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Translation exercise: Li Bai's "Drinking alone under the moon"

From:Thomas R. Wier <trwier@...>
Date:Sunday, August 25, 2002, 19:06
One of my favorite poems by Li Bai is the following, which
I've decided to use to build my Phaleran vocabulary and
to develop a sense of how Phaleran poetics is fashioned.
(To the latter end, this is only a partial answer:  it's
more or less a prose translation with a few poetic features.)
Unfortunately, I broke the cardinal rule of translating:
translating from a translation.  But alas! I have not
yet learnt Classical Chinese, so my translation will have
to stand as is until that time.  I'd be interested to see
what other people did with the same poem, and questions
and critiques would be welcome.

Drinking Alone Under the Moon

A jug of wine amidst the flowers:
drinking alone, with no friend near.
Raising my cup, I beckon the bright moon;
My shadow included, we're a party of three.
Although the moon's unused to drinking,
And the shadow only apes my every move,
For the moment I'll just take them as they are,
Enjoying spring when it is here.
Reeling shadow, swaying moon,
Attend my dance and song.
Still sober, we rejoice together;
Drunk, each takes his leave.
To seal forever such a friendship,
Let's rendezvous beyond the Milky Way.

Uxeikû lâr nasegwanti seiweristi

Teteþusû ouwu lumáxekû iphèix:
Tsheofâkû yor pacâusuo seiweristi.
Âr xoþagwasti, lauyîxei râphiswandi
sûmaiswâstâs naiorwa, hwaya eo myûnâtlùl.
Foi, uxei eoi seiweusû othâmmintîs,
hai naiorw' aphès pentâ k'eahusyossi,
swongan siw' ûl ainkoswaltîs,
hai Euwes hwo polwamiltîs.
iwainaiorwa, hluruxei,
ebaxuo lurekawoi azhèrismi.
Eioxerîmtâs, ûtþix phixaiorîmtâs;
râk'urintmâs, thînòrintmâs.
 ti âmearswa siw' ûl ûhye,
uwenalga Ámblakûrnû er.

Teteþusû [1]  ouwu   lumáxekû [2] iphèix:
PL.flower.DAT amidst wine.DUR     jug

Tsheofâkû  yor     pacâusuo      seiweristi.
friend.DUR without lonliness.DAT drink-alcohol.INTR.1SgProgRe.S

Âr  xoþagwasti,           lauyîxei [3] râphiswandi
cup raise.REL.1SgProgRe.S bright-moon  call-forth.TR.1SgPfRe.S

sûmaiswâstâs [4]       naiorwa [5], hwaya eo  myûnâtlùl [6].
include.TR.1SgProgIr.C shadow.1Sg   1PlEx COP threesome

Foi [7], uxei eoi [8] seiweusû     othâmmintîs [9],
true     moon 3SgO    drinking.DAT not-accustom.MID.3SgPfRe.C

hai naiorw' [10] aphès pentâ       k'eahusyossi,
and shadow.1Sg   1SgO  in-all-ways imitate.TR.3SgProgRe.S

swongan siw' ûl [11] ainkoswaltîs [12],
now     this like    accept.TR.1SgProsRe.C

hai Euwes [13] hwo    polwamiltîs.
and spring     1SgDat enjoy.MID.1SgProsRe.C

iwaionaiorwa,        hluruxei,
unsteady-shadow.1Sg  sway-moon

ebaxuo   lurekawoi     azhèrismi [14].
song.DAT dance.DAT.and wait-upon.INTR.3PlProgRe.S

Eioxerîmtan [15],         ûtþix    phixaiorîmtan;
be-sober.INTR.3PlProgIr.Q together rejoice.3PlProgIr.Q

râk'urintmâs,             thînòrintmâs. [16]
be-drunk.INTR.3PlProgIr.C take-leave.INTR.3PlPfIr.C

 ti     âmearswa [17] siw' ûl   ûhye,
so-that seal.TR       this like friendship

uwenalga [18]  Ámblakûrnû [19] er.
meet-up.1PLImp milk-ribbon     beyond

[1] In poetry, and sometimes in prose, the dative
case ending, normally -uo, can alternate with the
more archaic -û depending on whether the following
word begins with a vowel.
[2] The so-called "partitive" durative case.
[3] Because Phaleran has no class of adjectives,
and must nominalize or use unwieldy relative clauses,
it is not unusual for Phaleran poets to use compounds,
here "bright-moon", which undergoes regular contraction
rules of the roots _lauyî-_ and _uxei_.  This is also
motivated by imitation of C'ali poetics, which can
make use of a distinct class of adjectives.
[4] lit. "were I to include", in the irrealis mode.
[5] _naior_, "shadow", belongs to the class of
inherently possessed nouns, and so must receive a
possessor.  cf. _âr_, which takes no such possession.
[6] From C'ali _næt'elúl_, "group, company", and
Phaleran _myû_ "three".  In its use in Phaleran,
the initial n- has been lost due to reassociation
(like English napron > apron) but is preserved in
forms like this one where it serves to prevent hiatus.
[7] Not a conjunction, but an adverb:  "although,
admittedly, certainly".
[8] Proximative pronoun used, since the moon
is more topical than other nouns previously mentioned.
[9] The idiom _eoi othâmmi_ "to unaccustom onself" can
be used in a passive sense when no agent is obviously
acting upon the patient.
[10] short vowels can optionally be elided in
every day speech when to do so would avoid hiatus.
[11] From the demonstrative _siwo_ "this" and _gan_
"now" (< C'ali _gën_ "here").   _ûl_ "like"
alternates with _û_ depending on whether the
following word begins with a consonant.
[12] The cognitive evidentiality suffix here can
imply something like "I suppose":  "I suppose I
will accept them as they are". In general, it
implies a kind of hesitancy over the claim, but
one is less removed from the claim than the
[13] Not early in the year, but the beginning of
the growing season.
[14] _azhèri_ /a'Seri/ "to wait upon" (< dial. azyeari_
"to serve") does not have the class connotations that
standard Phaleran _ûgethari_ (+dat.) "to attend, wait
upon" does.
[15] The use of irrealis in both clauses closely
connects the two without use of a formal conjunction.
Note also the change to quotative evidentiality (in -(e)n):
this phrase would strike the Phaleran ear with the
ring of a proverb, and so it must be marked as having
been "hearsay" knowledge.
[16] The shift to the perfect aspect is no accident:
the sense is "at that point that we realize we've
become drunk, that's when we suppose we take our leave."
[17] The infinitival purpose clause: lit. "that to
bind, seal"
[18] The prospective imperative.
[19] A calque of "Milk-colored ribbon" which the
Phalerans have adopted from the C'ali.  More common
is _K'urnuo eufa_ "K'urnu's belt".

be alone                        naseri
under                           lâr
drink alcoholic substance       seiweari, seiweri
drinking                        seiweus
jug, pitcher                    ipheix
wine                            lumax
amidst                          ouwu (+dat.)
flowers                         teþus
be alone                        pacâri
friend, companion               tsheofa
near                            oracei
raise, lift up                  xoþaswa
cup                             âr
beckon, call forth              râphiswa
be bright                       lauyîri
moon                            uxei
shadow                          naior
include                         sûmaiswa
party, group                    âtlùl
threesome                       myûnâtlùl
although                        foi
be unaccustomed, unused         eoi othâmmi (to, +dat.)
imitate                         k'eahûsyo
in all ways                     pentâ
movement                        fâmàu
for the moment, at this point   swongan
accept                          ainkoswa
how                             t'âr
enjoy                           polwami
spring                          Euwe
be here                         tâxari
walk unsteadily                 iwaiori
sway                            hluri
wait upon, attend               âzhèri
dance                           lureka
song                            ebax
be sober                        eioxeri
rejoice                         phìxaiori
together                        ûtþix
become intoxicated by alcohol   râk'uri
take leave, part                thînóri
bind, seal                      âmearswa
friendship                      ûhye
rendezvous, meet up again       uwenari
beyond                          er
Milky Way                       Âmblakûrnu

Thomas Wier
Dept. of Linguistics  "Nihil magis praestandum est quam ne pecorum ritu
University of Chicago sequamur antecedentium gregem, pergentes non qua
1010 E. 59th Street   eundum est, sed qua itur." -- Seneca
Chicago, IL 60637


andrew <hobbit@...>