A present for Meng Haoran
(translated by William P. Coleman)
I love Master Meng, the first man;
like wind-flow, you hear of him everywhere.
In red youth, he gave up on the royal carriage;
white-haired now, he lies among pines — in clouds.
Intoxicated in the moon, he often hits sainthood;
bewildered among flowers, he has no work that fits a gentleman.
He’s a high mountain I’m fortunate to look up at;
to this apprentice he gives out clear scent.
I found the Chinese text and an English translation of this poem — along with the word-by-word literal translation I used to create this one — on pp. 51-3 of Whincup, Greg. The Heart of Chinese Poetry. Garden City: Anchor Press, Doubleday, 1987. ISBN 0-385-23967-X.
Whincup says, “The unconventional Li Bai loved Meng Hau-ran for his unconventionality. Meng was fourteen years older. To Li, his life was a model one, based entirely on poetry, friendship, and drink.”
(A related poem is Seeing off Meng Haoran at Yellow Crane Tower on his way to Guangling. For my translations of Meng Haoran, see Meng Haoran.)
There are also translation materials for this poem at the website Tang Shi — 300 Tang Poems, from Wengu — Chinese Classics and Poems.
The grammar of Chinese allows poets to leave interpretive choices open, and it’s an unattainable ideal of translating to bring out possibilities without closing others. I try to use my sense of English to at least intrigue you. If I’ve succeeded, it’s best — even if you don’t know Chinese, which I don’t either — to follow up at the source I cite above and see the original word-by-word translation from which I worked. It’ll be richer than what I’ve given you. To understand the poem best, try to construct your own translation.
More Chinese poetry translations in this blog.
Home page for my Li Bai translations.