Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Six Translations of a Single Cold Mountain Poem

Translations. Translations. Translations. Dance of the original poet and a second language. I’ve made amateur transcreations of the Tao, Kena, and Lalla myself, and have read so many different versions of these to know none are completely reliable although there are some that follow the poet’s lead better than others, and others that whirl into a completely different room or even universe.

Here are six English translations of the 9th century Chinese poet Han-shan, or Cold Mountain, who wrote in an authentic voice, influenced but not owned by Zen and Tao, and now out on his own upon white clouds (and for whom Jack Kerouac would dedicate 'Dharma Bums' in 1958 which starred Japhy Ryder, his fictional name for Gary Snyder). This particular poem is one translated by each of the major translators, listed here in order of year: Arthur Waley; Gary Snyder; Burton Watson; Red Pine; Robert Henricks; J.P. Seaton. 

As for my own taste, bias, and vexation, I prefer the organic Snyder and imagistic Red Pine. I least like the overdone Seaton and overpoetic Waley. Henricks and Burton are useful, the former prosaically so and the latter poetically accordingly. One should note only Red Pine and Henricks are the completists (305/300). Watson is 100; Seaton 95; Snyder only unfortunately 24. There are other translations, I’m sure, but one has to draw the line somewhere, and these are the majors.

I’ve arranged them by latest translation first, and have included, at the end of the translation, the translator’s name, the translation’s number in their collection, and the year the translation first appeared, although there might have been a second revision later on and the version presented here may be it.

Set foot on Han Shan’s Way?
Han Shan’s road is endless . . .
The gorge is long. Rocks, and rocks and rocks,
jut up.
The torrent’s wide, reeds almost hide the far side.
The moss is slippery even without rain.
The pines sing: the wind is real enough.
Who’s ready to leap free of the world’s traces
to come to sit with me among white clouds?

~Seaton (16) 2009

Climb up! Ascend! The way to Han-shan;
But on Han-shan the roads never end.

The valleys are long, with boulders in heaps and piles;
The streams are wide, with grasses both wet and damp.

The moss is slippery—it has nothing to do with the rain;
The pines sigh and moan, but they don't rely on the wind.

Who can transcend the cares of the world,
And sit with me in the white clouds?

~Henricks (28) 1990

Who takes the cold mountain road
takes a road that never ends
the rivers are long and piled with rocks
the streams are wide and choked with grass
it’s not the rain that makes the moss slick
and it’s not the wind that makes the pines moan
who can get past the tangles of the world
and sit with me in the clouds?

~Red Pine (32) 1983

I climb the road to Cold Mountain,
The road to Cold Mountain that never ends.
The valleys are long and strewn with stones;
The streams broad and banked with thick grass.
Moss is slippery, though no rain has fallen;
Pines sigh, but it isn't the wind.
Who can break from the snares of the world
And sit with me among the white clouds?

~Watson (40) 1962

Clambering up the Cold Mountain path,
The Cold Mountain trail goes on and on:
The long gorge choked with scree and boulders,
The wide creek, the mist blurred grass.
The moss is slippery, though there's been no rain
The pine sings, but there's no wind.
Who can leap the world's ties
And sit with me among the white clouds?

~Snyder (8) 1958

Long, long the way to the Cold Mountain;
Stony, stony the banks of the chill stream.
Twitter, twitter--always there are birds;
Lorn and lone--no human but oneself.
Slip, slap the wind blows in one's face;
Flake by flake the snow piles on one's clothes.
Day after day one never sees the sun;
Year after year knows no spring.

~Waley (7) 1954

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