Chinese Puzzle Box

Explorations in and about China

“Autumn Evening” – Du Fu – A free translation

Poem by Du Mu

The autumn’s silvery brightness frosts the  screen.
She swats at lingering  fireflies, with her silken fan unfurled.
Night brings  the street of stars’ cool watery gleam.
She spies among the stars the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.

秋夕   Qiu1 xi1
Autumn Evening
银烛 秋光冷画屏,  yin2 zhu2 qin1guang1 leng3 hua4 ping2
Silver candle autumn brightness frosty painted screen
轻罗小扇扑流萤。  qing1 luo2 xiao3 shan4 pu1 liu2 ying2.
Soft silk little fan pounce on firefly
天街夜色凉如水,  tian1 jie1 ye4 se4 liang2 ru2 shui3,
Sky street dim light of night becomes cool like water
卧看牵牛织女星    Wo4 kan4 qian1 niu2 zhi1 nu3 xing1.
Recline see the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl stars

Prose translation:
A silver candle, Autumn brightness frosts the painted screen
A small silken fan  attacks the fireflies.
In the dim light of night the sky street gleams cool like water.
Lying on her back she sees the Cowherd and the Weaver Girl.

Note:  The Cowherd (the star  Altair) and the Weaver Girl (the star Vega) are mythic lovers, separated by the Silver River (the Milky Way) for all but one day a year, when  a bridge of magpies forms across the river, allowing them to meet.
Note #2: My mentor Tang Tao has given me these helpful translation notes:
轻罗: soft silk product
卧看: sit and watch

She also tells me that a “fan in the autumn” is a metaphor for an abandoned palace maid, which certainly puts a different twist on the girl looking at the tragically separated lovers among the stars.

With this new input I have modified my earlier translation .  It would take a lot more words in English to make the metaphor clear, even if the reader understands about the legend of the Cowherd and Weaver Girl.  A practical streak in me also objects to fireflies in the Autumn – in my part of the world they appear on warm summer nights and disappear with the first frost. So I have clarified that they are perhaps the last of the season, and she swats at them impatiently, as they perhaps remind her of the happier summer.
Any more thoughts?


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