On Visiting A Sick Friend...

This was written after visiting my friend who had a stroke.  The inspiring line was 枱上金杯身在舞, 彩鳳翩翩... then as I was jogging, it morphed into the following.  Feel free to provide an English translation :)  You needed the exercise, not me :)







Wednesday, 11 Jul 2012


The only difficulty in translating this poem is for the character, 桐 short for 梧桐.  Using the scientific name is usually a no-no in such types of translation.  "Firmiana simplex" simply won't do.  Another name for it is Paulownia (named after Anna <em>Pavlovnia, Queen of the Netherlands, </em>Tsesarevna of Paul I of Russia), hence the common name, Empress or Princess tree is a viable candidate for translation.  Another common name is Chinese Parasol Tree.  This is a bit too long and unwieldy but is still okay depending on the rhythm of translation.  I like the other name also - the phoenix tree.  This is because when the tree is cut down, new ones will sprout from the remaining roots to allude to the myth that when a phoenix dies in a pyre of fire, a new one will rise from its ashes.  So any of these three names can be used.


Fri 13 Jul 2012


金杯玉碟飛彩鳳, Golden cups1, plates of jade and fleeting2 phoenix in dance3.

粉臉桃腮比花紅. Peaches and cream complexion4, redder than any flower.

歌盡裙聲如秋風, Songs have ended; rustling shirts gone like the autumn wind,

寒月默默對古桐. Only the cold moon shining in silence5 on the Phoenix tree6.


1.  One would try to translate as a goblet to set an ancient feel in English.  This is not technically wrong.  However, it would be culturally wrong!  Goblets are much larger than cups.  In the the old days, refined Chinese people do not drink their wine using large vessels (except for tyrants which uses 觥).  The wine vessel is at least half the size of an tea cup.

2.  The wording in Chinese is important.  It gives the image of the lady (the phoenix) "fleeing" from the  table onto the main floor in a dance-like motion.  If the phrase was written as 彩飛鳳, then I prefer, "gorgeous/colored phoenix in dance/flight"

3.  Here the word, "to fly" 飛 is a metaphor for dance.  I can use the same argument to translate the word, "phoenix" as "lady".  I have decided against doing this as the poem loses too much its local flavour.

4.  This English term is used to describe the "bloom of youth" denoting fair skin and ruddy complexion; the very essence of youth and health.  Translating it as "Painted faces, cheeks of peach" is also acceptable but personally, I find this rather long winded.  Also I did not like the adjective, "peachy" because of the slang invovled for this word. <a href=""></a>;

5.  The actual word used is "facing in silence".  I feel that its use in English is not quite right.  I prefer, "looking at"

6.  See my hint and remark above on translating Paulownia.  I prefer this because it ties up nicely with the first line.  Also I am emphasing "silence" rather than "the tree".  Hence "in silence" is not worded at the end of the sentence.

Jul 11, 2012 7:04 AM
Comments · 26

It is great that through a these, that we learn something.  For example, in doing all these translations, most of the time, I don't think about it.  By having to explain in black and white, it helps me to understand myself better.  Usually when I leave out the translation, it is meant as an exercise for you.  This is how my old professor gave his assignments.  He does not really care the result so much but how we arrive at the conclusion.  He gives extra credit if we attach a section of explanation.  From there we learn if our logic is faulty or not.

July 14, 2012

It makes sense. I found that you always stick to your principles that tranlation is not gilding refined gold as well as painting the lily.


I agree with you that we should respect the original and try to get the original conveyed without sacrficing the original taste, without adding our personal flavor. I would say nothing is better than "authentic".


Conclusion:redundant is always superfluous.<img title="Smile" src="" alt="Smile" border="0" />

July 14, 2012

Yes, translating 裙聲 as the "sound of skirts" is too bland for my taste. So I used the English word, rustle instead, the rustle of skirts, the rustle of leaves etc.


"Gone with the autumn wind..." has the same effect but would not be accurate translation.  The original word in the source is 如 (like).  Your version personified the autumn wind.  So the subtle meaning is as if when the music has ended, the dancing girls left (hand in hand, conjecturing) with the person in form of the wind.  Hence the meaning is changed.  If I were to retranslate it back with contraining rules, it would be something like 歌盡裙聲與風去.  How I am going to insert 秋 is a problem.  My Chinese is not good enough to do so.


These are the technical details that one has to be careful about.  If the original source can be translated into the target language without problem, then use that one.

July 13, 2012

金杯玉碟飛彩鳳, Golden cups, plates of jade and fleeting phoenix in dance.

粉臉桃腮比花紅. Peaches and cream complexion, redder than any flower.

歌盡裙聲如秋風, Songs have ended; rustling shirts gone like the autumn wind,

寒月默默對古桐. Only the cold moon shining in silence on the Phoenix tree.


I am assuming that "rustling skirts" is actually intended, am I right? Rustling skirts gone with the autumn wind would appear to produce the same effect here.

July 13, 2012

I hate to say, your versions are long winded.  "Fair and rosy complexion" would be succinct.  As for the translation of 粉里透红, considering a facial context, I would say, "Rosiness peeping out of a painted/powdered face".  If devoid of any context, "red showing through white" or "red peeping/showing out from the powder."

July 13, 2012
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Language Skills
Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (Other), English
Learning Language
Chinese (Mandarin), Chinese (Cantonese), Chinese (Other)