Chinese Puzzle Box

Explorations in and about China

Translation: Wang Wei – Birds Calling from the Ravine

Ashland, Oregon

At leisure, as osmanthus flowers fall

In the still night, the mountain cloaked in spring

The moon comes out, alarms the mountain birds.

From deep within the spring ravine they call。

Another format for arranging the steps in translation – which works best?   Above is my translation into English iambic pentameter, with  a b c a rhyme.  Below, the classic poem in simplified Chinese characters, with the Pinyin translation and word-by-word translations in second and third column next to each line. Finally  a word-by-word translation and a free translation with no attempt at standard rhythm or rhyme.

鸟鸣涧 –  Niao1 Ming2 Jian4

人闲桂 花落      ren2 xian2 gui4 hua1 luo4         person idle cassia/ozmanthas flower fall

夜静春山空      Ye jing4 chun1 shan1 kong1      night quiet/still spring mountain free time/empty

 月出惊山鸟     yue4 chu1 jing1 shan1 niao1     moon come out startle mountain bird

 时鸣春涧中    Shi2 ming2 chun1 jian4 zhong1 present/ from time to time cry of birds spring ravine in

Person idle osmanthus flower fall

Night quiet spring hill empty

Moon out startle hill birds

Constant call spring ravine in

I’m idle, as osmanthus flowers fall,

This quiet night in spring, the hill is empty.

The moon comes out and startles the birds on the hill,

They don’t stop calling in the spring ravine.


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