News

The Art of Translation - Transforming Poetry into Songs

Jun 13, 2021

Students in the BA and MA degree programs and the Graduate Certificate in Buddhist Translation program have ample opportunities to try their hand at translating from classical Chinese and Sanskrit. Translation is a technical skill as well as an artistic sensibility that can be nurtured and developed. Abigail Setera MA ‘22 and Xiaojuan TC ‘21 demonstrate this with their creative translations set to music!

Abigail Setera MA’22
Before I began translating the poem, I knew that I wanted to make a playful rendition of it. Originally, I didn't plan on having a tune for it, but during the process of translation, as I repeated the lines to myself, the tune spontaneously came about, and I molded the translation to fit the rhythm. And it fits!


月下獨酌
All Alone Drinking Under the Moon

花間一壺酒,獨酌無相親。
Here, amidst the flowers, with a jug of wine, I drink alone, with no buddies to hang with.
舉杯邀明月,對影成三人。
Lifting up my cup to invite the bright moon. Facing down at my shadow, now that makes three.
月既不解飲,影徒隨我身。
The moon, though, doesn’t get the fuss about drinking, and my shadow just merely tags along my body.
暫伴月將影,行樂須及春。
My temporary companions: moon and shadow. Our merry making will surely match the height of spring.
我歌月徘徊,我舞影零亂。
As I sing, the moon sways about. As I dance, my shadow flings around.
醒時同交歡,醉後各分散。
When I am sober, we share our joy together. After I’m wasted, we go our separate ways.
永結無情遊,相期邈雲漢。
The everlasting bond we made goes beyond emotion. Let’s see each other again in the far off Milky Way.

Xiaojuan Shu TC ‘21

I translated the English translation of Victor Hugo’s poem Demain Dès L’aube by Nicholas Perry (BA ‘24) to classical Chinese, then from classical Chinese back to modern English with an intention to rhyme, and then rewrote the rhyming version in an iambic pentameter sonnet. In the process, I tried to adhere to the intended meaning of the poem and its underlying emotions.

Míng Rì
明 日 (Trans. by Xiaojuan Shu)

Yè dài tiān míng xiāng yě bái
夜 待 天 明 鄉 野 白
Qiè pàn chuān lín yuè shēn shān
切 盼 穿 林 越 深 山
Zhī rǔ dài wú liáng jiǔ yǐ
知 汝 待 吾 良 久 矣
Bié lí zhī qíng hé yǐ kān
別 離 之 情 何 以 堪

Bīn fēn shì jiè wú xiá gù
繽 紛 世 界 無 暇 顧
Xīng chén chuán fān wú xiá gù
星 辰 船 帆 視 若 無
Dú lù màn màn gōng shēn xíng
獨 路 漫 漫 躬 身 行
Yí niàn zhǐ qī tóng rǔ jù
一 念 只 期 同 汝 聚

Bái zhòu shāng gǎn rú hēi yè
白 晝 傷 感 如 黑 夜
Xīn jí zhí dá rǔ bēi qián
心 急 直 達 汝 碑 前
Shēn xīn fàng xià mù biān xiē
身 心 放 下 墓 邊 歇
Dōng qīng shí nán shù qíng nán
冬 青 石 楠 述 情 難

 

Tomorrow
(Rewritten by Xiaojuan Shu based on the translation by Nicholas Perry of Victor Hugo’s Demain Dès L’aube)

Another sleepless night, I await the ray
of dawn to turn the country road white.
Tomorrow I will cross the forests far,
and climb the mountains high. I will!
You’ve waited for me too long—I know that all along.
How could I bear another day of us being apart?
The bustle of the world allures me not, and I
pay no heed to the stars above, or the sails afar.
I journey solo with one intent only:
with you, I will unite! Although
the daylight’s bright, my heart is sunk like night.
I yearn to rest by your gravestone alone.
I’ll lay my heart and body whole, along
with holly and heather bloom. Words, no more.