with S. Ye Laird
an excerpt from “The Poeny Pavillion”
translated by Susan Ye Laird , first published in Oct. 2010
《牧丹亭》 汤显祖 (1550-1616)
Adoration knows not how and when it is seeded
Once it sprouts, it has a life of its own and knows no bounds
Living touches death, death becomes so alive.
If what lives can not accompany what is dead,
and what is dead can not reseed and do loving thee
both have not reached the fullness of one cosmic breath
Lovers of the dream, why it has to be not real?
it is not like this world is devoid of dreamers.
Two variations on translating 'Dreams are well, but waking's better' , from Emily Dickinson's English to modern Chinese by this editor, another much closer translation in style and in the form of classic Chinese was done by Philomèle from paper-republic.org.
梦想 — 多好 — 苏醒更好，
要是半夜醒来 — 何不再添
梦想 — 黎明的到来？
更甜的 — 是不知情的知更鸟 —
更不会因破晓 — 反唇相讥 —
Dreams — are well — but Waking's better,
If One wake at morn —
If One wake at Midnight — better —
Dreaming — of the Dawn —
Sweeter — the Surmising Robins —
Never gladdened Tree —
Than a Solid Dawn — confronting —
Leading to no Day —
Vladimir Nabokov, "An Evening of Russian Poetry" *
The subject chosen for tonight's discussion
Is everywhere, though often incomplete:
when their basaltic bank become too steep,
most rivers use a kind of rapid Russian,
and so do children talking in their sleep.
My little helper at the magic lantern,
insert that slide and let the colored beam
project my name or any such-like phantom
in Slavic characters upon the screen.
The other way, the other way. I thank you.
On mellow hills the Greek, as you remember,
fashioned his alphabet from cranes in flight;
his arrows crossed the sunset, then the night.
Our simple skyline and a taste for timber,
The influence of hives and conifers,
reshaped the arrows and the borrowed birds.
'Why do you speak of words
When all we want is knowledge nicely browned?'
Because all hangs together – shape and sound
heather and honey, vessel and content.
Not only rainbows – every line is bent,
and skulls and seeds and all good words are round,
like Russian verse, like our colossal vowels:
those painted eggs, those glossy pitcher flowers
that swallow whole a golden bumblebee
those shells that hold a thimble and the sea.
'Is your prosody like ours?'
Well, Emmy, our pentameter may seem
To foreign ears as if it could not rouse
The limp iambus from its pyrrhic dream.
But close your eyes and listen to the line.
The melody unwinds; the middle word
is marvelously long and serpentine:
you hear one beat, but you have also heard
the shadow of another, then the third
touches the gong, and then the fourth one sighs.
It makes a very fascinating noise:
it open slowly, like a greyish rose
In pedagogic films of long ago.
The rhyme is the line's birthday, as you know,
and there certain customary twins
in Russian as in other tongues. For instance,
love automatically rhymes with blood,
nature with liberty, sadness with distance,
humane with everlasting, prince with mud,
moon with a multitude of words, but sun
and song and wind and life and death with none.
Beyond the seas where I have lost a scepter,
I hear the neighing of my dappled nouns,
soft participles coming down the steps,
treading on leaves, trailing their rustling gowns,
and liquid verbs in ahla and in ili,
Aonian grottoes, nights in the Altai,
black pools of sound with "I"s for water lilies.
The empty glass I touched is tinkling still,
but now 'tis covered by a hand and dies.
'Trees? Animals? Your favorite precious stone?'
The birch tree, Cynthia, the fir tree, Joan.
Like a small caterpillar on its thread,
my heart keeps dangling from a leaf long dead
but hanging still, and still I see the slender
white birch that stands on tiptoe in the wind,
and firs beginning where the garden ends,
the evening ember glowing through their cinders.
Among the animals that haunt our verse,
that bird of bards, regale of night, comes first:
scores of locutions mimicking its throat
render its very whistling, bubbling, bursting,
flutelike or cuckoolike or ghostlike note.
But lapidary epithets are few;
we do not deal in universal rubies.
The angle and the glitter are subdued;
our reaches lie concealed. We never liked
the jeweler's window in the rainy night.
My back is Argus-eyed. I live in danger.
False shadows turn to track me as I pass
and, wearing beards, disguised as secret agents,
creep in to blot the freshly written page
and read the blotter in the looking glass.
And in the dark, under my bedroom window,
until, with a chill whirr and shiver, day
presses its starter, warily they linger
or silently approach the door and ring
the bell of memory and run away.
Let me allude, before the spell is broken,
to Pushkin, rocking in his coach on long
and lonely roads: he dozed, then he awoke,
undid the collar of his traveling cloak,
and yawned, and listened to the driver's song.
Amorphous sallow bushes called rakeety,
enormous clouds above an endless plain,
songline and skyline endlessly repeated,
the smell of grass and leather in the rain.
And then the sob, the syncope (Nekrasov!)
the panting syllables that climb and climb,
obsessively repetitive and rasping,
dearer to some than any other rhyme.
And lovers meeting in a tangled garden,
dreaming of mankind, of untrammeled life,
mingling their longings in the moonlight garden,
where trees and hearts are larger than in life.
This passion for expansion you may follow
throughout our poetry. We want the mole
to be a lynx or turn into a swallow
by some sublime mutation of the soul.
But no unneeded symbols consecrated,
escorted by a vaguely infantile
path for bare feet, our roads were always fated
to lead into the silence of exile.
Had I more time tonight I would unfold
the whole amazing story – neighukluzhe,
nevynossimo – but I have to go.
What did I say under my breath? I spoke
to a blind songbird hidden in a hat,
safe from my thumbs and from the eggs I broke
into the gibus brimming with their yolk.
And now I must remind you in conclusion,
that I am followed everywhere and that
space is collapsible, although the bounty
of memory is often incomplete:
once in a dusty place of Mora county
(half town, half desert, dump mound and mesquite)
and once in West Virginia (a muddy
red road between an orchard and a veil
of rapid rain) it came, that sudden shudder,
a Russian something that I could inhale
but could not see. Some rapid words were uttered –
and then the child slept on, the door was shut.
The conjurer collects his poor belongings –
the colored handkerchief, the magic rope,
the double-bottomed rhymes, the cage, the song.
You tell him of the passes you detected.
The mystery remains intact. The check
comes forward in the smiling envelope.
"How would you say "delightful talk' in Russian?
How would you say 'good night?' "
Oh, that would be:
Bessonitza, tvoy vzor oonyl I strashen;
lubov' moya, outsoopnika prostee.
(Insomnia, your stare is dull and ashen,
my love, forgive me this apostasy.)
"The world is too much with us"
by William Wordsworth (1770-1850)
The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. Great God! I’d rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.
translated by Li Qingzhou＊,
originally shared on sciencenet.cn
* Mr. 李轻舟 originally shared his translation of William Wordsworth within the context of transposing "The world is too much with us" with another famous Chinese Classic work《归去来兮辞》 by one of the foremost "recluse" poets -- Tao Yuanming (365–427) . There are a couple English translations masterfully done of 《归去来兮辞》. We like to save it for later.
* First published in The New Yorker. Vol. 21 (1945), N 3. And the first public reading by Nabokov was at Filene's Department Store in Boston to an audience assembled to hear New England's leading poet, Robert Frost. This poem also appeared on p.134 - p.138 in 'Selected Poems'(2012) by Vladmir Nabokov, edited by Thomas Karshan, new translations by Dimitri Nabokov. Nabokov's other essays on the sins of translating poetry isn't as illustrious as 'an evening of Russian Poetry'(1945) and his 'Pale Fire' (1962) by this editor's point of view.