ouyang xiu: second in a series

So nobody at all commented on the last translation, which is just fucking lame. How much effort does it take to fire up the comment box and leave a message saying “nice translation,” or “what a shite translation,” or even something totally irrelevant like “so this one time, my cousin got a chemistry set and set all his ass hairs on fire in a freak potassium explosion?” I mean, really.

Anyway, even though you woeful ass-munches don’t deserve it, here’s the second poem in Ouyang Xiu’s 采桑子 series, with some notes at the end.

欧阳修: 采桑子 (2)



Ouyang Xiu: “To the tune of ‘The Mulberry-Picking Boy'”


Deep spring, the rains over: the beautiful West Lake.
A hundred flora vie in glamor;
Butterflies flutter and bumblebees murmur;
The clear sun urges flowers on to burst forth into bloom.

With orchid oars, a pleasure-barge rows lazily along.
You’d take it for a crowd of immortals
Glinting in among the waves.
Across wide waters, the high wind lifts a reedy tune.

So I was originally going to try to translate the entire 10-poem “Mulberry-Picking Boy” cycle as rhyming verse, but that just broke down here. What, besides “portals,” “mortals,” and “chortles,” rhymes with “immortals?”

I translate 卉 huì as “flora” because “grasses,” a more literal translation, just sounded weird. If anyone can think of a better old-fashioned-sounding word for “grasses and plants,” please suggest it.

Interestingly, 画 huà (“to paint; painted”) was (according to my dictionaries) also used to mean 划, pronounced huá, meaning “to row.” So the line 兰桡画舸悠悠去 could also be translated as “Magnolia oars row the barge lazily along.” (And for that matter, I’ve seen a translation by Jerome P. Seaton that renders the line as ‘”far off, magnolia oars, a painted barge sails on,’ “far off” apparently being that translator’s interpretation of 悠悠.)
I translated this line as I have because its structure is intended to parallel the first line of the poem, in which case my interpretation seems to make more sense. Of course, I could also be totally wrong about that, in which case you should let me know. By leaving a comment.

Comments (10)

  1. Todd wrote::

    Poetry is not everybody’s turn-on…it seems that trevelyan’s 成语 competition is a faster path to recognition, accidental or otherwise. And how do you know that about my cousin?

    Thursday, December 2, 2004 at 4:38 am #
  2. oli wrote::

    I liked both translations. Replace ‘A hundred flora’ with ‘All the shrubbery’ and you’ve got a winner.

    I really think rhyme in translations is over rated. I think half rhymes (or whatever you call them), focusing more on the meter and the general sounds at important places in the line can be much more effective.

    Ive got this version of 楚辞 and a similar rhyming 诗经 and it pisses me off no end. Especially in a long poem, i find that i havent been reading the meaning, just bouncing along to the neat rhythm. Maybe that’s just me though.

    Thursday, December 2, 2004 at 5:06 am #
  3. Anonymous wrote::

    You put a lot of effort into the structure, but, as Kristof said in yesterday’s Times, 馬屎表面光.

    Just Kidding.

    Happy Comment!

    Thursday, December 2, 2004 at 5:08 am #
  4. Brendan wrote::

    The actual saying (at least in Kristof’s version) is 驴粪蛋儿,表面儿光. And as long as my donkey turds are shiny, I’m happy.

    Oli – Rhyme in translations bothers me when it’s too contrived (e.g. many of Giles’ translations), but when it’s done well, I think it adds a lot. You’re right about that translation of the Chuci, though — in general, reading any of the Yangs’ translations can only be a mistake. David Hawkes, of whom I’m an unabashed fanboy, published an unrhymed translation in Penguin Books under the title “The Songs of the South” — but then in his translation of 红楼梦, he rendered the poems as rhyming verse, and the result is completely effortless.

    Thursday, December 2, 2004 at 3:38 pm #
  5. Matt wrote::

    Sorry, dude, I’m reading and learning but I don’t really feel qualified to comment yet.

    I think rhyme in translation works well to establish a sort of rhythmic, chanting mood — if that’s the mood you want. I am really partial to the Penguin edition of Horace I have, which rhymes. I don’t like many rhymed translations of Japanese poetry, though, because the patness of the rhyme sort of pre-empts the reverberation the poem is supposed to have — turns it from a pregnant suggestion of mood into a cute aphorism about frogs.

    Still, I’d rather read a good rhymed translation than a bad unrhymed one.

    You could make the immortal line rhyme if you rearranged it:

    an immortal? hard to tell
    glinting there between the swells

    … yeah, see, this is why I shouldn’t comment.

    Thursday, December 2, 2004 at 8:33 pm #
  6. Anonymous wrote::

    I miss Harbin

    Thursday, December 2, 2004 at 8:52 pm #
  7. Brendan wrote::

    Matt – I like it!

    And Anonymous — I miss Harbin sometimes too. But not in winter.

    Thursday, December 2, 2004 at 9:09 pm #
  8. Brendan wrote::

    (Also, Oli — I have to say, “shrubbery” puts me in mind of Monty Python.)

    Friday, December 3, 2004 at 4:30 am #
  9. Adam wrote::

    I think it’s a very beautiful translation that captures the meaning of the original. My only suggestion would be that 管弦 refers not so much to a reedy tune, but to something more orchestral, i.e. flutes and strings, a symphony of sounds, etc. I can’t imagine a pleasure barge laden with immortals being serenaded by some reedy 笛子 as if the were tourists standing around some Beijing landmark.

    Friday, December 3, 2004 at 5:06 am #
  10. Brendan wrote::

    Adam – you’re absolutely right. I’d been going for a near-rhyme with “bloom” from the first stanza, so I decided to mistranslate, which now strikes me as a lousy idea.

    Saturday, December 4, 2004 at 5:22 am #