Yunhe Huang translates Fan Zhongyan & Li Qingzhao
Fan Zhongyan (989-1052) was a Chinese statesman, writer and philosopher of the Song dynasty. A significant portion of his career was spent working on China’s defences along the North-western border, which inspired the theme of loneliness in his writings. His best-known poems contrasted his experience of solitude and homesickness with a sense of duty to his country and people.
Li Qingzhao (1084-1151) lived during the Song dynasty and was considered one of the most accomplished woman poets in Chinese history. Many of her poems intimately reflect her experiences of love, loss, fear and uncertainty living in a war-torn China.
Fan Zhongyan (989-1052)
Nostalgia in Autumn
Li Qingzhao (1084-1151)
On the autumn-tinted river,
A green mist floats the waves.
Under a sky merging into waters,
Hills frame a glorious sunset.
The grass stretches endless
Into the sun and sky.
Dreams, my only refuge
Through these endless nights.
The moonlit balcony is not for the lonesome traveller.
When the wine reaches my sorrow-stricken heart,
It turns to tears of longing.
Blue clouded sky,
Leaves fall on paved steps.
In the tranquil night,
I hear broken whispers of the cold.
Curtains open, I linger alone on the balcony.
The Milky Way drapes low across a pale sky.
Every year on this night,
The moonlight a silk ribbon
Stretching thousands of miles.
My heart is stricken beyond a drunken cure.
Before wine reaches my lips,
It had already turned to tears.
Watching the lamp flicker as I lean on my pillow,
I have long understood the taste of sleeping alone.
It hovers between my brows and drifts across my heart,
Refusing to be pushed away.
I am restless as the warmth makes way for the cold.
A few glasses of wine,
No defence against the evening wind.
Wild geese fly past my heavy heart,
My old acquaintances.
Petals collect in my garden,
Wilted gold. Long past their prime.
Standing by the window,
I have no courage to face the black night.
Tiny raindrops fall among silent trees,
Dripping and drizzling into twilight.
Everything becomes one word:
I have selected three ci poems from the Song dynasty under a common theme of coping with loneliness. The ci was traditionally a form of song, which later evolved into written poetry with a unique lyrical quality. In order to capture the musical quality of these poems, I used a more liberal approach in my translation and re-created them in a more contemporary style using the English language. My aim was to show the rhythm of language in these poems, which is often lost in traditional literal translations of classical Chinese poetry. I had chosen to de-emphasize the exotic setting of these poems in my translation in order to highlight loneliness as a human condition common across all cultures. In particular, Li’s poem reminded me of English-language confessionalist women poets, and the form and language used in the translation was intended to reflect that similarity.
Yunhe Huang is a Chinese writer based in Australia. She has written poetry and prose in both Chinese and English, using a variety of genres from Song-dynasty ci to American confessionalist poetry. Translation has been her passion since childhood, with a special interest in translating poetry from Chinese to English. Her original poems have appeared in Dubnium.