Thursday, February 7, 2013

Du Fu's "Watching Lady Gongsun's Disciple Perform a Sword Dance" (300 Tang Dynasty Poems #64)

Preface

     On October 19th in the second year of the Dali era (766-779), in the house of the Kueifu official, Yuanchi, I watched a young lady, Li of Lingying, perform a sword dance with robust and impressive footing. I asked who her teacher was and she replied, “I am a disciple of Lady Gongsun.”
     I remember in the third year of the Kaiyuan era (713-741), when I was still a child, watching Lady Gongsun perform a sword dance in Yancheng, moving like a floating boat in deep water hit by the swift patter of rain, unequaled among her peers. Of all the top performers of the Pear Garden dance troupe, and those I knew of outside the troupe, performing in the early years of the Emperor, sacred of literary talent and military might, Lady Gongsun was alone.
     She had a jeweled appearance and wore embroidered clothes, but now I have gray hair and even her disciple’s face is no longer young. Since I now recognize her roots, I know there is no second to her sublime routine. To console my ardent sighs a bit,  I wrote a poem then, called “Ode to Swords.”
     There once was a man from Wu named Zhang Xu, skilled in cursive calligraphy, who beheld Lady Gongsun perform her Western River Sword Dance several times in Ye County. Henceforth, he made great strides in cursive calligraphy, arousing in it a pool of heroic feeling. That, apparently, is the influence of Lady Gongsun.


Translation

Du Fu (712-770)

杜甫
Watching Lady Gongsun’s Disciple
Perform a Sword Dance
(with preface)

觀公孫大娘弟子
舞劍器
行并序


In the past, there was a beauty,
a lady of the Gongsun clan,
昔有佳人
公孫氏
who would do a sword dance,
moving in all directions.

一舞劍器
動四方
So many people, like the colors
of countless mountains, watched
觀者如山
色沮喪
in amazement, for heaven and earth
itself moved up and down.

天地為之
久低昂

Shimmering, like shots of the
archer Yi, nine suns were dropping,
霍如羿射
九日落
brave and swift, like the team of flying
dragons belonging to the Emperors of Heaven.

矯如群帝
驂龍翔
The drums were coming in thunder claps
as the audience held its furious force
來如雷霆
收震怒
Until the end—when the sword became
a river and sea congealed in pure light.

罷如江海
凝清光
Red lips, jeweled sleeves—
both of them have disappeared,
絳唇珠袖
兩寂寞
but later a disciple came
to spread her lovely talent.

晚有弟子
傳芬芳
A Linying beauty
in White Emperor City
臨潁美人
在白帝
performs this same song,
a magic dance—and the spirits disperse.

妙舞此曲
神揚揚
I ask about her
and learn her story,
與余問答
既有以
thus feeling matters in time that
have increased my wounds and regrets.

**

感時撫事
增惋傷
The late Emperor, Tang Xuanzong,
had eight thousand female attendants;
先帝侍女
八千人
from the beginning, Gongsun,
with her sword dance, was number one.

公孫劍器
初第一
Fifty years have gone
like the turning of a palm;
五十年間
似反掌
the wind and dust a dark and muddy
cave for the royal house.

風塵澒洞
昏王室
Pear Garden dancers
scatter like the mist,
梨園子弟
散如煙
the remaining dancing women’s
beauty reflecting in the cold and sun.

女樂餘姿
映寒日
The trees over Tang Xuanzong’s tomb
have already grown and arched
金粟堆前
木已拱
and the grasses of Stone City,
by the Qutang Gorge, have withered in the wind.

**

瞿塘石城
草蕭瑟
Strings and flutes play rapidly,
bringing the banquet and song to an end;
玳筵急管
曲復終
such happiness turns to sorrow
as the eastern moon comes out.

樂極哀來
月東出
This old man does not know
his place in the world;
老夫不知
其所往
his feet are calloused as he turns
the desolate hill, worrying that he goes too fast.


足繭荒山
轉愁疾

Commentary

     This poem recalls Du Fu watching a performance of a woman performing a dance with a sword, leading him to reflect on his life over the previous fifty years and the upheavals in society.
     As the poem starts, Du Fu is so impressed by the dancing woman’s performance that he asks her who her master is. It turns out to be Lady Gongsun, a performer he remembers from fifty years ago, when he was a child. Her beauty and dancing technique made her unique among all the Chinese opera dancers.
     Du Fu reflects that she eventually grew old and lost her fame (i.e., “red lips, jeweled sleeves” disappeared). Then he relates this to the Emperor passing and how the “wind and dust” of the An Lushan rebellion overturned society, leaving the royal family as if walking in a blacked out cave.
     In the end, he reflects on his own aging. He is an old man that does not know his place in the world, after failing to attain his goals in government service. Although he walks slowly due to calloused feet, he worries that he may be walking away from the party too fast, unable to enjoy it any longer.


Original Chinese

Traditional
Simplified
Pronunciation



杜甫
杜甫
Dù fǔ
觀公孫大娘弟子舞劍器
行并序
观公孙大娘弟子舞剑器
行并序
Guān gōng sūn dà niáng dì zǐ wǔ jiàn qì xíng bìng xù



昔有佳人公孫氏,
昔有佳人公孙氏,
Xī yǒu jiā rén gōng sūn shì,
一舞劍器動四方。
一舞剑器动四方。
Yì wǔ jiàn qì dòng sì fāng.
觀者如山色沮喪,
观者如山色沮丧,
Guān zhě rú shān sè jǔ sàng,
天地為之久低昂。
天地为之久低昂。
Tiān dì wéi zhī jiǔ dī áng.
霍如羿射九日落,
霍如羿射九日落,
Huò rú yì shè jiǔ rì luò,
矯如群帝驂龍翔,
矫如群帝骖龙翔,
Jiǎo rú qún dì cān lóng xiáng,
來如雷霆收震怒,
来如雷霆收震怒,
Lái rú léi tíng shōu zhèn nù,
罷如江海凝清光。
罢如江海凝清光。
Bà rú jiāng hǎi níng qīng guāng.
絳唇珠袖兩寂寞,
绛唇珠袖两寂寞,
Jiàng chún zhū xiù liǎng jì mò,
晚有弟子傳芬芳。
晚有弟子传芬芳。
Wǎn yǒu dì zǐ chuán fēn fāng.
臨潁美人在白帝,
临颍美人在白帝,
Lín yǐng měi rén zài bái dì,
妙舞此曲神揚揚。
妙舞此曲神扬扬。
Miào wǔ cǐ qū shén yáng yáng.
與余問答既有以,
与余问答既有以,
Yǔ yú wèn dá jì yǒu yǐ,
感時撫事增惋傷。
感时抚事增惋伤。
Gǎn shí fǔ shì zēng wàn shāng.
先帝侍女八千人,
先帝侍女八千人,
Xiān dì shì nǚ bā qiān rén,
公孫劍器初第一。
公孙剑器初第一。
Gōng sūn jiàn qì chū dì yī.
五十年間似反掌,
五十年间似反掌,
Wǔ shí nián jiān shì fǎn zhǎng,
風塵澒洞昏王室。
风尘澒洞昏王室。
Fēng chén hòng dòng hūn wáng shì.
梨園子弟散如煙,
梨园子弟散如烟,
Lí yuán zǐ dì sàn rú yān,
女樂餘姿映寒日。
女乐余姿映寒日。
Nǚ yuè yú zī yìng hán rì.
金粟堆前木已拱,
金粟堆前木已拱,
Jīn sù duī qián mù yǐ gǒng,
瞿塘石城草蕭瑟。
瞿塘石城草萧瑟。
Qú táng shí chéng cǎo xiāo sè.
玳筵急管曲復終,
玳筵急管曲复终,
Dài yán jí guǎn qū fù zhōng,
樂極哀來月東出。
乐极哀来月东出。
Lè jí āi lái yuè dōng chū.
老夫不知其所往?
老夫不知其所往?
Lǎo fū bù zhī qí suǒ wǎng?
足繭荒山轉愁疾。
足茧荒山转愁疾。
Zú jiǎn huāng shān zhuǎn chóu jí.


Translation Notes

杜甫
Birchleaf-pear-tree Man= Du Fu(712-770)
觀公孫大娘弟子舞劍器
行并序
Observe Gong/public Sun/grandchild Big Mother junior child dance sword instrument travel with preface
[Gong Sun Big Mother = Lady Gongsun. “Big Mother” is her title and means that she is the eldest daughter of the Gongsun family.]
[Junior child = apprentice]
[Dance sword instrument = sword dance]
[“Travel” is a poetic genre]



昔有佳人公孫氏,
Past there-was beautiful woman Gong Sun clan
一舞劍器動四方。
Once dance sword tool shake four ways
[four ways = idiom meaning “everywhere.”]
觀者如山色沮喪,
Watching people like mountain color dejected mourn
[Like mountain = idiom meaning “a big crowd.”]
[Color dejected mourn = idiom meaning “eye-opening, amazing.”]
天地為之久低昂。
Heavens earth for its long-lasting hang-low rise
[hang-low rise = “ups and downs,” here meaning “astounding.”]
霍如羿射九日落,
Suddenly like Yi shoots nine suns drops
[Suddenly= shimmering, a variant of another character.]
[Yi = a legendary archer]
矯如群帝驂龍翔,
Brave/swift like group-of emperors two-outside-horses-in-group-of-three-or-four/ride dragon flying
[group-of emperors = a group of gods in the sky]
來如雷霆收震怒,
Come like thunder clap collects quake furious
[thunder clap = the drum beating to accompany the dance]
[collect quake furious = the audience hold their breath to watch the sword dance.]
罷如江海凝清光。
End like river sea congeal pure light
[Pure light = sword’s reflected light]
絳唇珠袖兩寂寞,
Red lips jeweled sleeve pair quiet lonely
[Red lips = allusion to the singing]
[Jeweled sleeve = allusion to the dancing]
[Quiet lonely = disappear; Lady Gongsun has gone.]
晚有弟子傳芬芳。
Later there-is junior child spread fragrance fragrant/virtuous
[Junior child = apprentice]
[Fragrance fragrant = the good essence]
臨潁美人在白帝,
Lin/draw-near Ying/river-in-Anhui beautiful woman at Bai/white Di/god
[Lin Ying= a city in He’nan]
[Bai Di = White God = Baidi, a town in Sichuan]
妙舞此曲神揚揚。
Magic dance this song spirits spread scatter
與余問答既有以,
With me ask answer since have reason/therefore
感時撫事增惋傷。
Feel time comforts/pats matters  increase regrets wounds
先帝侍女八千人,
Former Emperor attendant women eight thousand people
[Former Emperor = the late emperor, Tang Xuanzong (685-762), seventh emperor of the Tang Dynasty.]
公孫劍器初第一。
Gong/public Sun/child sword tool originally number one
五十年間似反掌,
Five ten years among as-if turn-over palm-of-hand
[Five ten= fifty]
[turn-over palm-of-hand = idiom meaning that time flies.]
風塵澒洞昏王室。
Wind dust vast cave dark/muddle-headed king family/house
[Wind dust= here refers to the An Lushan Rebellion in the Tang Dynasty.]
[vast cave = in an endless way]
梨園子弟散如煙,
Pear Garden child junior scatters like mist
[Pear Garden = a place Emperor Tang Xuanzong founded to train musicians. Later, it became the general title of musical troupes.]
[Child junior = disciple]
[Pear Garden child junior = Pear Garden disciples or Chinese opera performers]
女樂餘姿映寒日。
Women music residue beauty/manner reflects cold sun
[Woman music = Chinese dancing and singing woman, like a geisha.]
[Cold sun = the poem was written in October.]
金粟堆前木已拱,
Golden Grain pile in-front tree already folded-hands/arch
[Golden Grain pile= Tang Xuanzong’s tomb is in Mt. Golden Grain.]
[Note: The poem was written five years after  Xuanzong’s death; thus, the planted trees were already growing up and embracing each other in an arch.] 
瞿塘石城草蕭瑟。
Qu Dike stone town grass desolate sound-of-wind
[Qu Dike stone town = Qu Dike is the Qutang Gorge, here referring to the Kuizhou area, a famous ancient city in Sichuan; Qutang Gorge and Baidi are nearby.]
[Desolate sound-of-wind = rustle in the air]
玳筵急管曲復終,
Tortoise-shell strings rapid pipes tune repeatedly in-the-end
[rapid pipes = the flute is playing at a fast tempo.]
樂極哀來月東出。
Happy utmost sad returning moon east comes-out
[Happy utmost sad = from an idiom—extreme joy turns to sorrow, usually describing a pleasant experience that disappeared suddenly.]
老夫不知其所往?
Old man not know his place goes
[Old man = meaning Du Fu himself.]
[His place = his appointed place]
足繭荒山轉愁疾。
Foot callus desolate hill turn worry-about swift
[Note: calluses makes a person walk slower. However, because Du was reluctant to part after the dance, so he worried as if he still walked away too fast.]

 



2 comments:

  1. This fits well with the d'Verse prompt of a memory too!
    Oh how some thoughts burn deep -- easy to recall 50 years later.
    Thank for letting me enter this Chinese world, where I could not have otherwise gone!

    Great layout. Thank you for sharing the original, notes, definitions and your process.

    Oh how I dislike the simplified, perhaps because my hanzi-mind was raised on more complex. But I remember in school, as the professor scribbled out the cursive abbreviated versions, I wasn't as disappointed -- because of the schrift, they remained rich. I had to keep asking the lad next to me to decipher the character until I got use to the new, faster writing.

    But when you think about it, the history of the pictographs is a history of abbreviations.

    Interesting 4:3:4:3 pattern. Was that common. (I know nothing about Chinese poetry).

    So much to learn, but within a palm-turn, our lives dissolve.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I prefer the traditional too for its beauty, which is why I use it with the calligraphy font (HanWangYanKai -- you need it installed or else it shows up as the ugly, but easy-to-read default of Sim Sum). But I will note that I've heard simplified is based on the cursive handwritten version of traditional, which is why it's faster to write.

    They are actually seven character verses in this case. Most Chinese poems are either five characters or seven characters. However, there is usually a break in pronunciation and meaning group within this. In five character verses, it's usually 2-3 (the first two characters mean something and the next three characters mean something related). In seven character poems the break is usually 2-2-3 or 4-3. I like breaking them up to give the reader the feeling of flow that is in the original and because the verses are too long in English if you use the seven character version. In the five character poems, I do it either way, breaking it or not breaking it, depending on how I feel it works.

    ReplyDelete

I view poetry as a kind of conversation, but on a different level, so feel free to write a comment or drop a few lines of verse in response.

Also, please feel free to offer suggestions or edits that can improve the work. I won't take it personally. ;-)