This translation came about when I happened to stumble onto this classical Chinese piece of music and there was an English interpretation of the lyrics. I was aghast that the beauty of the original language was lost; not only this, but the tone and mood were not effectively expressed and, worse still, some of the interpretations were wrong and many things elided. As such, I felt compelled to do a better job.
Below is a link to the best rendition of the song:
The English interpretation came from
“Sitting on the aristocratic saddle,
Wang chao-chuan missed her Han emperor.
Mornings turned nights and nights turned mornings
Her melancholy journey appeared remote and hopeless.
Her backward glances only enhanced her anxiety.
The sinking bird hovered over the horizon
Of the endless desert;
The sad call to Hung Yang broke in vain.
The dim moon reflected on the faraway Yenmen gates;
Outside which the frosts fell amid the gallops of the horses continued.
She muses and missed the Han emperor!
She started to sing sadly,
And moved by the scenes around.
Playing on the Piba and looking back on her home ,
Her heart broke when she thought of
The favours received and the gushing feelings she cherished
She was lost in musing the future uncertainties and past dreams.
Again, she sang on old places,
Which caused her deep sadness.
Playing her piba, she glanced at the wild prairie:
The journey being long and tedious; the sky dull and aloof.
She lost all her appetite in viewing the alien lands
Of broken mountains and stale water.
She stopped singing her songs on the past,
But the future is barren and desperate.
In the fading vibrations of the piba,
She felt her destitution—
Lonely and alone and wishfully hope
That her soul would one day return to her homeland,
Forever wishing as eternal as the earth and sky.”
昭君怨 The Lament of Chao Jun
王昭君, Wang Chao Jun
悶坐雕鞍思憶漢皇 In idle boredom, she sat upon the carved saddle, thinking of her Han Emperor.
朝朝暮暮, Mornings and evenings,
暮暮朝朝 Evenings and mornings…
黯然神傷, Melancholy and dejectedly;
前途茫茫, Her future bleak; lost in a vast haze.
極目空翹望, Raising her head, she strained her stares emptily into the distance.
見平沙雁落 A wild goose dipping from its horizontal flight,
聲斷衡陽 Its cries stopping at the City of the Cow Horns Beam1,
月昏黃 The evening yellow moon,
返照雁門關上 Reflecting upon the gate of the Wild Goose Fort2
塞外風霜 The wind and frost beyond the frontiers,
悠悠馬蹄忙 Pensive from the drawn out galloping hooves of horses.
整日思想 Entire days, she spent in thoughts;
長夜思量 Long nights, lost in them.
魂夢憶君王 In dreams, her soul longing for her Lord.
陽關初唱 At the Fortress of the Sun,3 her song began,
往事難忘 Difficult ’tis for her to forget the past.
琵琶一疊回首望故國 One strum4 of her pipa, she looked back towards her country,
河山總斷腸 Its rivers and mountains broke her heart,
憶家庭景況, In sorrow, missing the scenes of her family.
樁萱恩重 Her parents, to whom she is indebted5
隸萼情長, To her siblings, her love eterne6
遠別家鄉 Now she was parting, far far away from her home.
舊夢前塵 Old dreams of her former life,
前塵舊夢 Her former life’s old dreams…
空惆悵 Are now but empty sorrows.
陽關再唱 Still her song lingered on at the Fortress of the Sun.
觸景神傷, Grazing upon the scenery, dispirited she had become.
琵琶二疊 On the second strumming of her pipa,
凝眸望野草 Her eyes frozen to the grasses of the wild.
閑花驛路長 Idly the beauty rested but the road to the relay station will be long.
問天涯茫茫 She asked Heaven, in the vastness of the horizon7.
平沙雁落 Down went the wild goose,
大道霜寒 The frost upon the highway cold.
胡地風光 The scene of alien lands now unfolded8,
賸水殘山 Scattering rivers and of mountains,
殘山賸水 The mountains and rivers, far and few in between,
無心賞 No joy in partaking the views.
陽關終唱 Soon her song at the Fortress of the Sun will end
後事淒涼 And the aftermath of her journey will be one of forlorn.
琵琶三疊 On the third strum of her pipa,
前途望身世 Her future looked back at her life.
飄零付杳茫, Drifting alone into the distance and out of sight,
囑君望古陽 Imploring her Lord to gaze [once more] upon this Sun Fortress of old.
魂歸漢地 Her spirit will [then] return to the soil of Han9
目睹朝陽 Her eyes be witnessing the morning sun,
久後思量, Long after pondering in her thoughts,
地老天長 The earth and heaven will grow old,
天長地老 The heaven and earth aging away.
長懷想 Eternal are her heartfelt thoughts,
一曲琵琶 One melody from her pipa,
恨正長 Eternal, her regrets shall be.
2. This line can be ambiguous. Without context and because the absence of punctuation, it can be translated as Reflecting, the Wild Goose Gate is locked. This fortress is so named because of the geographical features in which it was built to look to like a wild goose taking flight. It was where the Han Dynasty and the Hsiung Nu had their exchanges. Of China’s nine fortresses, this is considered to be the most important.
3. This frontier fort was built by Emperor Han Wu Di. This marked the borders of Han China, thus a term to mean the extent of the Chinese sovereignty.
4. 疊 = pile. For those who know how to play the pipa or seen how a pipa is played, there’s a kind of strumming that has a “piling” sound effect.
5. 樁, a mythical tree known for its longevity. A term now to denote the father. 萱 is Hemerocallis flava, supposedly makes one “elated” when consumed and because it grows in the north side of the house where the mother usually resided, it is now to mean one’s mother. Taken together, it meant one’s biological parents.
6. 隸= attached/attachment 萼 = calyx and stem of a flower. Thus representing sibling love. In some versions, 棣 is used. It has the same sound and is the same character as 弟 for younger brother. I believed that 隸 is the correct character; the calyx and stem is closely bonded so that the bloom can be held ie the bonded love of siblings.
7. The sentence should be parsed as, 問天, 涯茫茫 and not in any other way as it would not make sense in this context.
9. i.e. my country and home.