Chinese Poem: 早发白帝城 (Zǎo fā bái dì chéng)
Here’s another Chinese poem I’ve recently memorised, named 早发白帝城 (Zǎo fā bái dì chéng) by 李白 (Lǐbái) :
Zhāo cí bái dì cǎiyún jiān,
qiānlǐ jiānglíng yí rì huán,
Liǎng’àn yuán shēng tí bú zhù,
qīngzhōu yǐguò wàn chóngshān.
Here’s my suggested translation, followed up with an explanation:
Setting off early from White Emperor City
Departing early from White Emperor — amongst many-hued clouds,
Three-hundred miles to Jiang Ling — arriving within the day,
On both banks the apes cry out repeatedly,
My skiff has passed ten thousand mountains.
Translation notes / thought processes:
Line 1: Used “early” instead of “morning” for 朝 zhāo for brevity. 辞cí was tough because it means “take leave”, “discharge”, but in English “depart” is shorter and has less ambiguity. 白帝bái dì is translated to “white emperor” without “city”, as “city” is mentioned in the title of the poem. 彩云cǎiyún could be “many-coloured clouds” and has been variously translated by others, I picked “hue” since it is a rarer word than “colour” (more fitting a poem)
Line 2: 千里qiānlǐ — in none of the other translations I found did anyone cater for this specific technicality. 里lǐ is not the same as an English “mile” but it’s an ancient Chinese mile. Apparently ancient Chinese miles are “usually about a third as long as the English mile”. 千里qiānlǐ does mean “a thousand miles” — but they are a thousand Chinese miles, which should mean about ~300 English miles. Making the translation 300 miles makes it more realistic to imagine the scope and size of the voyage in English. He speaks of making this voyage in a single day in his skiff, this would seem much more realistic for 300 (English) miles than for 1000 (English) miles. Note that I have not looked up exactly how many miles 里lǐ was at this specific point in time of this poem, just general usage which has varied over time. 还 huán doesn’t mean “arrive” but “return”, but as far as I know he is implying he made the complete trip within a day (not a round trip).
Line 3: This line is quite directly translated.
Line 4: I found “skiff” as a good translation for 轻舟qīngzhōu, 舟zhōu just means “boat” 轻qīng means “light”, “skiff” seems to capture nicely the fact that he was on an insignificant, gentle and small vessel. I added in the pronoun “my” hesitantly. There are no pronouns in the original poem and I care a lot for precision of translation. The pronoun however does add an intimate feel. The sentence is about passing ten thousand mountains, sure — the boat passed them and the poem says that, but I wanted to add in some sentiment about it being “him and his boat” together on the voyage. It adds some feeling about how it was just the two of them, aside from the apes calling, he was alone. “the skiff” was another option but I chose against it for this reason mentioned.