A New Translation of Qiu Jin's Crimson Flooding into the River
Michael A. Mikita, III
San Francisco State University
(Qiu Jin ji 101)
Crimson Flooding into the River
Just a short stay at the Capital
But it is already the mid autumn festival
Chrysanthemums infect the landscape
Fall is making its mark
The infernal isolation has become unbearable here
All eight years of it make me long for my home
It is the bitter guile of them forcing us women into femininity
We cannot win!
Despite our ability, men hold the highest rank
But while our hearts are pure, those of men are rank
My insides are afire in anger at such an outrage
How could vile men claim to know who I am?
Heroism is borne out of this kind of torment
To think that so putrid a society can provide no camaraderie
Brings me to tears!
There are two types of translations, those that are foreignized and those that are domesticated. Foreignized translations are literal, sacrificing comprehension for word-for-word accuracy. Domesticated translations are not word-for-word translations; they involve adaptation of the original language to better fit the linguistic particularities of the language into which it is being translated. One of the currently available translations of Crimson Flooding into the River is of the foreignized type, the translation of Chi-Chiang Huang (Huang 2004). The line translated with the greatest degree of ambiguity is line five, which Huang interprets as "Fragments of songs all round finally shattered Chu" (Huang 2004). For a non-Chinese reader this line would require further elaboration to be understood because of the presence of an idiom. The Chinese idiom here references a Warring States Period story, meaning "horrible isolation." The understanding of the idiom changes the entire line and affects the whole poem. In addition to this, there is a number of other places in Huang's poem wherein a more domesticated translation would better convey the whole essence of what Qiu Jin intended. The only way to translate Qiu Jin's poem while conveying her message of angry feminism is to domesticate the translation so that it doesn't fall into the trap of exoticism and is more faithful to the original.
Qiu Jin opens the poem by noting that she was in the capital for a short time, but follows that statement immediately with saying that fall has already arrived. The arrival of fall may not mean much – she may have arrived in the capital in the late summer. However, the description of "infecting chrysanthemums" and "infernal isolation" indicates that the short stay is not a happy one for Qiu Jin. It has in fact been eight years, we learn, and so not so short a stay after all. The opening line, then, of a "short stay at the Capital" becomes bitter and ironic, a promise that was broken. For these reasons, the arrival of fall is not a welcome one and the idea of fall "making its mark" sounds particularly crass, and "Chrysanthemums," not generally associated with anger, become an infection on the landscape in this interpretation.
The fifth line is exciting for a translator because of its ability to set the mood and the tone of the poem. In a domesticated translation, there is more freedom in constructing a translation which works with the language and feeling of the poem to better convey the sentiments of the poet. The idiomatic expression in line five "sìmiàn gē chu 四面楚歌," comes from a story told about the Warring States nation of Chu, whose leader Xiang Yu and his army were under siege from the Qin. In order to drive the Chu soldiers crazy, the Qin soldiers sang songs of Chu every night, making the Chu homesick and miss their old comrades. For a long time, this story was told and it eventually became an idiom to express unbearable loneliness and isolation. This idiom reflects back to the first line: "xiao zhù jīng huá 小住京華" [Just a short stay in the capital], which is immediately preceded by the surprise of the autumn festivals arrival. The isolation from home is all the more biting because of this, and it completely sets the mood for the poem.
There are places in this translation where word choices were made in an effort to convey the importance of meter, repetition, and word-use. The most obvious example of this is in lines nine and ten, where the word "rank" is repeated, using the different definitions of the term, in one place as social position and in another with the meaning of rancidness. This corresponds to the Chinese repletion of the words "nan er lie 男兒列" and "nan er lie 男兒烈," where the last word lie is pronounced the same and differs only in meaning. The decision to tie the final lines together in this way is an attempt at maintaining the meter fidelity of the original. The level of equivalence being preserved then takes into account the important elements of the ci style, while at the same time recognizing the need to domesticate much of the poem. The repletion of rank, too, is consistent with the general mood of the poem, in which the repletion of incensed language in the form of use of words like "bitter," "putrid," "unbearable," "infect," and "guile" darken the poetic landscape.
The translation makes an effort to carry over into English the bitterness and anger felt by the poet in writing the poem. The last several lines are in Chinese very bitter, each word chosen to convey an attitude of extreme feeling. The description of society as putrid, the idea of rankness, vileness, and bitterness are all images that the poem attaches to the society generally and men in particular. The very last line, "qīng shān shī 青衫濕," [brings me to tears], is all first-tone words with a resounding sound that is very easy to exclaim because of its sound structure. The "putrid society" that "can provide no camaraderie" is also faithful to the Chinese of line fourteen "mang hóng chén hé chu mì zhī yīn 莽紅塵何處覓知音," an angry cry for justice. The whole poem is Qiu Jin's call for equality and an embittered recognition that equality is a long way off.
Qiu Jin is a revolutionary martyr and poet who was executed by the Manchu government as a revolutionary in 1907, only a few years before the end of the Qing dynasty. Her poetry focuses on swordsmanship and anger and is based largely on her life experiences. Leaving her husband to study in Japan, she fought for the liberation of women and was an active feminist. As a member of the Revolutionary Party and the president of a military academy, she was involved in the attempted murder of the governor of Anhui. While in prison she wrote a number of poems about captivity and took full advantage of her surname, Autumn, to write melancholy poems on the subject. She wrote several feminist poems as well. Perhaps her best feminist poem is Man jiāng hóng 滿江紅 or Crimson Flooding into the River, an angry tale championing the liberation of women and disparaging men. Despite being one of her finer poems, Crimson Flooding into the River is not widely translated into English.
Crimson Flooding into the River is a poem written in the cí 詞 style, that is, a poem written with strict tonal patterns and rhyme schemes, in fixed numbers of lines and words. Man jiāng hóng is one of many types of cí, and all poems written in Man jiāng hóng style retain the same name, so there are many different poems titled Man jiāng hóng. Crimson Flooding into the River is an old cí from the Tang Dynasty written by Yue Fei, which sets out the word scheme that all following Mǎnjiānghóng poems would follow. In this poem, word order is very important, and the setup is as follows; 4-7-7, 4-7-7. 8-3-3-3-3-3. 5-4-7-7. 8-3. This scheme in the Chinese remains the same in all Man jiāng hóng poems; this is not the only one Qiu Jin has written of this type, though it remains the best.
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