Painting of Ma Yuan, detail (Shanghai Museum)Painting of Ma Yuan (1160 k-1225), detail

A week ago we uploaded here as a musical accompaniment to our report on the exhibition of Aurel Stein’s archive Silk Road photos in Hong Kong, the Classical Chinese music “Three variations on the Yang Pass” performed by Wu Wenguang on guqin, that deep-voiced Chinese zither which also features in the masterful propaganda film of Zhang Yimou The Hero, with the blind musician playing on it during the first clash in the tea house. As this song was written by Wang Wei (699-761), whose beautiful book of poems gave name to our blog exactly a year ago, therefore we have decided to write in his honor some words on this poem before it would submerge among the other knots measuring the speed of the Wang River.

Wang Wei: 陽關三疊 – Three variations on the Yang Pass – Wu Wenguang, guqin solo

We translate this poem according to the method elaborated by us in the “Casa de la Poesía China”. The original text in traditional Chinese characters is followed by a transcription so that it would let you feel to some extent the music of the original poem. Right now it is not so important, as we have also included the poem as an audio file, but we are not always so lucky to find one. The English equivalents of the single words of the poem are displayed in floating windows to let you perceive the original structures of meaning. And finally we publish a translation as literal as we can. Indeed, the power of Classical Chinese poems is given by the fact that they, with very simple words and images, shape a wide space of associations, just like Classical Chinese paintings that use emptiness as a basic mean for their composition. The rest is entrusted to the reader.

Painting of Ma Yuan, detail (Shanghai Museum)


wèichéng zhāo yŭ yì qīng chén
kèshè qīng qīng liŭ sè xīn
quàn jūn gèng jìn yī bēi jiŭ
xī chū yángguān wú gù rén

Wang Wei: 陽關三疊 – Three variations on the Yang Pass

En Wei la lluvia de la mañana
lava el tenue polvo

el verde renueva
los sauces de la posada

te lo pido, amigo, toma
otra copa de vino

pasando al oeste de Yang
no quedan amistades

In Wei the morning rain
washes off the light dust

green, newly green are
the willows at the inn

I urge you, my friend, to take
another cup of wine

to the west of Yang Pass
there are no old friends

The Yangguan (“Southern Pass”, as it stood to the south-west of the famous Yumen Pass), built by Emperor Wu (156-87 BC) was the westernmost border pass of the Empire, only seventy kilometers from the caves of Dunhuang at the edge of Taklamakan Desert along the Silk Road where Aurel Stein made his discovery, a thousand and five hundred years after Wang Wei, of several thousands of manuscripts hidden from the nomads in a cave library. From here on the rule of the barbarians began. The expression 西出陽關 xī chū yángguān in the third verse literally means “leaving the Yang Pass for the West”, leaving civilization and everything familiar and entering into the threatening Unknown.

Qin Dahu: Leaving  the Yang Pass for the WestQin Dahu (1938), a painter of the “patriotic realism” in vogue since early 90’s:
西出陽關 – Leaving the Yang Pass for the West

Another traditional title for this poem is “Farewell to Yuan Er on his Mission to Anxi”. The friend of Wang Wei set off to the barbarian kingdom of Anxi to offer them the alliance of the Chinese against the Huns. This makes meaningful the name of Wei in the poem. The town stood on the bank of the Wei river, at the northernmost point of the central territory under firm control of the Chinese army, some thousand kilometers before the Yang Pass. The territories laying to the north of the river were threatened by the attacks of the barbarians, so the envoys leaving for the west were seen off by their friends only to this point. The Annals of the Han Dynasty for example write this on the legendary campaign of Li Guangli in the time of Wu:

General Li Guangli was going to lead the army to attack the Huns. The Prime Minister saw him off all the way to the Wei Bridge.

This tune has been worked up several times since Wang Wei, and it became a distinguished piece in the repertoire of guqin. It is called “Three variations” because traditionally it is played three times in three different variations. It is also often used today as a farewell song. I, for example, heard it at the airport of Shenzhen as the signal of the loudspeaker when I left for the west, to the Pearl River.

Wang Wei: 陽關三疊 – Three variations on the Yang Pass – Liu Weishan (guzheng), Chen Jiebing (erhu), Zhao Yangqin (yangqin), Min Xiaofen (pipa) (5'28")

Wang Wei: 陽關三疊 – Three variations on the Yang Pass – Yu Hongmei, erhu (accompanied on guqin) (5'04")

Wang Wei: 陽關三疊 – Three variations on the Yang Pass – Dai Xiaolian, guqin solo (4'49")

Wang Wei: 陽關三疊 – Three variations on the Yang Pass – Anonymous modern performance from the CD “Gu Yue Xin Yun” (Old Music, New Sound) (7'08")

The Yang Pass todayThe Yang Pass today

13 comentarios:

bitxəšï dijo...

Japanese version:

客舎青青 柳色新たなり

ijô no chôu keijin o uruosu
kakusha seisei ryûshoku arata nari
kimini susumu sarani tsukuse ippai no sake
nishi no kata yôkan o idenaba kojin nakaran

Studiolum dijo...

太谢谢你,thank you very much!

Studiolum dijo...

yes, and it is interesting to also add what you’ve told in the Hungarian version, that this poem figures in the Japanese Kanbun schoolbooks!

bitxəšï dijo...


minus273 dijo...

Just for fun, let's do an Azeri version pretending that Azeri is Japanese. (Note: I don't speak Azeri though, solely relying on azerdict.com did I do it)

渭城in 朝 雨ı 輕 塵 浥atır
客舎 青青, 柳lərin 色i 新
君dən 勧 etirəm ki, 更 də 尽tir, 一 杯 酒yi
西ə tərəfə 陽関dan 出xsasan 故 人ların 無mayacaq

Veycenin səhər yağışı yüngül toz islatır
Mehmanxana yamyaşıl, söyüdlərin rəngi təzə
Səndən rica etirəm ki, yenə də bitir, bir kasa içkiyi
Qərbə tərəfə Yankvandan çıxsasan köhnə dostların olmayacaq

Studiolum dijo...

Wow, what a great version. And a highly elitist one, too, because to understand it, one has to know at least Japanese, Azeri, and also Chinese (at the points where Azeri machine translation turns obscure). A sophisticated remake, worthy of Wang Wei. Thank you very much!

Araz dijo...

Hmm, what a nice post, and what a nice discussion. I will share it with the owner of azerdict.com. Here is my amateur translation:

Veydə bir sübh yağışı
yuyur narın tozları

yaşıl, təzə yaşıldır
meyxana söyüdləri

mən ölüm, dostum, götür
bir badə şərab yenə

Yanq Keçidindən qərbə
olmaz heç köhnə dostlar.

Studiolum dijo...

A beautiful translation, Araz, gently adjusted to the Turkic rhythm, so that it could be even sung by an aşıq in the far away inn of Wei, accompanied by saz instead of a guqin. I especially like the formula of politeness “mən ölüm” “I pray you to the point of dying”.

In the English I have used the already accepted term “Yang Pass”, but if in Azeri you have no generally accepted name for it, then you could perhaps translate it as “darvaza” or “qapı” (in Hungarian: kapu, this is how we also call it: Yang-kapu), instead of “keçid”. The Chinese word permits both translations, and in the Chinese thought the gate itself – to be seen above on the photo – as well as the act of stepping out of it and thus leaving the world of civilization, has much deeper symbolic meaning than the pass.

Incidentally, is the etymology of “keçid” connected with “keçi” [in Hungarian: keçke]? (such as “the mountainous way where mostly goats walk” or something like that)

Araz dijo...

I am glad you liked my amateur work, Studiolum. And again you opened new doors, I never thought about "keçmək" in a context of "keçi"! The vivid image of aşıq singing in a far away inn of Wei is something very fascinating. After revision I would put it as follows:

Veydə bir sübh yağışı
yuyur narın tozları

yaşıl, təzə yaşıldır
meyxana söyüdləri

mən ölüm, dostum, götür
bir badə şərab yenə

Yanq Qapısından qərbə
tapılmaz köhnə dostlar.

I actually took the liberty and replaced "inn" with "meyxana", which can be also "çayxana". The idea of using "mən ölüm" came suddenly because of the limitations of rhythm. It is when you beg somebody close to you and swear on your life/death.

I wanted to try also translate it into Russian, but decided to search and found it here:

Утренний дождь.
Пыль стала сырой.

Двор постоялый.
Ивы ярче, свежей.

Очень прошу:
Выпьем по чарке второй.

Пройдя Янгуань *,
Вам не встретить друзей.

minus273 dijo...

Throwing out bricks has attracted real jade, As we say in Chinese. Bravo to Araz, who has accomplished something very literal, yet one which has neatly transposed the feeling.

For the sake of the rhyme, is there a way to have ları on the fourth line? Tapmazsın köhnə dostları? The accusative may be too tortuous for the non-specifickish reading, but I'll leave the judgement to someone who actually knows the tongue.

Araz dijo...

Thanks for nice words, minus273 (is it in Celsius?), it is all because of your curiosity. I wonder, why did you go for Azerbaijani? I would say that the way you used the words actually say that you know at least Turkish.

I actually thought about having "dostları" at the end, so it would rhyme with the first "tozları". But "tapmazsan köhnə dostları" would be already 8 syllables. The alternative would be

Yanq Qapısından keçən tapmaz köhnə dostları i.e. who passed Yang Pass
would not find old friends.

This version misses "west" which I thought is important in the context of Yahgguan.

minus273 dijo...

In fact I had a slight more than half year of Turkish, so I know the grammar, but hardly any vocabulary. I did it in Azeri 'cause it seems to fit better with this blog. (Was it you who writes posts here in Azeri?)

Araz dijo...

Ah, so that is it. But it is still very impressive how you managed to write an almost perfect translation just using the dictionary... Yes, it was me. Azerbaijani is my mother tongue... By the way, now I noticed that they omitted "West" also in the Russian translation: "once passed Yangguan you will not meet a friend". Your revision of the last line sounds better, I think.