On Governor Clementi’s Translation of Cantonese Love-Songs, by Dr. Cantonese (Chapman Chen)

Share This:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

http://Source of L.H.S Photo: 1954 HK Cantonese Movie, Chan Koo Chasing Boat; Source of R.H.S. Photo: Photo of Cecil Clementi from Wiki

This year is the 70th anniversary of Governor Cecil Clementi’s (1875-1947) departure. Sir Clementi served as Governor of Hong Kong from 1925 through 1930. In 1904, while he was working as Member of Land Court, Assistant Land Officer and Police Magistrate at New Territories, Hong Kong, the Oxford University Press published his English translation of the poet-official Chiu Tsz-yung’s (1820-1830) Cantonese Love-Songs. Sir Clementi was so adept in Cantonese and classical Chinese that he was able to exchange poems with scholar-officials from the Ching Dynasty, and to deliver speeches in perfect Cantonese. While in Hong Kong, he did his level best to promote Cantonese and elegant Chinese education. Clementi’s translation is in general faithful to the original, idiomatically and poetically representing the diction, antithetical couplets, metaphors, syntaxes and rhythms of the original. Endnotes added by Clementi are unfailingly helpful to Western readers, especially concerning the understanding of allusions in Chiu Tsz-yung’s songs. There are occasional mistranslations due to miscomprehension, which, nonetheless, cannot obscure the virtues of the translation.

Idiomatic/Archaic Expressions

Clementi often employs idiomatic and/or elegant, archaic expressions to render the old-time atmosphere and certain classical Chinese phrases in the original. For example, the line, ” dang2 ngo5 saang1 wai4 wu4 dip6 sei2 zok3 jyun1 joeng1等我生為蝴蝶死作鴛鴦” in the song, “zan1 zing3 lo2 ming6真正攞命Truly I am lorn of life”,  is translated by Clementi as, “Then we, though butterflies in life, would in death be as a brace of teal”. Note that here, jyun1 joeng1鴛鴦is rendered as “a brace of teal” rather than a pair of mandarin ducks, “brace” being more exquisite than “pair”.

 

In “ze1 jyun3 bok6 ming6嗟怨薄命Lament fortune’s frailty II”, ” jau6 gin3 keoi5 soeng1 mei4 sau4 so2 han6 pin1 coeng4  又見佢雙眉愁鎖恨偏長 [And notice her sorrow-locked eyebrows being especially long]” is translated as “And see how a frown locks together her eyebrows; certes, her discontent is long lasting”, where “certes” is an archaic English word, a dynamic equivalent for the original Chinese word, “ping1偏 [contrary to what is expected/particularly]”.

The one-to-one correspondence in many an antithetical couplet in the original is repeated skillfully in the English translation. For example, in “lau4 haak3留客Detain your guest”, ” cin1 jat1 go3 m4 hai6 zyu6 maai4 ;cin1 jat1 go3 m4 dak1 dou3 dai2 ……saang1 bat1 dak1 gung6 nei5 tung4 ging1 ;sei2 dou1 jiu3 gung6 maai4千一箇唔係住埋;千一箇唔得到底……生不得共你同矜;死都要共埋” is translated by Clementi as “Not one in a thousand lives with his love: not one in a thousand is constant to the end……In life I could not share your coverlet: but in death we shall be united.”

 

Metaphors ingeniously retained

Certain metaphors in the original are appropriately and cleverly preserved as such. For example, in ” faa1 faa1 sai3 gaai3花花世界 The world of flowers”, ne1 wui4 baa2 cing4 zi6 jat1 bat1 ngau1 siu1呢回把情字一筆勾消[This time I will with one pen-stroke cross out the word passion] is translated by Clementi as “So now with one pen-stroke I will blot out the word ‘passion’”. Also, maai6 siu3 cyun1 coeng4  賣笑村場 (sell-smile village) as a metaphor for brothel is suitably translated as such.  Moreover, sam1 tau3 sik1 soeng1  參透色相 [see through outward appearances] is translated as “In prayerful contemplation, penetrating the mask of beauty” wherein the use of alliteration makes the line musically poetic, though sik1 soeng3 is a Buddhist term meaning external appearances of phenomena rather than sexual beauty.

 

 

Useful Annotations

Clementi provides explanatory notes for most of the allusions used by Chiu Chi-yung. For instance, in “ze1 jyun3 bok6 ming6嗟怨薄命A lament for fortune’s frailty I”, there are the two following lines:- ” ming6 bok6 seoi4 ham1 zing3 , bat1 joek6 hoeng3 baak3 faa1 fan4 soeng5 sou3 haak3 saang1 ping4  命薄誰堪證, 不若向百花墳上訴吓生平 (Trans. by Clementi as: “Who can bear witness to fortune’s frailty? I were best recount my way of life o’er the Tomb of a Hundred Flowers”.) Clementi accounts for “Tomb of a Hundred Flowers” in the following note: “In the time of Shung Cheng (1628 A.D.) there was a famous courtesan named Chong Khiu. On her death, each of her lovers planted a flower on her tomb. In all there were some hundred flowers. The colour of the flowers was variegated and very beautiful. it was in sight of the Jasmine Hill, and was called the Tomb of Flowers.”

 

Another instance. In ” ze1 jyun3 bok6 ming6嗟怨薄命A lament for fortune’s frailty II”, there is the line, ” kwai1 ngo5 ci1 sam1 jat1 dim2 fu6 zoi6 joeng4 gwaan1 soeng5  虧我癡心一點附在陽關上 (Trans. by Clementi as: You flout my insensate love and drive me to the Yong Kwan gate.” Clementi then adds the following note, “‘The Yong Kwan gate’ is situated in the Lung-lak district of the province of Kansuh on the frontier of China and Mongolia. As it opened on to a foreign country it is frequently used in poetry to symbolize ‘ parting.’ Compare [the following poem] by the poet Wong Wai… ”

 

Syntax and Rhythm

 

In “naan4 jan2 leoi6難忍淚Tears”, there are the two following lines, ” nei5 tai2 fan2 coeng4 soeng6 jau5 long4 gwan1 zi6, zau6 hai6 gung6 nei5 ji2 laan4 soeng1 wo4 go3 sau2 ngau5 faa1 si1. 你睇粉墻尚有郎君字,就係共你倚欄相和個首藕花詩。”, which Clementi renders as, ” Look you! The whitewashed wall still keeps the lines which my lord wrote, Even that lotus-flower song which, leaning against the fence, we sang together, you and I.” ”Look you”,  as an inverted phrase, corresponds to “nei5 tai2你睇you look.” The tone of “Even that” corresponds to zau6-hai6就係is precisely. The ending extra phrase, “you and I” corresponds to gung6-nei5共你with you; and the sound of “I” is romantically lingering.

Misinterpretations

 

There are, however, some mistranslations due to miscomprehension. For example, in ” ji6 neoi5 cing4 naam4義女情男 Virtuous maid and loving man”, “go3 zan6 soeng1 gin3 han6 maan5  箇陣相見恨晚 [Then we would regret having met too late]” is mistranslated by Clementi as “Then I shall but grieve that it was nightfall e’er we saw each other.” And in “diu3 cau1 hei2弔秋喜Dirge for Tshau Hei”, “nei5 ming4 giu3 zou6 cau1 hei2 , zi2 mong6 dang2 dou3 cau1 loi4 waan4 jau5 hei2 ji3.  zou6 mat1 coi4 gwo3 dung1 zi3 hau6 zau6 bei6 syut3 soeng1 hei1.  你名叫做秋喜,只望等到秋來還有喜意。做乜才過冬至後就被雪霜欺 [Since your name is Autumn Joy, I did hope that when autumn came, there would still be joy. Why, right after the Winter Solstice, were you bullied by snow and hail]” is mistranslated by Clementi as “….. Why, now the winter solstice is just passed, do I suffer spite of snow and hail?”  In the original, the one bullied by snow and hail should be Autumn Joy (cau1hei2) rather than the mourner/poet.


Share This:
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Comments