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  • Julia Min

红梅 The Red Plum Blossom

红梅

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)


怕愁贪睡独开迟,

自恐冰容不入时。

故作小红桃杏色,

尚余孤瘦雪霜姿。

寒心未肯随春态,

酒晕无端上玉肌。

诗老不知梅格在,

更看绿叶与青枝。


The Red Plum Blossom

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)


Timorous, a late sleeper, she blooms alone in winter,

Fearing, too, her icy look not the style of the season.

So she makes herself up like peach or apricot petals,

On branches so slim that can brave the frost and snow.

Her heart’s cold doesn’t go with the fashions of spring.

What does she drink that turns her jade skin to crimson?

The old poet knows only the look, not the true value.

Her black boughs don’t need lush green to stand proud.


Notes:

1. The old poet: referring to Shi Manqing(石曼卿)who wrote the verses – Let it (the plum tree) be a peach tree though it bears no green leaves; let it be an apricot tree but its branches are black.”(“认桃无绿叶,辨杏有青枝”). Su Shi mocks Manqing’s understanding here.


Appreciation:

IThis was composed during Su Shi’s banished life (Feb.1080 - Apr.1084) in the small town of Huangzhou (in Hubei Province today).


The Chinese plum tree produces reddish blossoms thinly spotting her slim but strong boughs, with petals of snow jade texture, before her green leaf buddings. The flower is, arguably, the national flower of China, or safely we may say, one of the national flowers of China. Her stoicism and fortitude in braving the cold winter are often held in high regard by the Chinese poets, thus established a popular symbol of noble courage and a proud lofty spirit that finds her a sublime solitude in a pure world of snow and frost. Dongpo loved the plum blossom which, together with bamboo trees, rugged stones, and seemingly-dead wood, are often found in his paintings, connoting his isolated status and his enhanced spiritual qualities.


An interesting feature in this poem is the rare perspective of looking at the red plum blossoms as the last to bloom at the end of winter, while most poems on the flower emphasize it as the first to bloom in early spring frost, a messenger of Spring God, suggesting a promising spring ahead. The personification, of imagining the tree as a beautiful lady, brings a life drama before our eyes – a proud beauty of noble spirit, in solitude and fortitude, drinking alone in the pure world of white snow.


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) “The Plum Blossoms” -- Timorous, a late sleeper, she blooms alone in winter,/Fearing, too, her icy look’s not the style of the season./So she sets out to make herself up like apricot petals,/On branches haggard from toughing the frosts and snow./Her heart’s cold doesn’t go with the fashions of spring./What does she drink that turns pure jade skin so happy a pink?/The old poet couldn’t change you to peach by any wish;/You can’t change a black bough or a leaf from what it deeply is. ”)

2. Baike.baidu.com (百度百科)

2. Picture from 博宝艺术网

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