Chinese Puzzle Box

Explorations in and about China

Ode to a Willow – He Zhezhang

From crown to root a willow decked with ornaments of jade
Ten thousand trailing green silk ribbons rustle in the shade.
What master hand was it whose work cut out these slender leaves,
With scissors formed by winter’s chill and spring’s warm breeze?
Here’s the original, with pinyin and literal translation:
咏柳 – 賀知章
Ode to a Willow – He Zhezhang
bi4yu4 zhuang1 cheng2 yi1 shu4 gao1
Green jade adornments in profusion on a tall tree
wan4 tiao2 chui2 xia4 lu4 si1 tao1.
ten thousand trailing green silk ribbons
bu4 shi1xi4ye4shui2cai1chu1
Do not know who cut out these slender leaves
er4 yue4 chun1feng1 si4 jian3 dao1
February spring wind seems to be the scissors
The original poem had seven characters per line;  I un-packed it a bit into seven iambs per line.
Another translation by Andrew W. F. Wong, with helpful notes:
1 Up to your crown, o willow, dressed in the green of jades,
2 Myriads of twigs so verdant, droop like your silken braids.
3 Who knows by whose design, your leaves are cut so fine? It’s
4 The vernal winds past February, cutting like scissors’ blades.
Andrew W.F. Wong
* Line 1: I take 一樹高 to mean “to the top of the tree” or “the whole tree” and not “a tall tree”, hence, the phrase “Up to your crown”, “crown” means “head”.
* Line 2: I had considered “hair in braids” but have decided for “silken braids”.
* Line 3: I had considered “master” but have decided for “tailor”.
* Line 4: I have used “past February” as 二月 the second lunar month approximates the solar month of March.
I like my “green ribbons” better than “silken braids” and also take issue with Wong’s turning the quatrain into a limerick. What do you think?

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