Lester Lee – Chinese/English translator and freelance writer

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Preface to Old Crumply’s Travels

Preface to Old Crumply’s Travels

 劉鶚《老殘遊記》自                            

     嬰兒墮地,其泣也呱呱;及其老死,家人環繞,其哭也號啕:然則哭泣也者,固人之所以成始成終也。其間人品之高下,以其哭泣之多寡為衡。蓋哭泣者,靈性之現象也,有一分靈性即有一分哭泣,而際遇之順逆不與焉。      

     馬與牛,終歲勤苦,食不過芻秣,與鞭策相終始,可謂辛苦矣,然不知哭泣,靈性缺也。猿猴之為物,跳擲於深林,厭飽乎梨栗,至逸樂也。而善啼,啼者,猿猴之哭泣也。故博物家云,猿猴,動物中性最近人者,以其有靈性也。古詩云:「巴東三峽巫峽長,猿啼三聲斷人腸」;其感情為何如矣!

       靈性生感情,感情生哭泣!哭泣計有兩類:一為有力類,一為無力類。癡兒騃女,失果即啼,遺簪亦泣:此為無力類之哭泣。城崩杞婦之哭,竹染湘妃之淚,正為有力類之哭泣也。而有力類之哭泣又分兩種:以哭泣為哭泣者,其力尚弱;不以哭泣為哭泣者,其力甚勁,其行也彌遠也。

       《離騷》為屈大夫之哭泣;《莊子》為蒙叟之哭泣;《史記》為太史公之哭泣;《草堂詩集》為杜工部之哭泣;李後主以詞哭;八大山人以畫哭;王實甫寄哭泣於《西廂》;曹雪芹寄哭泣於《紅樓夢》。王之言曰:「別恨離愁滿肺腑,難淘洩,除紙筆,代喉舌,我千種相思向誰說?」曹之言曰:「滿紙荒唐言,一把辛酸淚;都云作者癡,誰解其中意!」名其茶曰「千芳一窟」,名其酒若「萬艷同杯」者:千芳一哭,萬艷同悲也。

       吾人生今之時,有身世之感情,有社會之感情,有社會之感情,有宗教之感情。其感情愈深者,其哭泣愈痛:此洪都百練生所以有《老殘遊記》之作也。

       棋局已殘,吾人將老,欲不哭泣也得乎?吾知海內千芳,人間萬艷,必有與吾同哭同悲者焉。

 

Preface to Old Crumply’s Travels1

       Babies cry as soon as they are born.  When they grow old and lie on their death beds surrounded by their folks, they howl yet again.  Thus tears are indispensable for the beginning and the end of human life.  Between these extremities, the calibre of one’s character may be gauged by how much one cries.  For tears are the soul manifest, a measure of its abundance, ounce for ounce so to speak; they have nothing to do with good or bad fortunes.

       Beasts of burden toil all year round under yoke and lashes, and for that they are only fed fodder.  They have a hard life, but shed no tears, for want of soul.   Apes are different.  They live a fun life swinging among the trees and gorging themselves on fruit and nuts; yet they cry hard, and wailing is their tears.   Of all animals, they are considered by naturalists to be the closest to humans in nature, no doubt because of their soulfulness. 

        Down the Three Gorges we make the passage long;         巴東三峽巫峽長

       The gibbons are wailing hard, our hearts are torn.          猿啼三聲斷人腸

     Such is the sentience of apes!

       Feelings spring from the soul, and tears flow from feelings.  Tears are of two kinds: tears of strength and tears of weakness.  Naive children cry over the loss of a piece of fruit or a hairpin; theirs are weak tears.  Fan Qiliang’s wife2 cried so bitterly for her husband that part of the Great Wall collapsed, and the tears of Emperor Shun’s two wives3 stained the bamboos which still bear the indelible marks down to this day; theirs were mighty tears.   Nor are mighty tears all the same: they are relatively mild when they are merely a vehicle for venting sorrow; but are truly potent and far-reaching in their impact when the feeling runs deeper, even without actual crying. 

       Li Sao (The sorrows of Separation) is the tears of Qu Yuan4; Zhuangzi is the tears of Zhuang Zhou5; The Annals of History is the tears of Sima Qian6; and The Cottage Anthology is the tears of Tu Fu7.  Likewise, Emperor Li of the Southern Tang Dynasty8 cried with his tuned lyrics; Ba Da Mountain Sire9 cried with his paintings; Wang Shifu10 cried with his West Chamber Tale; and Cao Xueqin11 cried with his Dream of the Vermilion Mansions.  Wang put it this way:

       Hard it is to fathom and vent                                   別恨離愁滿肺腑 

       The parting sorrows pent up here,                         難淘洩

       Save with paper and brush to lament                    除紙筆  代喉舌

       My myriad yearnings for my darling dear.            我千種相思向誰說

 And Cao wrote:

       Mark these words that seem absurd,                  滿紙荒唐言

       And tears from a heart unkindly rent.                   一把辛酸淚

       Mad was the author, so we’ve heard,                    都云作者癡

       But who’d know what he really meant.                   誰解其中意

      Cao named one kind of tea “Niche of a myriad flowers”, and called a wine as the “Toast of ten thousand beauties”.  These are puns, sounding the same as “A myriad flowers a-weeping” and “Ten thousand beauties a-grieving”.

       The times we find ourselves in are such that we have distinct feelings for life, country, society, and religion.  The deeper our feelings, the sadder our tears.  And it is for this reason that this “Veteran of Hongdu12” writes Old Crumply’s Travels.

       Now that the chess game is near its end, and we are getting old, is it possible to hold back our tears?   I only know that of the myriad flowers and the ten thousand beauties under the sun there must be some that would grieve and cry with me.

Translator’s Notes:

 

  1. Old Crumply – nickname of Liu E, native of Dantu of Jiangsu, born in the late Qing Dynasty and died whilst in exile in Xinjiang.  This preface was written in 1906.
  2. Meng Jiangnu, of the Qin Dynasty (3rd century BC).
  3. E Huang and Nuying, of the legendary Yu Dynasty, predating the 21st century BC.
  4. Qu Yuan (340-278BC), master poet who committed suicide by drowning
  5. Zhuang Zhou (?369-c290BC), Taoist philosopher
  6. Sima Qian (145-?90BC), the greatest Chinese historian in antiquity
  7. Tu Fu (712-770), master poet of the Tang Dynasty
  8. Li  Yu (937-978), emperor and tuned lyric poet
  9. Alias of Zhu Da (朱耷c.1626-c.1705), nobleman turned monk, master painter
  10. Wang Shifu (fl. 1295-1307), master dramatist
  11. Cao Xueqin (c.1719-?1763), master novelist
  12. Hongdu is another name of Nanchang of Jiangxi.  Why Liu E called himself by this title is unclear to this translator

September 1, 2009 - Posted by | Translation (C-E) 中譯英

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