2 0 1 3 年 9 月 1 0 日

李白 遠別離 translation: Distant Parting, by Li Bai


This is a very rough translation and annotation of the poem 遠別離 (Yuǎn Biélí), ‘Distant Parting’, by the Tang Dynasty Chinese poet 李白 (Lǐ Bái).

If you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments at the end of the page. Note that the goal here is to make the original text more accessible, not to provide a conversion into English.

Xiang River

 

遠別離
Yuǎn Biélí
[distant] [part] [leave]
Distant Parting

 

遠別離,古有皇英之二女,
Yuǎn biélí, gǔ yǒu Huáng Yīng zhī èr nǚ,
[distant] [part] [leave], [old] [have] [Huang] [Ying] ['s] [two] [female]
Distant parting; in ancient times were the women Huang and Ying;
(Huang and Ying were the daughter and concubine of the legendary emperor Shun. They both drowned in the River Xiang.)

乃在洞庭之南,
nǎi zài Dòngtíng zhī nán,
[thus] [at] [Dong] [Ting] ['s] [south]
to the south of Dongting,

瀟湘之浦。
xiāoxiāng zhī pǔ.
[Xiao] [Xiang] ['s] [river bank]
on the banks of the River Xiang.

海水直下萬里深,
Hǎishuǐ zhíxià wànlǐ shēn,
[sea] [water] [vertical] [down] [ten thousand] [li] [deep]
The ocean waters ten thousand li deep, straight down -

誰人不言此離苦。
shéi rén bù yán cǐ lí kǔ.
[who] [person] [not] [say] [this] [parting] [bitter]
who would not say that this parting was just as painful?

日慘慘兮雲冥冥,
Rì cǎn cǎn xī yún míng míng,
[sun] [miserable] [miserable] [oh] [cloud] [dark] [dark]
The sun so miserable, oh, the clouds so dark;

猩猩啼煙兮鬼嘯雨。
xīngxīng tí yān xī guǐ xiào yǔ.
[orangutan][] [hoot] [mist] [oh] [ghost] [hiss] [rain]
an orangutan hollers in mist, oh, a ghost hisses in rain.

我縱言之將何補,
Wǒ zòng yán zhī jiàng hé bǔ,
[I] [even if] [say] [it] [use] [what] [benefit]
Even if I speak of it, what benefit is there? -

皇穹竊恐不照余之忠誠。
huáng qióng qiè kǒng bù zhào yú zhī zhōngchéng.
[emperor] [dome] [I] [fear] [not] [perceive] [I] ['s] [loyal] [sincere]
Heaven, I fear, will not perceive my loyalty.

雲憑憑兮欲吼怒,
Yún píngpíng xī yù hǒu nù,
[cloud] [majestic][] [oh] [want] [howl] [anger]
The clouds so majestic, oh, they want to howl with rage;

堯舜當之亦禪禹。
Yáo Shùn dāng zhī yì shàn yǔ.
[Yao] [Shun] [then] [it] [also] [abdicate] [Yu]
from Yao to Shun, then he too abdicated to Yu.

君失臣兮龍為魚,
Jūn shī chén xī lóng wéi yú,
[lord] [lose] [minister] [oh] [dragon] [become] [fish]
A lord loses his minister, oh, a dragon becomes a fish;

權歸臣兮鼠變虎。
quán guī chén xī shǔ biàn hǔ.
[power] [return] [minister] [oh] [mouse] [become] [tiger]
power returns to the minister, oh, a mouse becomes a tiger.

或言堯幽囚,
Huò yán Yáo yōuqiú,
[some] [say] [Yao] [remote] [prisoner]
Some speak of Yao’s imprisonment,

舜野死。
Shùn yě sǐ.
[Shun] [wild] [die]
and of Shun’s death in the wild.

九疑聯綿皆相似,
Jiǔ yí liánmián jiē xiāngsì,
[Jiu] [Yi] [join] [continuous] [all] [each other] [resemble]
Mt. Cangwu’s peaks are endless, all alike;
(九疑 is another name for 苍梧山 – Mt. Cangwu.)

重瞳孤墳竟何是。
zhòngtóng gū fén jìng hé shì.
[important] [eye] [alone] [tomb] [in the end] [what] [is]
the emperor’s lonely tomb – where was it in the end?
(重瞳 refers to the emperor’s eyes.)

帝子泣兮綠雲間,
Dì zǐ qì xī lǜ yúnjiān,
[emperor] [child] [sob] [oh] [green] [cloud] [between]
Huang and Ying sob, oh, amongst green clouds;

隨風波兮去無還。
suí fēng bō xī qù wú huán.
[follow] [wind] [wave] [oh] [leave] [not have] [return]
borne on wind and waves, oh, they left without return.

慟哭兮遠望,
Tòngkū xī yuǎnwàng,
[grief] [weep] [oh] [far] [look]
Weeping in grief, oh, they gazed afar,

見蒼梧之深山。
jiàn Cāngwú zhī shēnshān.
[see] [Cang] [Wu] ['s] [deep] [mountain]
to Cangwu’s innermost peaks.

蒼梧山崩湘水絕,
Cāngwú shān bēng Xiāng shuǐ jué,
[Cang] [Wu] [mountain] [collapse] [Xiang] [water] [cut off]
The peaks of Cangwu collapsed, the River Xiang was cut off,

竹上之淚乃可滅。
zhú shàng zhī lèi nǎi kě miè.
[bamboo] [on] ['s] [tear] [thus] [can] [extinguish]
the tear-stains on the bamboo were lost.

 

If you have any suggestions, please share them in the comments below.

Sources and further reading


  • Singaporean

    Gosh that was beautiful :)

    I am the same person who commented on your eugenics post btw! Love love love your blog, currently taking my A levels but I will trawl through your archives after As ends. You’ve utterly convinced me to take up East Asian Studies, if not at Cambridge (am crossing my fingers so bad) then elsewhere. In fact you’ve saved me from a potential mind-numbing, soul-deadening law career. I cannot thank you enough :p

    P.S. This reminds me of Jay Chou’s 千里之外. If you’re into Chinese music at all you might want to check out 中国风 songs (e.g. see http://www.chachaba.com/news/html/yule/yinyue/20101129_17398.html). You might appreciate these songs either on a sensory level or from an anthropological (cultural influence on music etc – I don’t know if anthropological is the word) perspective!

    I must admit though that a large part of the draw for me is the (male) artistes so you might not be quite so enthralled. ;)

    P.S. In case you’re wondering, I am Chinese and I do speak Chinese, but appallingly as is the case with most Singaporeans.