ljlee: bam bam (headdesk)
In a case of synchronicity, [personal profile] chordatesrock put up a post about lazy genderbends just as I was searching out title ideas for a series of genderbent ATLA short fics. (This is an idea I played around with in an earlier post about genderbent fanart.)

I thought it would be cool to quote some sort of poetry in the title, so I started looking for gender imagery in poetry. I learned that androgyny was a major recurring motif in the poems of William Blake, including notably Jerusalem, where I found this promising line:
For the Male is a Furnace of beryll : the Female is a golden Loom.
So I thought of something like "Golden Furnace" or "Loom of Beryl" or both to signal the switch, but neither seems evocative enough. "Gold and Beryl" might be workable if I can't think of anything else, though it's a bit obscure. i don't think most readers would associate gold with the feminine and beryl with the masculine without having the reference explained. "Hammer and loom" is also a contrast that comes up, but ends up feeling vaguely Communistic as a title. Or maybe abstract the imagery a little, like "The Fire and the Weave?" Except, um, fire has a pretty specific meaning in my chosen universe. "Spear and Mirror?"


So at current my title candidates are:

1. Single Nature's Double Name
2. Of Beryl and Gold
3. Valley Under Heaven's Arc

...None of which feels right. Maybe I'm overthinking (and over-researching) this. Maybe I should keep reading the Dao De Jing to see what else I find, or go with something more obvious. This is the hardest I've ever thought about a title and it's frustrating.
ljlee: where I work & play (workspace)
My friend [personal profile] chordatesrock put up a poem singing the praises of beta-readers, including yours truly, so it occurred to me to write an answering poem. It's not in trochaic octowhatchamacallit as I have no idea what that even is and am too lazy to use it, but it's still in some form of verse so it must count, right? Happy holidays, everyone!

The Beta-Reader )


Apr. 8th, 2014 11:10 am
ljlee: (candle)
How quietly he sleeps
Clasped to her unquiet heart.

A prospective client brought her son to her appointment because she had no one to watch him. It was just after lunchtime and the little boy twisted and fussed in the universal language of a tired toddler. We don't have real comfy nap spots in our conference room (believe me, I know), but he finally conked out in his mother's arms.

It seemed strange he could rest so soundly against a woman who was scrambling to pick up the pieces of the life his father had blown up. To me she was a frightened girl reaching out from the bog she was sinking into; to her son she was a storm wall that kept the howling world from him. I found myself wondering, what price do parents pay to create that circle of peace in their arms?
ljlee: (355tears)

by Lee Yuk-Sa*

On the whiplash of a bitter season
I am swept up to this utmost north.

Up where the sky in its exhaustion ceases
I stand on the bladed edge of frost.

I cannot know where I am to kneel
Without a foothold, driven to the edge.

Thereby what but close my eyes and think
Truly winter is a rainbow wrought of steel.

* Independence fighter and poet. Born in 1904 as Lee Weon-Rok, he joined an independence activist organization in 1925 and attended military academy in Beijing. He returned to Korea in 1927 only to be jailed for three years in connection to a bank bombing. His pen name, Yuk-Sa, is from his prisoner number 64 ("six-four" read as "yuk-sa" in Korean). He went back and forth between China and Korea studying, working for the independence struggle, and publishing poetry, academic papers, and scenarios. Died in a Beijing prison in 1944, a year and a half before Korea achieved independence.

original text, notes, and bonus poem I liked when I was fourteen )
ljlee: (peach_moved)
Winter Nights

by Park Yong-Rae*

On sleepless nights the snow shall drift on the garlic patch at home.
On sleepless nights the moonbeams drift under the eaves of home.
Cross the water, bare of feet, to that distant village
The wind shall fall to slumber in the corner yard at home.

* 1925-1980, poet and high school teacher. Recipient of the 1980 Korean Literature Achievement Award. He mainly wrote about the nature and scenery of the countryside where he lived.

original text, literal translation, and notes )
잠 이루지 못하는 밤 고향집 추녀 밑 달빛은 쌓이리.
발목을 벗고 물을 건너는 먼 마을
고향집 마당귀 바람은 잠을 자리.

This is one of my fiance Wishsong's favorite poems, translated at his request. It's short and simple, which I have learned does not mean easier to translate. The bit where the poet compared moonlight to snow gave me particular trouble. Maybe I can show the divergence by contrasting a more literal translation, with the ambiguities inherent in the text:

On (this) sleepless night(s) the snow should/would/will/may gather on the garlic patch back home.
On (this) sleepless night(s) the moonlight should/would/will/may gather under the eaves back home.
The distant village where (one) crosses the water with bare ankles
The corner-of-the-yard wind back home should/would/will/may sleep.

The image of moonlight gathering under the eaves like snow is a lovely one, but the best I could do while creating a meter more appropriate for English verse was to use the same verb ("drift") as the snow in the previous line.

The Korean language also allows ambiguities English does not, such as singular/plural and easy omission of the subject from sentences. I chose among the ambiguities as best I could, and recast the third line as either a command or a declarative sentence with the subject dropped.

I also rearranged the words in the fourth line to preserve the rhyming scheme of the first, second, and fourth lines. The rhyming in the original wasn't from repeating the word "home" but rather from the grammatical construct I rendered as should/would/will/may. I hope the repeated invocation of "home" is a serviceable substitute and heightens the feeling of homesickness. And you can see the other liberties I took with that last line.

This poem, published in 1975, is the most recent work I have translated and it's nice to work in a more modern sensibility (though something like, say, The Silence of My Beloved still stands up amazingly well). The poet is also from my region of the country so it was nice to honor a great local writer. I may be translating the more modern works Wishsong and I enjoy, though he's the bigger poetry fan and will probably have more requests down the line.
ljlee: Lee Yo-weon during a break in the filming (deokman)
Song of Longing for My Love (思美人曲)

by Jeong Cheol*

I was born to follow him
Our lifelong bond was known to Heaven
I was young and sole belovéd
This heart, this love had no compare.

My only wish to be for life
By his side; yet in old age
I am alone, and miss him sore
Last night, it seems, I was with him
Upon the Palace of the Moon
Wherefore returned to mortal lands?
This hair, once combed, a three-year tangle
I've rouge and powder, but for whom?
My heart is piled on high with cares
My breaths are sighs; my sight is tears
Life has limit; sorrow, none.

Uncaring years, you flow like water
Passing, coming, like the seasons
I look, I listen; thoughts overwhelm.

Sudden spring breeze blows the snow
Apricots outside my window
Faithful flow'rs on frosty boughs,
A subtle scent on spring's awakening!
Moon chases sunset on my pillow
A sob or greeting. Is't you, my love?
If I sent those blossomed branches
Flowering in this pale cold,
Will he then know my steadfast heart?
Will he return me to his side?

Flowers fall and leaves do sprout
Shades are cool 'neath summer trees
Silk hangings droop in solitude 
Broidered tents stand empty, silent
Roses have I drawn aside
And peacocks strut on painted screens
How long the day amidst my woes!
Upon the silk that I have cut
Are swans in their domestic bliss
Rainbow threads do I unwind
To sew a robe for my beloved
The measurements on golden rule
Skill and courtesy in the making
On frame of coral do I set
The box of jade that holds his robe
I look to send it where he be
A frightening way through cloud and mount
A thousand miles, ten thousand miles
Would he greet my gift as he would me?

Wild geese honk in frosty night
In tower high past crystal blinds
I spy the moon and Northern Star;
Is it he? The tears well up
Fain would I take that radiance clear
And send it winging to his palace
May he lift it high above
Light valleys deep as bright as day!

Earth and sky lie white and still
No sign of man or even bird
With cold so deep in southern lands
What of his palace in the north?
Springtime sun I'd conjure up
To shine upon him where he is
A warmth upon my humble home
Would I gift his courtly dwelling
In skirt of red, blue sleeves half rolled
The day is gone; my thoughts are many
Through the winding winter night
With inlaid harp next to my light
I lean, and hope to dream of him
Cold my marriage bed--is't day?

Through hours of day and days in a moon
I try to spare myself the pain
By stopping up my thoughts of him
'Tis in my heart, though, to the bone
Doctors ten from legend all
Could not cure me of this longing
Ah, this sickness, all his doing
A butterfly I'd rather be
Flit from flowering branch to branch
And alight on him 'pon scented wing
He may not know me, yet will I follow.

* Jeong Cheol (1536-1593): Politician, academic, author, and poet in the Joseon era of Korea. He wrote Song of Longing while exiled from court due to partisan strife. Keep in mind this doesn't make him a good guy; he was one of the most enthusiastic and cruelest partisans out there, and Song of Longing is arguably one of the most famous examples of literary sycophancy in Korean history.

source text and translation notes )
ljlee: (candle)
The Silence of My Beloved

Han Yong-Un*

My beloved has gone. Ah! The one I love is gone.
He broke the green of summer and walked the narrow way 'cross the autumn wood, and none could stay him.
The old promise, strong and shining as a flower of gold, collapsed to dust blowing in a gentle sigh.
The memory of that first sharp kiss turned the compass of my destiny and backed away, step by fading step.
The scented voice of my love has deafened me; the flower of his beauty blinds me.
Love being a mortal affair, great was the fear of his leaving even as we met. Yet parting stupefies the soul, and my astonished heart bursts anew at this sorrow.
But I know I break my own love if I make of this ending a source of empty tears, and so I took the overbearing force of my grief and poured it out into a wellspring of new hope.
Even as we fear parting in the moment of our union, so do we believe in the union made anew at the moment of our parting.
Ah! My beloved has gone, but I have refused to lose him.
My love song overflows its melody to swirl forevermore around the silence of my beloved.

* Han Yong-Un (1879-1944). Korean Buddhist monk, author, poet, and activist for Korean independence from Japanese rule. One of the thirty-three signers of the Korean Declaration of Independence. Died in 1944, one year before Korean liberation.The Silence of My Beloved was published in 1926, sixteen years into the Japanese imperial rule of Korea.

Korean text and other ramblings )
푸른 산빛을 깨치고 단풍나무 숲을 향하여 난 작은 길을 걸어서, 차마 떨치고 갔습니다.
황금(黃金)의 꽃같이 굳고 빛나든 옛 맹서(盟誓)는 차디찬 티끌이 되어서 한숨의 미풍(微風)에 날아갔습니다.
날카로운 첫 키스의 추억(追憶)은 나의 운명(運命)의 지침(指針)을 돌려 놓고, 뒷걸음쳐서 사라졌습니다.
나는 향기로운 님의 말소리에 귀먹고, 꽃다운 님의 얼굴에 눈멀었습니다.
사랑도 사람의 일이라, 만날 때에 미리 떠날 것을 염려하고 경계하지 아니한 것은 아니지만, 이별은 뜻밖의 일이 되고, 놀란 가슴은 새로운 슬픔에 터집니다.
그러나 이별을 쓸데없는 눈물의 원천(源泉)을 만들고 마는 것은 스스로 사랑을 깨치는 것인 줄 아는 까닭에, 걷잡을 수 없는 슬픔의 힘을 옮겨서 새 희망(希望)의 정수박이에 들어부었습니다.
우리는 만날 때에 떠날 것을 염려하는 것과 같이, 떠날 때에 다시 만날 것을 믿습니다.
아아, 님은 갔지마는 나는 님을 보내지 아니하였습니다.
제 곡조를 못 이기는 사랑의 노래는 님의 침묵(沈默)을 휩싸고 돕니다.

This isn't the actual original text as published in 1926, by the way. The 1926 text is almost unreadable even for Koreans, so I chose a modernized text which became the basis for the translation. (Source: this page.) Many thanks to [livejournal.com profile] amyraine for directing me to articles on poetic translation. Aside from giving me pointers, Brother Anthony's words kept me from being an ass and linking other translations to mock them.

Working on Shadow of the Dragon King has been an occasion for me to think about Asian and more specifically Korean themes. In writing the character of Shun in particular, I thought about how loyalty to a person or ideal can resemble romantic love--the passion, the intensity, the sacrifice, the all-consuming nature of the devotion--and that got me thinking about famous works of Korean literature that used the language and tropes of romance to express patriotic fervor. I was thinking for a while about translating some of those works when I saw [livejournal.com profile] amanda_violet's post about the homoeroticism of the Napoleonic Wars, and then it was on.

"On" consists of making pages of messy scribbles while my brain screams "I can't do this, I'm not even a literature major!"

The first of these translations is 님의 침묵, which I have chosen to translate as The Silence of My Beloved. This is one of Korea's premier national poems along with Kim So-Wol's Azaleas (Brother Anthony did five different translations of this poem to show the ambiguity inherent in translating verse), the one every Korean schoolkid grows up memorizing and analyzing. The "beloved" has various meanings including the poet's lost country, his people, his religious faith BLAH BLAH BLAH and he takes a woman's voice because the traditional motif of women's suffering and strength symbolizes the suffering of the Korean people OUR CULTURE WOULD RATHER ROMANTICIZE WOMEN'S PAIN THAN DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT WAH WAH.

The educational routine is so trite and repetitive, it's easy to forget how genuinely good this stuff is. Even attempting to translate it felt like a sacrilege in many ways, because for one thing I have zero idea what I'm doing, and for another the beauty of poetic language obviously finds only limited expression in translation. The cadence, the cultural references, the puns... would this literary and cultural treasure turn out to be pathetic, even ridiculous in the harsh light of another language?

In the end, in the words of Wamba the jester from Ivanhoe, a man can but do his best. I tried to be true to the flow of the language while making changes that I thought made the translation sound better, even if I strayed from the original. Such deviations were not taken lightly, and were due to lack of skill and not lack of regard.

For instance, the "strait" path was just a little footpath in the original, but I figured the Biblical imagery would resonate better with the nuance of the text. It was also an attempt to express the sacrifice that "the beloved" is making, something that comes up in the last part of the line but I failed to translate. Manhae (萬海, "ten thousand seas," the poet's chosen epithet**) expressed the beloved's pain with a single adverb, but its closest English equivalent, "reluctantly," would have been hilariously inadequate to convey the depth of emotion. In the end I largely deleted the beloved's pain by translating his departure as "none could stay him," for which a more precise translation should be more like "he cast me off, though he bled for it." (No mention of blood in the original--that's just to show how deep a feeling it is.)

** Ho (號), or epithets, could be an entire essay in themselves. I've seen the word translated into 'pseudonym' or 'nom de plume,' which is just confusing because these names were not meant to be anonymous, nor were they necessarily pen names. A ho is a name that a person could choose for himself or herself as an adult, one that friends and family (but only equals or better) or strangers can use without being overly familiar or rude. It would be extremely improper for me to call the poet "Yong-Un" and it sounds sort of cold and objective to use his full given name, but calling him Manhae is a way to convey emotional warmth without being disrespectful. Yay complicated cultural stuff!

I teetered down this tightrope between mistranslation and unreadability until I came to Line 7, at which point I told myself "screw it" and took a flying leap into plain inaccurate translation. That's the bit about pouring grief into a wellspring of new hope, which Manhae didn't exactly write. What he did write was more like this:

I took up the unbearable power of sorrow and poured it down onto the crown of new hope.

That's crown as in top of the head, not royal crown. This makes complete sense in Korean, where the image of pouring water over the top of one's head coveys a "snap out of it" mood and a new focus. The crown of the head is traditionally the source and the center of the mind, as in the saying "pour water over the crown and it flows to the heel." Additionally, the sound jeong-su-ri (頂수리) for 'crown of the head' (the actual word Manhae used was jeong-su-bag-i, a Gangweon province dialect which I think he chose for the cadence) puns with jeong-su, (精髓), essence, and jeong-su (淨水), pure water. I couldn't get any of this in English using an accurate translation, so I chose to eschew the literal meaning and go with the implied meanings instead.

And "the union made anew at the moment of our parting"--I realize this is ambiguous, as though the poet and the beloved meet again the moment they part, but the ambiguity exists in the original and I amplified it, especially since I chose to go with the idea of a renewed and hopefully better union instead of a simple repetition of the old. This has to do with the fact that Choson was hardly an ideal country (read: it was weak, corrupt, and unjust) at the time it was taken over by Japan, and Koreans had and have a lot of our own flaws and baggage to overcome and national crisis can be a wake-up call, with echoes of the "more perfect union" that many English-speaking readers will be familiar with. So I ended up inserting much of myself and my own beliefs, which is a transgression, but hardly a greater one than attempting this translation in the first place.

"I have refused to lose him" was another part that gave me trouble. If I wanted to be accurate it would be "I have not sent him" or "I have not let him go" but that sounds stalkerish in English, as though the poet were hanging onto some guy and not an ideal. This was doubly true because I already used the male pronoun for the translation, which is not in the original; in the original text the beloved is the beloved throughout, not he or she. Instead I tried to convey the essence, that the parting is not really a loss as long as you refuse to give in to the pain.

"My love song overflows its melody" was another difficulty because there is no English equivalent. The original is more like "The song of love, which cannot bear its own melody." Since both Manhae and I were using a lot of water imagery, I decided to use "overflow" instead. The "forevermore" bit is for rhythmic purposes only and is not in the original, though I think it's in keeping with the atmosphere.

So in sum, small translation, big apologia. I keep expecting the language police to show up at my doorstep for daring to do something like this. (Um, not literally.) I've started working on another classic example of this patriotism-as-romance thing, and it's turning out very... weird.


ljlee: (Default)
L.J. Lee

June 2016

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