Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Imagery of the Candle

First, this translation by Arthur Waley (1918)^

ON BOARD SHIP: READING YÜAN CHĒN’S POEMS

I take your poems in my hand and read them beside the candle;The poems are finished: the candle is low: dawn not yet come.With sore eyes by the guttering candle still I sit in the dark,Listening to waves that, driven by the wind, strike the prow of the ship.
Second, this emendation of the same by Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker (1996)*

ON BOARD SHIP: READING YÜAN CHĒN’S POEMS

I take your poems in my hand and read them beside the candle;The poems are finished, the candle is low, dawn not yet come.My eyes smart; I put out the lamp and go on sitting in the dark,Listening to waves that, driven by the wind, strike the prow of the ship.
I've underlined the relevant changes. Aside from the two typographical changes in the line above, they cite the reason as follows: "Since Waley made these translations early in the twentieth century, some of their language now feels archaic, and we have slightly emended several of them to soften this effect." To my ear, however, "guttering candle" is unusual, but not archaic. It actually imparts a greater effect of the imagery of the candle. I'm no scholar of Chinese; I can't read or write or speak the language. But I'm guessing that the original does not really state that "I put out the lamp."

Waley notes in his introduction that "I have aimed at literal translation, not paraphrase. [...] Above all, considering imagery to be the soul of poetry, I have avoided either adding images of my own or suppressing those of the original."

For an excellent discussion of the art of translation, see this interview in The Paris Review.

^ A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems, transl. Arthur Waley, Constable & Company Ltd.
* The Roaring Stream: A New Zen Reader, eds. Nelson Foster and Jack Shoemaker, The Ecco Press