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  • Julia Min

初到黄州 Upon Arriving at Huangzhou

初到黄州

原作: 苏轼(字子瞻, 号东坡居士; 11世纪北宋)

旧版英译:戈登.奥赛茵, 闵晓红, 黄海鹏(1990)

新版及赏析: 闵晓红(2023)


自笑平生为口忙,

老来事业转荒唐。

长江绕郭知鱼美,

好竹连山觉笋香。

逐客不妨员外置,

诗人例做水曹郎。

只惭无补丝毫事,

尚费官家压酒囊。


Upon Arriving at Huangzhou

written by Su Shi (11th AC, social name 'Dongpo')

old En. trans. by G. Osing, J. Min & H. Huang (1990)

Revision+ annot. by Julia Min (2023)


My whole world’s like an eventful stage

Getting strangely funny now I’ve aged.

A busy life with the mouth, for the mouths,

And a lousy outcome by my big silly mouth.


Oh well, the Yangtse embraces the town in a loop,

Where the river fish should taste just as good.

There are also bamboo groves over the hills,

Where I should find many sweet and earthy shoots.


An attendant role cannot do much harm anyway.

Banished poets are seen to do great on waterways.

And the work I do can hardly touch the pay I get.

The bag of wine grain my Lord gave is such a waste!

Notes:

1. In a loop: the town of Huangzhou was then surrounded on three sides by the Yangtse River, like a peninsular in a river loop. Today, after a thousand years of change, the river has become much narrower, and its route must have changed as it is about a mile away from the ancient town wall and the Red Cliff.

2. That bag of wine grain: referring to Su Shi’s wage as a banished official, usually 2/3 paid in materials and only 1/3 in cash. The material he received was just a bag of grain for making wine.


Appreciation:

It was February 1080 when Su Shi and his family arrived in exile at the remote town Huangzhou, a long trip from the capital after being released from his 130 days in prison. It was a new birth for him and his family, just like the promising spring landscape as they went further south from the Yellow River to the Yangtse River, the land of fish and rice. You would think he might have become a different person of a more docile and obedient nature, which would have disappointed us. No, the near-death experience actually built up his stoicism and fortitude with a sense of dark humour, the rich source for his heroic vibes played in many romantic poems yet to come, actually a frenzy and the peak of his writings both in poetry and prose. From my many visits to the Red Cliff where his calligraphy is carved in stones, I’d say his calligraphy shows a liberated spirit from his previous works.


He has always been so much loved for his optimistic character. Yes, he was bright and breezy again dreaming about the tasty fish and the sweet bamboo shoots despite the dramatic changes in his political career and financial status. The underlining satire is so obvious that you could even wish he could hold his tongue to avoid future misfortune by the mouth, as we all know he was later banished, twice, further away from the Central Kingdom, even to “the end of the world” (Hainan Island), the furthest border the emperor could find in the Song map to keep Su Shi’s mouth shut. Imagine how influential he was at the time.


Reference:

1. Blooming Alone in Winter by Gordon Osing, Julia Min, and Huang Haipeng, published by the People's Publication House Henan Province in 1990 (《寒心未肯随春态》戈登.奥赛茵,闵晓红,黄海鹏) (Upon Arriving at Huangzhou -- My mouth’s always busy -- eating, composing, or speaking out, / And now I’ve aged and my position turned ridiculous. / Oh well, the fish taste just as good on the edge of town, / Where the bamboo groves and the sweet shoots are the earthiest. / It matters little that I’m useless, banished, barely a guest; / Poets are known to make great inspectors of waterways. / And the work I do can’t touch the pay I get. / That bag of wine they send is surely wasted.”)

2. picture from Google

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