a small story of one chinese poem

a small story of one chinese poem

first is the word for word trot that whincup gave in his “chinese poetry”.  it is a poem i translated and left inside the book, and found later and was so smitten with the effort that i began my chinese translations fer real.



drinking wine

construct shack in people region
but there-is-no carriage horse hubbub
ask “sir how can thus”
heart distant place therefrom out-of-the-way
pick chrysanthemums eastern fence below
distant -ly see southern mountains
mountain air sun at-evening fine
flying birds each-other with return
this in there-is truth idea
wish-to express already forget words

tau chyen
six dynasties period
about 400 AD



compare yip’s word for word

build      house      in        man        region
and(but)     no      carriage/s       horse/s       noise/s
ask      you      how       can-be       (part.)
mind      distant      place     naturally        incline(secluded)
pick      chrysanthemum/s       east      fence       beneath
yu-jan*      catch       sight      of       south      mountain
mountain      air       day(evening)       night        good
flying       bird        each-other        with        return
this       within      there-is      true       sense-of-things
wish      tell       already       forget       word/s

yip wai-lim


and then there was me back on 10-12-96, yea these ten years ago.

drinking wine

build your house in the middle of people
but don’t listen to the sound of traffic
just try to imagine how to do this
let your heart go to somewhere out of the way
to pick chrysanthemums in a small garden
and look up over everything else to mountains
you can see sun’s glorious leaving
you can see birds fly home to roost
then you can know that to hear anything
you want to hear, forget the words

murphy sitting at the kitchen table


and then the library of chinese classics for tao yuan ming and he is the same man as tao qian translated by hinton and goes by a lot of names but is the seminal old fool now that he was then.

drinking wine

My house is built amid the world of men,
Yet with no sound and fury do I ken.
To tell you how I can keep deaf and blind,
Any place is calm for a peaceful mind.
I pluck hedge-side chrysanthemums dwith pleasure
And see the tranquil Southern Mount in leisure.
The evening haze enshrouds it in fine weather
While flocks of birds are flying home together.
The view provides some veritable truth,
But my defining words seem to me uncouth.

Tao Yuanming (English translation by Wang Rongpei)



i couldn’t get over the rhyming couplets when i started in on this book.  (once i got past the intro proclaiming china to be the world’s good old buddy, back to take its place at the head of the table, but friendly to all.)   and the convoluted syntax to make the rhyme. reminded me of my convoluted, rhyming, acrostic sonnets.  then to go on another tack, let us peruse hinton and his modern, fractured, take on things.

Drinking wine

I live in town without all that racket
horses and carts stir up, and you wonder

how could that be. Wherever the mind
dwells apart is itself a distant place.

Picking chrysanthemums at my east fence,
Far off, I see South Mountain: mountain

air lovely at dusk, birds in flight
returning home. All this means something,

something absolute. Whenever I start
explaining it, I’ve forgotten the words.

David Hinton



being on sort of a role, i went back to my faded old copy of arthur waley to see what he weighed in with.

T’ao Ch’ien

I built my hut in a zone of human habitation,
Yet near me sounds no noise of horse or coach.
Would yoy know how that is possible?
A hear that is distant creates a wilderness round it.
I pluck chrysanthemums under the eastern hedge,
Then gaze long at the distant summer hills.
The mountain air is fresh at the dusk of day;
The flying birds two by two return.
In these thinga there lies a deep meaning;
Yet when we would express it, words suddenly fail us.

Arthur Waley 1919



The next version is the man who taught me about chinese civilization when i was at harvard.   we called the course “rice paddies” and it concentrated on both japan and china.

I built my hut beside a traveled road
Yet hear no noise of passing carts and horses.
You would like to know how it is done?
With the mind detached, one’s place becomes remote.
Picking chrysanthemums by the eastern hedge
I catch sight of the distant southern hills;
The mountain air is lovely as the sun sets
And flocks of flying birds return together.
In these things is a fundamental truth
I would like to tell, but lack the words.

James R. Hightower



And back to yip for his static translation.

A house built within men’s reach
And no clamor of carts and horses.
How, may I ask, can this be?
Mind distanced, place becomes remote.
Plucking chrysanthemums by the east hedge.
I catch sight of the South Mountain.
Mountain so gorgeous in the dusk,
Flying birds return wing to wing.
Here contains the truth of truth.
To tell? Already words are forgotten.

Yip wai lim




And finally here is the man who started it all, old “wine-cup” himself.

Written after Drinking Wine

I built my shack
Amid the haunts of me,
And yet there is no noise
Of horse or carriage.

You ask,
“How can this be?”–
Any place becomes secluded
When the mind is far away.

I pluck chrysanthemums
By the eastern fence.
In the distance
I see the mountains to the south.

The light on the mountains
Is lovely at sunset,
Flocks of birds
Fly back together for the night.

In this
There is an intimation of Truth.
I want to express it,
But have forgotten all the words.

Greg Whincup



And that’s my little story for today.

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