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Snitchcat
08-12-2015, 08:55 PM
Thought I might attempt to provide an idea of how Chinese poems compare to their English counterparts when translated. What do you make of the following? (Hopefully the browser will correctly render the text.) How about examples of non-English / non-Chinese counterparts? How much meaning is lost in translation (for any type of written work)?

春晓 Spring Dawn
春眠不觉晓 I slumbered as the spring dawn passed me by
处处闻啼鸟 All around I hear birds cry
夜来风雨声 At night comes the sound of wind and rain
花落知多少 Who knows how many petals lay slain


入黄溪闻猿 Entering the Yellow Stream, Hearing Primates
溪路千里曲 The stream forever twists and turns
哀猿何处鸣 While a primate yearns in sorrow
孤臣泪已尽 The rejected servant cries no more
虚作断肠声 Despair heard only on the morrow


江雪 Snow River
千山鸟飞绝 A thousand hills, no birds in flight
万径人纵灭 A thousand paths, no tracks in sight
故舟蓑笠翁 A lonely boat, an old man and a mino
独钓寒江雪 A lonely fisherman, on a river of snow


静夜思 Thoughts on a Still Night
床前明月光 Moonlight bathes my bedroom floor
疑是地上霜 Seems like frost on the ground
举头望明月 I look up, gazing at the moon in awe
低头思故乡 I look down, thoughts of home profound


春雪 Snow in Spring
新年都未有芳化 Spring has come though no flowers show
二月初惊见草芽 Only grass shoots startle, take root and grow
白雪却嫌春色晚 Still white snow dislikes how spring is late to rise
故穿庭树作飞花 So through pavilion and trees, like blossoms it flies


望天门山 Viewing Heaven's Gate Mountains
天门中断楚江开 The River Chu cleaves heaven's gate in twain
碧水东流至此回 Its clear waters flowing east homeward bound
两岸青山相对出 On the banks mountain peaks compete to reign
故帆一片日边来 A sail rides the sun without a sound

Liosse de Velishaf
08-13-2015, 07:52 PM
I'm always suspicious of poem translations that rhyme in English. I recall a Project Gutenberg edition of The Iliad that they translated from the Greek into rhyming English couplets. Uh... no. There's no way that works with an accurate translation.


I think the vast majority of poetry loses a great deal in translation, especially if it is structured verse of some sort, or uses rhetorical devices/poetic devices. Languages are just too different. For example, try putting Jabberwocky into another language literally. No. You might be able to create something in the same spirit, though. But you lose any sort of sound device like rhyming or alliteration, or consonance if you do an very accurate translation. If you fudge the translation a bit, you might be able to make the English vaguely rhyme, I suppose. I don't have a great deal of first-hand experience of poetry translated between two non-English languages, but I imagine similar conditions hold.

Snitchcat
08-13-2015, 09:42 PM
I'm always suspicious of poem translations that rhyme in English. I recall a Project Gutenberg edition of The Iliad that they translated from the Greek into rhyming English couplets. Uh... no. There's no way that works with an accurate translation.

While I understand the suspicion (I am too, usually), I have to disagree here. An accurate translation has two definitions that I can see: literal word for word, or meaning. Not sure which definition is applied, or if both are, or if none is applied. Accuracy, then, depends on how well you know both the originating language and the target one, IMO.

However, it's obvious not all poems rhyme, and I find there is no need to translate them so they do. But, in the cases presented, the translation reflects the rhyming (full and partial) pattern, and the rhythm in the Chinese. (The number of words per line can be considered the Chinese counterpart of syllables per line in English).

Example below:

Direct Translation:
春眠不觉晓
Spring sleep no sense dawn (xiao)

处处闻啼鸟
Places places senses cries birds (niao)

夜来风雨声
Night comes wind rain sound (sheng)

花落知多少
Flowers fall know lot small (shao)

Meaning behind the poem:
His youth has come and gone without him realising it. But he still hears the sounds of life, young and old, everywhere; it surrounds him.
But when death arrives, all he hears is silence and tears. How many have died like this, life passing them by? Who knows?

This poem was written during the Tang Dynasty by the poet Meng Haorang. He tried for a political career and failed; subsequently, he wrote a lot of poems about life and leisure. Some poems were given to friends.

I'm sure I had something more to add, but brain insists on sleep (it's 01:30 as of writing), so will have to return later. Yeah, sleep is good!



Btw, just as something to consider: The night time thoughts one (relaxing and makes me sleepy :P )

床前明月光
Bed in front bright moon light (guang)

疑是地上霜
Suspicious is ground on top frost (xiang)

举头望明月
Raise head look bright moon (yue)

低头思故乡
Low(er) head think old(ancestral) home (xiang)

Meaning:
I see a bright moon in the night sky. Is this the same one as at home? What an awe-inspiring sight. I'm so far from home and right now, I'm wondering what's happening there, and how everyone is doing? I'm homesick.

Snitchcat
12-15-2015, 04:08 AM
I think I managed to remember where I was going with my previous post. To continue (briefly): While poetry means something different to each reader, translations should be accurate and make sense. Additionally, if the poem calls for rhyme, then yes, I believe the translated version should rhyme, yet shouldn't lose accuracy. The poem reads oddly if it doesn't rhyme and it should.

In general, I believe that the translation should do the original text justice. Anyhoo, examples below:

Non-rhyming Translation:
春眠不觉晓
处处闻啼鸟
夜来风雨声
花落知多少
Spring sleeps with no sense of dawn,
Everywhere birds sing,
And when the night comes, the wind blows and rain falls,
How many flowers die, who knows?

床前明月光
疑是地上霜
举头望明月
低头思故乡
Bright moonlight shines at the foot of the bed,
It looks like frost on the ground,
I raise my head to look at the bright round moon,
I lower my head to think about home.

When I read both languages aloud, the non-rhyming English grates on my ears and doesn't do the original Chinese any justice.

lenore_x
12-16-2015, 09:32 PM
You might get more responses to this thread if you ask a mod to move it. I mean, yes Chinese people are PoC, but what you're asking is about language, poetry, and translation, not so much related to race/ethnicity.

As for my opinion--and it really is just that, a matter of taste--I get what you're saying about translating the feel of the poem and not just the literal meaning, but I don't think rhyme translates well from Mandarin to English. (I'm speaking only of Mandarin because it's what I'm familiar with.) Like, I much prefer the sound of rhyming in Mandarin, maybe it has something to do with the tones? To speak in rhymes in English you have to use some unnatural prosody. Granted, that's part of what makes it poetry. But rhyming in English can sound trite and childish to many (though that's a point of contention).

I'm not a big poetry person, so my perspective here is more as a language lover in general. Sadly I think enjoying the full beauty of a poem requires an intimate knowledge of the language it was written in. There are things you're bound to miss if you're not a native or near-native speaker. For one thing, I can't know what exactly rhyming in Mandarin evokes to a native speaker. I was only speaking as a student of the language.

There was a Radiolab episode that tackled this question, but with a French poem. May be of interest to you. Here. (http://www.radiolab.org/story/1000-flowers/)

Snitchcat
04-23-2016, 09:32 PM
You might get more responses to this thread if you ask a mod to move it. I mean, yes Chinese people are PoC, but what you're asking is about language, poetry, and translation, not so much related to race/ethnicity.

This thread was a spin off from another one. Its only intention was to illustrate how rhyming, etc., can be translated and lose none of the meaning when the translator knows both languages at mother-tongue level.

Btw, where would you move this thread to? I'm curious.


but I don't think rhyme translates well from Mandarin to English.

These poems were meant to be read in Cantonese, as they were written originally using Cantonese pronunciation; I gave the Mandarin pronunciation as that's the most familiar dialect when discussing Chinese. Anyhow, the poems have half-rhymes, but the cadence is what gives the poems their rythmic rhymes.


I much prefer the sound of rhyming in Mandarin, maybe it has something to do with the tones?
I tried reading them out loud and, perhaps my prejudice is showing, but Pprsonally, I find the Mandarin version of the presented rhythms and words difficult to like; in fact, I dislike reading these poems in Mandarin. :P


But rhyming in English can sound trite and childish to many (though that's a point of contention).
Hmm... I think this is personal preference, but I understand how English rhymes can sound less than sophisticated.


There are things you're bound to miss if you're not a native or near-native speaker. For one thing, I can't know what exactly rhyming in Mandarin evokes to a native speaker. I was only speaking as a student of the language.

Ah, there you have it. I'm a contradictory near-native and native speaker of Chinese. :)


There was a Radiolab episode that tackled this question, but with a French poem. May be of interest to you. Here. (http://www.radiolab.org/story/1000-flowers/)

I'll check this out later; thanks for the link! :)