SU Shi (1037-1101)
Translation: Jackson He
How frequent’s full moon, I want to be told.
Which year is it now? You keep time a-flow.
Up there is where I belong, yet I know,
High as where you are, it’s got to be cold.
So stay I must, dancing with my shadow.
Sleepless, I watch you come through my window.
How can you be full when we are apart?
You wax and wane, just as we gather and part,
Nature’s laws we obey, both me and you.
Sharing you from afar, they’re on my heart.
The original form of the poem is a kind of 词, with strict rules for rhyme and meter. So that explains the reason for choosing iambic pentameter as the target form. But unlike 诗, this form of poem has more varied sentence structure. This informed my choices of using five lines per verse, and using interlocked rhymes.
In the original the author uses the character 人 to represent the target of his longing. Through historical record we know he was thinking of his brother. But 人 is a unisex word for person or people, and it is this latter usage readers generally take up, to resonate upon their own thoughts of their loved ones, regardless of gender. In the translation I intentionally used the gender-neutral pronouns “we” and “they” for the same effect.
The Chinese language being much more succinct than English, there are many ideas and images in the original I had to omit. Others were skipped due to their not being well-known in English-speaking world, and not having English equivalents.