archy and mehitabel and du fu

六月廿六日於費城市立圖書館讀《唐詩300首》英譯版

Written After Seeing an English Translation of 300 Tang Poems in the Philadelphia Public Library on June 26

古語韻難尋
夷言更添哀
囮者詠嘆寄
巢空鳥驚飛

what is with all these
translators who make
tang poetry read like e.e. cummings

don’t they know
classical forms never used
enjambment

12 thoughts on “archy and mehitabel and du fu

  1. Are you sure you don’t want to get a PhD and be a big-shot China scholar somewhere covered with ivies? :)

  2. The results can be quite grim for the reverse, too.

    It could always be worse. Consider Li Yi’s immortal “Limerick of the Southern River”:

    My husband, a merchant of Kui,
    Puts off my needs day after day.
    If instead I’d relied
    On the regular tide,
    A surfer’s wife I’d be today.

  3. @Hao: I understand that using profanity in one’s dissertation is frowned upon, so probably not, at least for now.

    @jdmartinsen: There was a great Metafilter thread a while ago where people took great poems and rewrote them as limericks. (Jim contributed a wonderful rendition of “Dulce et Decorum” that pretty much won the thread as far as I was concerned.) May be time to do that for Chinese poems too.

    A filial girl named Mulan
    Didn’t want Dad to fight for the Khan.
    So she got her a saddle
    And rode off to battle,
    The whole while disguised as a man.

  4. I thought
    旧时王谢堂前燕
    飞入寻常百姓家
    in 刘禹锡’s 乌衣巷was the only exception?

  5. Brendan,

    Which Chinese-English dictionary do you rely on when translating? I have several dead-tree dictionaries that are at least better than Wenlin et al. But I’m still not satisfied. Anyway, just wondering what you use. (If you say that real men only use Chinese-Chinese dictionaries or something along those lines, then I’ll harrumph at you loudly.)

    Thanks

  6. Hey Jim — it basically depends, but if I’m working, then I’m going for speed, which means that I’m using computer dictionaries wherever possible. nCiku is pretty good in a lot of contexts, as is Adso. Google Translate is getting better, but still has the nasty habit of occasionally giving very reasonable-sounding but utterly wrong translations. For neologisms, Baidu Zhidao is invaluable, as people have often asked (in Chinese) for explanations of new coinages.

    Also, real men use Chi- etc etc.

  7. I suppose some 流水对 in ancient poetry may be considered as a sort of “enjambment”. Such “run-on lines” would be more common if 对仗 is not necessary.

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