Saturday, June 5, 2010

Gifts - Song from ancient Wei (modern Henan)

 I found this in a bilingual Chinese publication "Selections from The Book of Poetry", in the section of folk Songs, all translated by Prof. Xu Yuanchong (1921 - ?).  "The Book of Poetry" is THE book of poetry, China's first ancient poetry collection, compiled around the 6th Century BCE (Before Christian Era), around the same time as the Illiad and the Odyssey.  The compiler is attributed to be Confucius (!) and the 305 poems selected by him from the several thousand known in his time.  This book, along with five others (on rites, music, changes, ancient texts, and the Spring and Autumn Annals) are the "Six Classics" he used as textbooks for his disciples.  (Aside: one reason for the decline of China is that the imperial civil service examinations continued using those classics as their basis INTO THE 19th century!  Thus, China's best and brightest were selected by their ability to expound on 2,500 yr old texts, while knowing DIDDLY about modern technology, administration, etc. Oy veh!)  This folk song comes from the river valleys of Henan Province and at least as old as when it was selected (2,500 years ago).  Prof. Xu, the translator,  taught at Peking University, was educated in China and in Paris, and is a noted translator of Chinese texts into English and French as well as in the other direction.  (He translated, among others, "Madame Bovary" into Chinese and the poems of Mao Tse Tung into English.)  His bio states that he is "...proclaimed as the only expert in the world who can translate Chinese poetry into English and French rhyme.."
Gifts - Song from Wei, modern Henan Province, China
                                                                             transl. by  Prof. Xu Yuanchong

She throws a quince to me;
         I give her a green jade
Not in return, you see,
         But to show acquaintance made.

She throws a peach to me;
         I give her a white jade
Not in return, you see,
         But to show friendship made.

She throws a plum to me;
         I give her jasper fair
Not in return, you see,
         But to show love fore’er.

                                                           Songs collected in Wei, modern Henan

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