Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Poetic view

I may be in Japan but that doesn't mean my Mandarin lessons have stopped! Through the wonder of Skype I've had lessons from non-Mandarin-speaking Hong Kong, Macau and now the Land of the Rising Sun! Today my teacher, who knows I like poetry, brought me two famous Tang dynasty poems. She says everyone in China learns them by heart, the first in elementary school, the rather darker one in high school. Here's the first one, by 李白 Li Bai (whom we've met before).






My teacher let me puzzle my way through it - I know most of the words, it turns out, and there were notes to abbreviated place names, etc. Each line opened up like a delicious walnut. With her help, here's what it seems to me to say:

Seeing a waterfall from Mount Lu

On Xianglu's sunlit peak rises purple smoke
In the distance I see a waterfall hanging down toward Shan River
Flying-flowing straight down three thousand zhi (1 km)
Could it be the Milky Way falling from highest heaven

Not a great translation by any means, but a start! Only just checked online for proper translations, and there are all sorts. Here's Burton Watson's:

Viewing the Waterfall at Mount Lu

Sunlight streaming on Incense Stone kindles violet smoke;
far off I watch the waterfall plunge to the long river,
flying waters descending straight three thousand feet,
till I think the Milky Way has tumbled from the ninth height of Heaven

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