,    just twittering away.
kolo onggolo doosi,    You are greedy before you are gentle.
ya oci,    However it may be,
sinda nakū --    after I let you out,
10kesi oihori.    the kind act will be splendid.

Translation Difficulties:

kolo onggolo doosi. For kolo Hu Zengyi points to kolon, with the following example: kolon gaha dobori jilgaranggei《33·教》慈鸟夜啼. In Hu’s example the translator has apparently read 烏, “crow” for 鳥, “bird”, but in any case assuming kolo is meant to translate 慈 then it apparently refers to a gentle temperament. I take the line to mean that the bird can be gentle, but demands feeding first.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Realizations from Chiu’s Bannermen Tales

I have just received a copy of Elena Chiu’s 2018 book on zǐdìshū, and as I read I realize how much work could be done on Manchu poetry to understand how it fits into the cultural ecosystem of the Qing. The tunes, styles and subjects used in various poems could give us some idea of other cultural influences, and might hint at the eras in which the anonymous poems were composed.

The immense wealth of scholarship in Chiu’s book is also showing me where I have missed important details in some of my translations. For example, it seems clear that the poem Diagram of Official Advancement is about the game of shēngguān tú (陞官圖), which is the subject of a zǐdìshū by that name. That poem occurs in a group of four similar ones that I now realize may be descriptions of four games. The complete list is:
  • hafan wesire durugan, “Diagram of Official Advancement,” about the game shēngguān tú (陞官圖)
  • nadan faksingga durugan, “Diagram of Seven Clever Things,” about the game qīqiǎo bǎn (七巧板), known to the West as the “tan gram.”
  • sejen ušara durugan, “Diagram of Pulling a Cart.” Is there a game called yè chē tú (拽車圖)?
  • meiren teyere durugan, “Diagram of Resting the Shoulders.” Is there a game called xījiān tú (息肩圖)?

Monday, July 2, 2018

The Tin Maidservant

The Tin Maidservant is a name for a pot (汤婆子) that could be filled with hot water, wrapped in a quilt, and placed in a bed to keep it warm. Like the Clay Daughter-in-Law, this poem simultaneously talks about a woman and a household article. Maybe it is a riddle, intended to make the listener think of a woman, while the answer is a household article. Or maybe the household article is a thin disguise and it really is about the woman.

toholon nehū [錫奴],    The Tin Maidservant
Staatsbibliothek 11.87 (View Online)
gebu fusihūn,    Of humble reputation,
saikan banin,    but beautiful appearance,
banjinjiha wenjehun,    is the warmth that has come to live here.
adanjici icangga,    Pleasant when accompanying one,
5abai duyen,    never indifferent,
dembei nesuken,    very gentle,
haji halhūn,    amorous.
beye ufuhi ujen,    Body partly heavy,
ume foihori tuwara,    do not treat her carelessly,
10urui ginggun.    be always respectful.

Friday, June 29, 2018

Captain of the Team

This seems like a good poem for World Cup season. It is one of a group of poems relating to sports.

The primary meaning of mumuhu is apparently a kind of leather ball, but looking at the 1771 Qianlong dictionary it seems this can also refer to someone who plays with such a ball:
sukū be muheliyen arame ufifi dolo fuka teleme sindafi fesheleme efirengge be mumuhu sembi
“one who sews leather to make a ball, stretches it around rings within, and plays with it by kicking it, is called mumuhu
This poem is apparently intended to invoke both meanings of “ball” and “player,” since it starts out describing a ball, and ends up describing a person. According to zdic.net, the Chinese title 行頭 (pronounced háng tóu) was a term for the captain of a squadron in ancient times, and I have tried to incorporate this sense in my translation of the title.

The word mumuhu also has a derisive meaning, perhaps because a person who spends his time playing ball was considered idle and aimless. If the derisive sense is intended in this poem, it is not overt, but there might be a bit of a joke here anyway. Suppose we read the entire poem with the vision of a ball in our mind, end then the last line hits us like a punchline and we realize it is not the ball but the handsome player who is being called mumuhu.

mumuhu [行頭],    Captain of the Team
Staatsbibliothek 11.53 (View Online)
tor sehei,    Spinning,
aimaka biya,    like the moon,
pio seme,    floating,
wesihun ya,    so high.
5 fahara sain    Good at throwing down,
alire mangga,    and difficult to withstand,
karahai geren yasa,    all eyes are looking on,
oihori saišacuka,    exceedingly praiseworthy,
yalake,    truly,
10hojo haha.    a handsome guy.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

The Clay Daughter-in-Law

There are two Staatsbibliothek poems titled The Clay Daughter-in-Law, a term that refers to a type of doll (sometimes a magical figure, also called 魔合罗, mó hé luó). They praise the doll as the ideal daughter-in-law: Serious but pretty, and adored by children, exemplifying motherly love.

The two poems are closely related, and this is made clear by the use of the word dacan. This term does not appear in my dictionaries or anywhere else in the SBJ poetry, so I have had to make a guess at its meaning from context, yet it appears in both of these poems in connection with the question of who will marry the doll. It seems quite likely that one of these poems is a response to the other.

The opening line of the second poem suggests an interesting subversive alternate reading. The word boihon means “clay,” but it can also be a variant spelling of boigon, “property,” and the two words were probably pronounced the same. If we read this line as “fated to be property” then the second poem takes on a subtly different tone. However, I cannot tell whether I want to read it this way because of my own cultural values, or whether the poet intended to invoke this ambiguous meaning.

The first poem is to the tune Celebrating the Sacred Dynasty:

boihon urun [泥媳婦],    The Clay Daughter-in-Law
Staatsbibliothek 11.86 (View Online)
urun buyakan,    The daughter-in-law is rather small.
abai dacan,    Whither is she destined?
yaka ini hojihon,    Who will be her groom?
banjinjiha ya aniya,    In what year did she come to live here?

sohon ihan,

    In the Yellow Ox year.

hehei doro giyan,    The right way of a woman
dulin yongkiyan,    is to be perfect in halves.
jingji dade hocikon,    Serious, but also pretty.
buya juse niorokoi,    A motherly love
10aja jilan.    that charms the little children.

The second poem is to the tune Heavenly Spice:

boihon urun [泥媳婦],    The Clay Daughter-in-Law
Staatsbibliothek 11.51 (View Online)
boihon hesebun,    To be clay is her fate,
yala unenggi gūnin,    indeed she is sincere,
heni oilohon akū,    not the slightest bit frivolous.
urun,    For a daughter-in-law

ujen jingji hon sain.

    to be grave and serious is very good.

dacan talihūn,    Her destiny is undecided,
tusuhengge ya eigen,    to what husband will she be given?
ainci nairahūn dere,    Presumably she is gentle.
gosin,    Compassion,
10buya juse haji ten.    for little children, is the height of love.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The New Moon

ice biya [新月]    New Moon
Staatsbibliothek 14.10 (View Online)
mudanggai faitan,    A curved eyebrow,
ijifun    a comb
oncohon,    on its back,
gu-i gohon bokšokon,    the elegance of a jade hook,
5hitahūn mudan,    the curve of a fingernail,
fatha toron,    the mark of a talon,
bulekui jerin saliyan,    the bare edge of a mirror,
hon hihan,    most precious,
juhei weihu –    a canoe of ice —
10 hiyotohon saikan.    crescent-shaped and beautiful.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Diagram of Official Advancement

This is one of a series of four poems about different games. It is similar to the poem Weiqi of Political Advancement.

hafan wesire durugan [升官圖],    Diagram of Official Advancement
Staatsbibliothek 11.29 (View Online)
nirugan gese,    Like a picture,
hafasa,    the officials
faidame,    line up,
ilhi anan-i tolo,    score them rank by rank.
5 wesici ne je,    Now they rise,
wasici ne je,    now they fall,
dele wala andande,    suddenly on top or at bottom.
naka joo,    Stop! Enough!
tongki ton bi,    There is a score—
10ume bodoro.    Don’t calculate it!

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Crows, to the tune Drunk on the East Wind

gaha [烏鴉],    Crows
Staatsbibliothek 11.56 (View Online)
ya gasha,    What are crows?
kara boco,    Their color is black.
ai jilgan,    What is their call?
lurgin hele,    Rough and raucous.
5 hiyoošunggai banin,    Like filial people,
gulu hing seme,    they are plain and sincere.
amasi,    Henceforth
ulebure,    feed them.
feniyen feniyelerede,    When they form up in flocks
10sasari,    together,
hūwangga uhe.    they’ll join you on good terms.

Monday, June 4, 2018

A Bound Foot Lantern Poem

This dense and complex poem about bound feet touches on themes of beauty, loneliness, pain, forbidden love, suicide and injustice, all in 15 enigmatic lines.

I still haven’t figured out what the “lantern poems” are. Were they riddles written on lanterns at the New Year festival? Were they poems that ostensibly used decorated lanterns as the inspiration for describing something?

In this post I’m going to take the poem apart because I think that’s the best way to understand what is going on.

giogiyan bethengge dengjan [小腳兒燈],    Bound Foot Lantern
Staatsbibliothek 14.29 (View Online)

The Shoe

harha fulgiyan,    The shoe leather is red,
eldengge saikan,    bright and beautiful,
cece nilgiyan,    the silk is shiny,
yasahangga hihan,    with small holes and rare.

The poem opens with a description of a beautiful shoe, no doubt one of the tiny shoes that adorned bound feet. Just as the first thing you saw with a bound foot was the beautiful shoe, so the first lines the poet gives us are beautiful.

Loneliness and Isolation
5can o [嬋娥] suhe fon,    Cháng’é, when she takes them off,
duruhai lakiyan,

    having grown old and weak, she hangs them up.

biya-i argan,    The crescent of the moon,
gu tanai ujan,

    is a jade pearl boundary.

Turning from the beautiful shoe, the poem then invokes the goddess Cháng’é, who lives alone in the vast cold palaces of the moon. It is not strictly clear whether the goddess or the shoe grows old and weak, but in this season of waning the shape of the moon resembles a bound foot. Compare the lines in the Jīn Píng Méi describing Xīmén Qìng’s first intimate encounter with Pān Jīnlián (in Chinese original and Manchu translation):

lo-i wase be ten tukiyefi, juwe gohon-i ice biya be meiren-i dele sabubuha
Having lifted the gauze stockings up, the two-hooked new moon could be seen over his shoulders.

The poet then goes on to describe the shrinking moon as a beautiful but confining boundary for the goddess. The same idea that the goddess is trapped within the confines of the moon was expressed in Moon, to the tune Wind in the Pines. Like the shoe around the foot, the confines are beautiful, but sorrow lies within it. Like the limited sphere of the moon, the bound foot constrains a woman.

tuwa-i haksan,    The cruelty of fire,

šu ilhai okson,

    is the lotus step.

The phrase tuwa-i haksan is a double entendre. The word haksan can mean a golden or reddish brown color, or else it can mean “cruel, brutal.” On the one hand, this could be describing the bound foot in a red shoe, or perhaps the dried blood on the wrapping of the foot, or else the cruel pain of walking with bound feet.

The reason I have chosen the word “cruelty” for my translation is that the poet could have used a less ambiguous word like jaksan to describe the red color, but instead opted for the ambiguous word haksan, a choice that I think was motivated to capture the meaning of cruelty.

Forbidden Love
lo fei mukei on,    The path of concubine Luò across the water,
suman-i toron,    is a trail of mist.
sabu ne da an,

    The shoes are now as they have always been.

These lines turn from the burning of fire to the cool of feet passing over water. The name “concubine Luò” [洛妃] refers to Lady Zhēn, but the description of her crossing the water is an allusion to the Rhapsody on the Goddess of the Luò River [洛神賦] by Cáo Zhí [曹植], which contains the following lines describing the vision of the goddess on the surface of the river:

She walks in decorated shoes for distant journeying, trailing light garments of misty silk.

By using the name “concubine Luò” [洛妃] for the goddess of the river, the author of this Manchu poem is invoking a well-known story that Lady Zhēn had a secret affair with Cáo Zhí, who was said to have written the Rhapsody about Lady Zhēn after she was forced to commit suicide.

Surely the poet must have known that Lady Zhēn lived long before the practice of binding feet, and the description in the Rhapsody of shoes made for distant journeying [遠遊之文履] could not possibly be understood to mean a shoe that contains a bound foot. The first two lines seem to evoke a temporary sense of freedom and relief, but this is crushed by the third line: “The shoes are now as they have always been.”

Unjust Death
abai yang ioi hūwan [楊玉環],    Where is Yáng Yùhuán?
15weri suinggai maiman    It was someone else's wicked business. 

The poem ends by invoking the memory of Yáng Yùhuán, another imperial concubine and one of the four great beauties of Chinese tradition, who was strangled as a result of her cousin’s involvement in the An Lushan rebellion. Clearly the poet believes this death to have been unjust, because the crime was someone else’s, not hers.

What do all of these images and allusions mean when they are put together in a poem? It may be that only the intended audience would fully understand the hints, but to me this could be the arc of a tragic story in a particular woman’s life: Her feet are bound, she experiences loneliness, isolation, confinement and pain, then a secret and forbidden love and a momentary feeling of freedom, but ending in an unjust death.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Drinking a while under Lanterns

This is a Manchu song about the joys of drink and companionship, set to a tune made famous by a female poet of the Sòng dynasty. The tune is called One Plum Blossom [一剪梅], named for a poem by Lǐ Qīngzhào [李清照].

In case you want to sing it, two variant melodies in traditional gōngchě notation can be found in fascicle 30 of 新定九宮大成南北詞宮譜.

dengjan-i fejile taka omirengge [燈下小酌],    Drinking a while under Lanterns
Staatsbibliothek 14.43 (View Online)
bolgo dere genggiyen fa,    A clean table, a bright window,
dengjan fiyangga,        the lanterns are colorful,
nure wangga,        the wine is fragrant.
yenden amtan juwe sasa,    Interest is paired with flavor,
5 elhe alha,        easy going,
sulfa sula,        relaxed and free.
kesi fengšen dabala,    Aside from grace and fortune,
gebu yaka,        is anyone famous?
aisi aba,        Is there any profit?
10bodorongge ai tusa,    What benefit is there to planning?
beyei baita,        One’s own affairs
abkai ciha.

        are Heaven’s whim.

terei jacingge [其二]

    Second Verse

bolgo edun gehun biya,    A clean breeze and a bright moon,
15genggiyesakai fa,        a rather clear window,
ekisakai hūwa,        a still garden.
emu coman wangga wa,    A goblet and a fragrant scent,
erin sula,        free time,
gūnin sulfa,        and relaxed minds.
20selacukai abka na,    Heaven and earth are blissful.
ai ai naka,        Quit all those various things!
šuwe šuwe waliya,        Completely, utterly abandon them!
damu sebjen baicina,    Let’s seek out joy.
amtan amba,        Great is delight,

yobo niša.

        amusement is ample.

terei ilacingge [其三]

    Third Verse

soninggai yenden noho,    Something novel and interesting
arki dolo,        is that in the liquor,
dengjan holo,        there is a false lantern.
30 gu-i mukei nicuhe,    A pearl of jade water,
elden yobo,        amusing is its light,
boco hojo,        beautiful its color.
omire de nioroko,    Moved by drinking,
niyaman bolgo,        the heart is sincere,
35 tunggen onco,        the breast broad.
sebjen bici oyonggo,    It is important for there to be joy.
yaka sure,        Who is wise
yaka moto.        and who is foolish?

Translation Notes

moto. Based on context, this is apparently a form of modo, “foolish.”

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

A Poem about Manchus

This poem reflects on the privilege of being Manchu in (presumably) the 19th century, and also casts a jaundiced eye towards Manchu life at the founding of the Qing. Who could be gloomy, the poet asks, when it’s so nice to be Manchu.

manju irgebun [滿洲詩]    A Poem about Manchus
Staatsbibliothek 14.39 (View Online)
baibi ališacuka,    Depressed for no reason?
ede tookabucina,    Let this banish your melancholy.
fukjin neire manju šu,    Manchu culture at the founding of the dynasty,
gūnin suse gisun muwa,    was crude in thought and coarse in speech.
5 giyangnan baici aibini,    If we seek an explanation, what is there?
ulhiljeme gūninja,    Snap out of it and consider:
huwekiyen yendere jalin,    For happiness and prosperity,
se selaci wajiha.    all we do is enjoy the years.

Translation Notes

ulhiljeme. This is ulhi-, “understand,” with a suffix -lje-. This suffix appears in verbs with a meaning of “winding, shaking, twisting,” but also in dekde-lje-mbi, “to start (from fright while sleeping).” I’ve chosen the translation “snap out of it” to convey the idea of coming suddenly and unexpectedly to realization.

Monday, May 21, 2018

The last Plum Blossom poems (for now)

These are the last of the plum blossom poems that I have found so far. Over the last few weeks I have learned that the plum blossoms symbolizes hope for Spring in the dark months of Winter, as well as the harmonizing influence of sweetness that balances salt.

The first is a poem in seven-syllable couplets, with one extra non-rhyming line at the end. The second is to the tune of Black-Naped Oriole.

nenden ilha be kidurengge [憶梅],    Longing for Plum Blossoms
Staatsbibliothek 11.41 (View Online)
nenden ilha atanggi,    When will there be plum blossoms?
emu tolgin kidumbi,    I long for them in a dream.
bolori fon manaha,    The Autumn season is worn out,
tuweri yasai juleri,    Winter is before me.
5ilarangge jing teisu,    Anything blooming just now,
sitahangge ainu ni,    how could it hang on?
dergi edun talihūn,    The east wind is uncertain,
buyan yafan simeli,    humble is my garden, and wretched.
fon toloci erin giyan,    If I count the seasons, the time is right,
10biya bodoci esi bi,    if I calculate the months, it is certain.
ho ging [和靖] sargan aibide,    Where is the wife of Hé Jìng?
hoo žan [浩然] gucu absi,    Whither the friend of Hàorán?
ilha geren secibe,    Though one may speak of many flowers,
gecen fonde ya beki,    which ones are strong enough for the icy season?
15jiki jiki jiki bai.    Come, come, come, please!

nenden ilha    Plum Flower
Staatsbibliothek 11.79 (View Online)
tuweri alin de,    In the winter mountains,
eiten moo,    all the trees,
tuheke,    have lost their leaves.
juhe gecen edede,    Frozen is the ice, (shivers)
5 šeyen boco,    White in color,
nenden bonggo,    the plum is first,
nimanggi de sur sere,    laughing on the snow.
biyai dolo,    From within the moon,
ebunjiheo,    has it descended?
10endurin gege.    Goddess.

Translation Notes

tuweri yasai juleri. The text actually has tuwari, which looks like it could be some form of tuwa-, so I’m not sure if this is a play on words or just a misspelling.

buyan yafan simeli. The use of buyan instead of buya is interesting because it is not motivated by requirements of meter or rhyme. If the author had intended to say “the humble garden is wretched” it would have been fine to say buya hafan simeli. Instead, it seems the writer used the predicate form of the adjective, which you might expect to see in a sentence like hafan buyan “the garden is a humble one,” and lifted it up to the head of the line. I tried to recreate this effect in my translation.

ho ging sargan. Hé Jìng [和靖] was another name for the poet Lín Bū [林逋], who lived the life of a recluse, and was famously said to have taken “the plum tree as his wife and the crane as his son” [以梅为妻,以鹤为子]. Compare the allusion in Jakdan’s poem to gu šan alin where this poet was buried.

hoo žan gucu. Mèng Hàorán [孟浩然] wrote a poem about an early-blooming plum tree in his garden [早梅].