This is our translation of Luo Hua (落花) by the famous Tang Dynasty Chinese poet Li Shangyin (李商隐). Scroll down for more detailed notes on the poem and the process of translating it.
FALLING SPRING (Li Shangyin)
All the guests have left
Petals take madly to the air
Dancing down the winding path
Still aloft in the slant of light
I can’t bear to sweep them away, having fallen
For their falling, aching once more for the bloom
Flowers die alongside spring,
Leaving stains upon my sleeves
Note on the poem
Li Shangyin (李商隐) was a Chinese poet and politician who lived during the decline of the Tang Dynasty. As is the norm with Tang poems, Falling Spring is rigid in form and rich in nature-based imagery.
It is a 五律 (wǔlǜ), an eight-line poem with five characters to each line and strict tonal and rhyme patterns. Preserving both the form and the full meaning of the poem is impossible. As described in Chinese Poetry And Translation: Rights And Wrongs, translators have tried to replicate the structure by adhering to the rhyme schemes and rendering these poems in iambic pentameter. However, this is an approach that inevitably leads to a loss of semantics and sharpness of imagery because the English language isn’t equipped to express the full meaning of Tang poetry while under such formal constraints. It finds itself contorted, uncomfortable, unable to fit the full poem within such a tight box.
According to Hong Kong writer Liao Weitang (廖伟棠) in 玫瑰是没有理由的开放：走近现代诗的40条小径 (The Rose Is Without An Explanation…), much of the beauty in Tang poetry is in how the poets condense the expansiveness of prose into short, compact poems. This plays to a feature of the Chinese language, in which each character is much denser in meaning. Which means, when translating Tang poems into English, something must give. We chose to be looser in structure while preserving the meaning and musicality as completely as we could.
Just like with A View Of The Ocean As The Warm Spring Blossoms, we came up with our own translations of the verse before combining what we felt were the best parts of our respective attempts. The combined version is the one you see on this page.
What do you think? Leave a comment or drop us an email if you have any feedback or suggestions on how this translation might be improved.