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Other Translations of 'A River Merchant's Wife"

Transcription of Ernest Fenollosa's Notebook (Pound's Source)


regular 5

Chokan=name of town / place              ko=uta=narrative song

long-Mt. side

Sho            hatsu             sho             fuku             gaku
mistress      hair                first             cover            brow
Chionese lay's I or my beginning
My hair was at first covering my brows
        (Chinese method of wearing hair)

Setsu            kwa             mon             zen             geki
break            flowers             gate             front             play
Breaking flower branches I was frolicking in front of our gate.

ro                         ki           chiku              ba             rai
Second person     ride on    bamboo         horse         come
you, young man
lit. young man
When you came riding on bamboo stilts

Gio            sho             ro             sei             bai
going round  seat        play with     blue             plums (fruit)
And going about my seat, you played with the blue plums.

Do            kio             cho             kan             ri
Same        dwell           cho             kan             village
Together we dwelt in the same Chokan village.

rio            sho             mu             ken                 sai
double      small            not            dislike             suspcion
"the two"
And we two little ones had neither mutual dislike or suspicion.
                (no evil thots or bashfulness)


ju            shi             i               kun             fu
Fourteen                   became    lord's          wife
At fourteen I became your wife--

Shu            gan             mi             jo             kai
bashful        face             not yet     ever         open
Bashful I never opened my face (I never laughed)

Tei            to             ko               am             peki
lowering    head        face             black         wall
but lowering my head I always faced toward a dark wall ashamed to
see anybody--she sat in dark corners

Sen            kan             fu             itsu             kai
thousand    call             not            once           looked back
And though a thousand times called, not once did I look around.......

ju            go             shi             tem             hi
     15                      first time    open             eyebrows
At fifteen I first opened my brows
I first knew what married life meant   now she opens her eyebrows.
i.e.. smooths out the wrinkles between her brows.   She now began
to understand love, and to be happy.

Gan            do             jin             yo                 bai
desire          same         dust         together with   ashes
And so I desired to live and die with you even after death, I wish to be with
you even as dust, and even as ashes--partially together.

Jo          son          ho              chu         shin
eternally    preserve    embrace         pillar         faith 
I always had in me the faith of holding to pillars

Ki                 jo             bo              fu               dai
why should  climb        look out     husband    terrace
And why should I think of climbing the husband looking out terrace.

Ju            roku             kun             en             ko
     16                         you             far             go
At 16, however, you had to go far away.

fearful    riverside                     both yen & yo are adj. expressing form of
                                                water passign over hidden rocks

Ku_____ to            yen             yo             tai
    name                         yenyo-rock
of locality                          eddy?
(towards Shoku passing through the difficult place of Yentotai at Kuto.)

Go             getsu             a             ka             shoku
5                 month             not          must          touch
In May not to be touched.
The ship must be careful of them in May.

En            sei             ten             jo             ai
monkeys   voices      heaven        above      sorrowfulo
Monkeys cry sorrowful above heaven.

Mon            zen             chi             ko             seki
gate            front             late            go             footstep
Your footsteps, made by your reluctant departure, in front of our gate

itsu            itsu             sei             rioku             tai
one            one             grow          green             mosses
one by one have been grown up into green moss.

Tai            shin             fu             no             so
mosses      deep             not         can             wipe away
These mosses have grown so deep that it is difficult to wipe them away.

Raku            yo             shu             fu             so
Fallen            leaves       autumn      wind         early
And the fallen leaves indicate autumn wind which (to my thought only)
appears to come earlier than usual.

                                   male        female
Hachi            hatsu             ko             cho             ko
8th                 month                     butterflies             yellow
It being already August, the butterflies are yellow.

So            hi             sei             yen             so
pairs        fly             western       garden      grass 
And yellow as they are, they fly in pairs on the western garden grass.

Kan                shi             sho             sho             shin
affected (by)  this             hurt             (female)     mind
                                       normal         my
Affected by this, (absence) my heart pains.

Za            shu                 ko             gan                ro
gradually   lament            crimson     face                decay--older
                                                                          become old.
The longer the sbsence lasts, the deeper I mourn, my early fine pink face,
will pass to oldness, to my great regret.

So            ban             ka             sam             pa
sooner (or) later          descend    three______whirls
                                                    name of spot on Yangtse Kiang, where
                                                    waters whirl
If you be coming down as far as the Three Narrows sooner or later.

Yo                sho             sh             ho             ka
beforehand  with          letter            report        family-home
Please let me know by writing

Sho            gei             fu             do             yen
mutually      meeting     not           say            far
                  coming to meet
For I will go out to meet, not saying that the way be far,

Choku            chi             cho             fu             sa
directly            arrive         long______wind____sand
                                            a port on the Yangste
And will directly come to Chofusha.
        (the port just this sime of Sampa)

from the Pound Center, Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

W. J. B. Fletcher (1919)


When first o'er maiden brows my hair I tied,
    In sport I plucked the blooms before the door.
You riding came on hobbyhorse astride,
    And wreathed my bed with greengage branches o'er.
At Ch'ang-kan village long together dwelt
    We children twain, and knew no petty strife.
At fourteen years lo! I became thy wife.
    Yet ah! the modest shyness that I felt!
My shamefaced head I in a corner hung;
    Nor to long calling answered word of mine.
At fifteen years my heart's gate open sprung,
    And I were glad to mix my dust with thine.
My troth to thee till death I keep for aye:
    My eyes still gaze adoring on my lord.
When I was but sixteen you went away.
    In Ch-t'ang Gorge how Yen-y's billows roared!
For five long months with you I cannot meet.
    The gibbon's wail rechoes to the sky!
Before the door, where stood your parting feet,
    The prints with verdant moss are covered high.
Deep is that moss! it will not brush away.

In early autumn's gale the leaflets fall.
    September now!---the butterflies so gay
Disport on grasses by our garden wall.
    The sight my heart disturbs with longing woe.
I sit and wail, my red cheeks growing old.
    Early and late I to the gorges go,
Waiting for news that of thy coming told.
    How short will seem the way, if we but meet !
    Across the sand the wind flies straight to greet.

Amy Lowell (1921)


When the hair of your Unworthy One first began to cover
    her forehead,
She picked flowers and played in front of the door.
Then you, my Lover, came riding a bamboo horse.
We ran round and round the bed, and tossed about the
    sweetmeats of green plums.
We both lived in the village of Ch'ang Kan.
We were both very young, and knew neither jealousy nor
At fourteen, I became the wife of my Lord.
I could not yet lay aside my face of shame;
I hung my head, facing the dark wall;
You might call me a thousand times, not once would I turn
At fifteen, I stopped frowning.
I wanted to be with you, as dust with its ashes.
I often thought that you were the faithful man who clung to the
That I should never be obliged to ascend to the Looking-for-
    Husband Ledge.
When I was sixteen, my Lord went far away,
To the Ch' T'ang Chasm and the Whirling Water Rock
    of the Y River
Which, during the Fifth Month, must not be collided with;
Where the wailing of the gibbons seems to come from the sky.
Your departing footprints are still before the door where I
    bade you good-bye,
In each has sprung up green moss.
The moss is thick, it cannot be swept away.
The leaves are falling, it is early for the Autumn wind to
It is the Eighth Month, the butterflies are yellow,
Two are flying among the plants in the West garden;
Seeing them, my heart is bitter with grief, they wound the
    heart of the Unworthy One.
The bloom of my face has faded, sitting with my sorrow.
From early morning until late in the evening, you descend
    the Three Serpent River.
Prepare me first with a letter, bringing me the news of when
    you will reach home.
I will not go far on the road to meet you,
I will go straight until I reach the Long Wind Sands.

From Fir-Flower Tablets

Shigeyoshi Obata (1922)


(A river-merchant's wife writes)

I would play, plucking flowers by the gate;
My hair scarcely covered my forehead, then.
You would come, riding on your bamboo horse,
And loiter about the bench with green plums for toys.
So we both dwelt in Chang-kan town,
We were two children, suspecting nothing.

At fourteen I became your wife,
And so bashful that I could never bare my face,
But hung my head, and turned to the dark wall;
You would call me a thousand times,
But I could not look back even once.

At fifteen I was able to compose my eyebrows,
And beg you to love me till we were dust and ashes.
You always kept the faith of Wei-sheng,
Who waited under the bridge, unafraid of death,
I never knew I was to climb the Hill of Wang-fu
And watch for you these many days.

I was sixteen when you went on a long journey,
Traveling beyond the Keu-Tang Gorge,
Where the giant rocks heap up the swift river,
And the rapids are not passable in May.
Did you hear the monkeys wailing
Up on the skyey height of the crags?

Do you know your foot-marks by our gate are old,
And each and every one is filled up with green moss?

The mosses are too deep for me to sweep away;
And already in the autumn wind the leaves are falling.
The yellow butterflies of October
Flutter in pairs over the grass of the west garden.
My heart aches at seeing them. . . .
I sit sorrowing alone, and alas!
The vermilion of my face is fading.

Some day when you return down the river,
If you will write me a letter beforehand,
I will come to meet you--the way is not long--
I will come as far as the Long Wind Beach instantly.

Witter Bynner (1929)


(Written to Music)

My hair had hardly covered my forehead.
I was picking flowers, playing by my door,
When you, my lover, on a bamboo horse,
Came trotting in circles and throwing green plums.
We lived near together on a lane in Ch'ang-kan,
Both of us young and happy-hearted.
. . .At fourteen I became your wife,
So bashful that I dared not smile,
And I lowered my head toward a dark corner
And would not turn to your thousand calls;
But at fifteen I straightened my brows and laughed,
Learning that no dust could ever seal our love,
That even unto death I would await you by my post
And would never lose heart in the tower of silent watching.
. . .Then when I was sixteen, you left on a long journey
Through the Gorges of Ch'-t'ang, of rock and whirling water.
And then came the Fifth-month, more than I could bear,
And I tried to hear the monkeys in your lofty far-off sky.
Your footprints by our door, where I had watched you go,
Were hidden, every one of them, under green moss,
Hidden under moss too deep to sweep away.
And the first autumn wind added fallen leaves.
And now, in the Eighth-month, yellowing butterflies
Hover, two by two, in our west-garden grasses. . . .
And, because of all this, my heart is breaking
And I fear for my bright cheeks, lest they fade.
Oh, at last, when you return through the three Pa districts,
Send me a message home ahead!
And I will come and meet you and will never mind the distance,
All the way to Chang-fng Sha.

From The Jade Mountain: A Chinese Anthology (New York: Knopf).

Wai-Lim Yip (1976)

1.      My hair barely covered my forehead.
2.      I played in front of the gate, plucking flowers.
3.      You came riding on a bamboo-horse.
4.      And around the bed we played with green plums.
5.      We were then living in Ch'ang-kan.
6.      Two small people, no hate nor suspicion.
7.      At fourteen, I became your wife.
8.      I seldom laughed, being bashful.
9.      I lowered my head toward the dark wall.
10.    Called to, a thousand times, I never looked back.
11.    At fifteen, I began to perk up.
12.    We wished to stay together like dust and ash.
13.    If you have the faith of Wei-sheng.
14.    Why do I have to climb up the waiting tower?
15.    At sixteen, you went on a long journey.
16.    By the Yen-j rocks at Ch'-t'ang
17.    The unpassable rapids in the fifth month
18.    When monkeys cried against the sky.
19.    Before the door your footprints
20.    Are all moss-grown
21.    Moss too deep to sweep away.
22.    Falling leaves: autumn winds are early.
23.    In the eighth month, butterflies come
24.    In pairs over the grass in the West Garden.
25.    These smite my heart.
26.    I sit down worrying and youth passes away.
27.    When eventually you would come down from the Three Gorges.
28.    Please let me know ahead of time.
29.    I will meet you, no matter how far,
30.    Even all the way to Long Wind Sand.

From Wai-lim Yip, Chinese Poetry: Major Modes and Genres. (Berkeley: U of California P, 1976. Copyright 1976 by U of California P.


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from Chinese Poetry: Major Modes and Genres, ed & trans. by Wai-lim Yip
(Berkeley: U California P, 1976), 376-381.

The Song of Ch'ang-Kan (Yeh-Fu)

1. concubine                 hair                 first                 cover                 forehead
(i.e., my, humble term used by women when speaking of themselves)
2. pluck                         flower/s         door                front                  play
3. you                            ride               bamboo           horse                 come
4. circling                       bed                play                green                 plums
5. together                    live                 Ch'ang             Kan                  village
6. two                           small               no                   hate                   suspicion
7. fourteen                     --                   be                    your                  wife
8. she                            face                has-never         ---                   open
9. lower                        head                face                 dark                 wall
10. thousand                 call/s               not                    one                  turn
                                                                                 once                look-back
11. fifteen                     --                     then                  unknit             brows
12. wish                         together          dust                 and                 ashes
13. often                      keep-in-mind     embrace         pillar               reliability
14. how                       ascend              Watch              Husband         Terrace
15. sixteen                   ---                     you                 a-long-way      go
16. Ch'                     T'ang                  Yen                  Y                 pile-of-rocks
                                                                                                      (in the midst
                                                                                                         of river)
17. fifth                        month                 cannot             ---                 offend
18. ape                         sound                 heaven             above           sorrowful
19. door                     front                     late                 departure      foot-step/s
20. each-one                --                        grow               green           moss
21. moss                     deep                    cannot             --                 sweep
22. falling                    leaf                      autumn             wind/s          early
23. eighth                    month                  butterflies          --                come
24. pair                       fly                        west                 garden          grass
25. moved-by             this                      hust                  my                heart
26. sit                          grieve                   red                  face               old
27. soon                      late                       down              three               Pa's
                                                                                   (i.e., Three Gorges)
28. in-advance            (part.)                  letter                 inform             home
29. (each other)          welcome             not                     say                 far
30. all-the-way-to        --                         Long                 Wind             Sand

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