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"A Red, Red Rose" by Robert Burns rendered into classical Chinese by Su Manshu 蘇曼殊 (1884-1918)

1 As published in The Complete Works of Robert Burns: Containing his Poems, Songs, and Correspondence. With a New Life of the Poet, and Notices, Critical and Biographical by Allan Cunningham (Boston: Boston, Phillips, Sampson, 1853), 264:

2 Su Manshu, Su Manshu quanji 蘇曼殊全集 (Beijing: Dangdai Zhongguo chubanshe, 2007), vol. 1, 54.

3 Su Manshu’s translation is a clear tribute to Chinese ancient-style poetry. Starting a line with the reduplication of adjectives was very common in early pentasyllabic poems, especially prior to the Tang dynasty (618-907). In addition, these early poems rarely bore “titles” assigned by their writers (mostly anonymous) and have been conventionally referred to by their first lines, so Su Manshu’s title is exactly the first line of his translation. Adding to the ancient style, he also chooses a relatively obsolete term, qiangmi 墻靡 (literary “wall-spread”), for rose, which is much more commonly known as qiangwei 薔薇.

4 Shang 商 is a mode of the traditional Chinese pentatonic scale and often represents a melancholic mood or desolate ambience.

5 Note that Su Manshu’s translation does not introduce any personal pronouns until the second stanza. His rendering of the first stanza is dedicated to what is external to the speaker, which reflects the traditionally praised technique of starting from a description of surroundings, or external things, to foreshadow the main theme and inner feelings.

6 The wording here has a strong classical flavour as yumei 予美 (“my beauty”) and yaoshao 夭紹 (a rhyming binome, or dieyun lianmianci 疊韻聯緜詞, meaning “fine, lithe, and elegant”) both come from the Shijing 詩經 (Book of Songs).

7 The expression shen zichi 申自持 alludes to a line in the famous “Luoshen fu” 洛神賦 (Rhapsody of the Goddess of the Luo [River]) by Cao Zhi 曹植 (192-232), shen lifang yi zi chi 申禮防以自持 (elaborate on the proprieties to contain oneself), which indicates that the poet’s affection for the goddess is so strong as to make him gloomy and feel obliged to control himself; see Wenxuan 文選:

8 Coloured characters rhyme.

9 Ayang or eyang 阿陽 is an archaic first-person pronoun only used in certain southwestern regions, see Guo Pu’s 郭璞 (276-324) annotation on the Erya 爾雅: This may be Su Manshu’s attempt to reflect Burns’ use of Scots.

Roses in the album "Qunrui zao xia" 群蕤藻夏 by Huang Yue 黃鉞 (1750-1841)

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei

Roses by Jiang Tingxi 蔣廷錫 (1669-1732)

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei


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