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"A Song" by Percy Shelley rendered into classical Chinese by Su Manshu 蘇曼殊 (1884-1918)

A Song

By Percy Bysshe Shelley (1792-1822) [1]

A widow bird sate mourning for her love

Upon a wintry bough;

The frozen wind kept on above,

The freezing stream below.

There was no leaf upon the forest bare,

No flower upon the ground,

And little motion in the air

Except the mill-wheel's sound.

Translation by 蘇曼殊 Su Manshu (1884-1918)[2]










Back translation of Su Manshu’s translation:

A Winter Day

A lone bird perches on a cold branch

Crying with sorrow for its kind.

Pond water begins to form ice;

How desolate is the chilly wind!

A bleak grove, no staying leaf;

A barren land, no flower buds.

Ten thousand sounds all in silence,

[One] only hears the loud well-lever.

Note on Su Manshu’s translation:

In eight pentasyllabic lines with a level-tone rhyme, Su Manshu’s translation may seem reminiscent of wu yan lüshi 五言律詩 (pentasyllabic regulated verse), but a closer look into the tonal scheme indicates that the translation does not follow the tonal rules of regulated verse. In addition, the choice of words and the loose parallelism of the second and third couplets recall ancient-style poetry, creating a poetic mood similar to that of the Gushi Shijiu Shou 古詩十九首 (Nineteen Old Poems).

[1] As first published in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley ed., Posthumous Poems of Percy Bysshe Shelley (London: Printed for John and Henry L. Hunt, 1824), 217: [2] Su Manshu, Su Manshu quanji 蘇曼殊全集 (Beijing: Dangdai Zhongguo chubanshe, 2007), vol. 1, 56. [3] Red characters rhyme.

“Han xue shanji tu” 寒雪山雞圖 by Lü Ji 呂紀 (fl. late 15th century)

Picture credit: National Palace Museum, Taipei


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1 comment

1 Comment

Jan 16, 2023

I like the idea of translating other poetry into Classical Chinese poetry.

I know of 姚華 who translated Rabindranath Tagore’s poems into Classical Chinese.

Called 五言飛鳥集.

I think it not only allows ancient styles to persist, it also breaths new life into them.

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