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The function of poetry in the classic Chinese novel


Sam Addington

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I recently picked up 儒林外史and thought I'd give it another stab. The first thing I read is a poem:

人生南北多歧路

将相神仙也要凡人做

百代兴亡朝复暮

江风吹倒前朝树

功名富贵无凭据

费尽心情总把流光误

浊酒三杯沉醉去

水流花榭知何处

I propose the following translation:

Many are the roads man has to travel

Soldiers and saints -- all are men

Generations pass from life to death

Morning fades into night

The winds of war blow down the mighty oak

Leaving no evidence of greatness

You exhaust the heart and spirit

Only to be exposed to shame

Three cups of muddied wine

Enough to render you drunk

Water flows, the flowers fade

Who knows where it all leads

Does this poem pretty well summarize the theme of 儒林外史?

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人生南北多歧路

Many are the roads man has to travel

So many misleading forked roads a man will face in his life time

将相神仙也要凡人做

Soldiers and saints -- all are men

High ranked officials and gods—all are mortals

百代兴亡朝复暮

Generations pass from life to death

Morning fades into night

The rise and fall of dynasties

keeps changing alternatively day after night

江风吹倒前朝树

The winds of war blow down the mighty oak

The river winds blow down the tree grew in the previous dynasty

(今朝之风竟可吹到前朝之树,宁不教人感慨万千?)

功名富贵无凭据

Leaving no evidence of greatness

Leaving no evidence of honor and rich

(Note: According to Sam Addington’s suggestion in #3 post, I mature the line as “Leaving no evidence of fame and glory”.)

费尽心情总把流光误

You exhaust the heart and spirit

Only to be exposed to shame

Exhaust the heart and spirit

Only to find missing all prime time.

浊酒三杯沉醉去

Three cups of muddied wine

Enough to render you drunk

Just get drunk by three cups of muddied wine

水流花榭知何处

Water flows, the flowers fade

Who knows where it all leads

Water flows, flowers fade,

Only God controls the web of life!

Does this poem pretty well summarize the theme of 儒林外史?

Hehe. (只苦笑而不语。)

Cheers!

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As I continued reading this morning, I realized I may have misinterpreted

功名富贵无凭据

I think this may be better translated "Fame & glory (honor & riches) cannot be substantiated." In other words fame & glory are just illusions. This is backed up by the first lines of the text which follows the poem:

这一首词,也是个老生常谈,不过说人生富贵功名是身外之物,但世人一见了功名,便舍性命去求他,及至到手之后,味同嚼蜡。

This poem is an old pearl often discussed. Not only are fame and riches external objects, but men will kill themselves in an effort to attain them. Once attained, they leave the taste of wax in the mouth.

I think it is safe to say that the text has highly Buddhist overtones, right?

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I think this may be better translated "Fame & glory (honor & riches) cannot be substantiated." In other words fame & glory are just illusions.

Agree! Hehe. (轻轻一笑,点头不语,心中甚服。)I have added an note in 2# post.

This poem is an old pearl often discussed. Not only are fame and riches external objects, but men will kill themselves in an effort to attain them. Once attained, they leave the taste of wax in the mouth.

Hehe. How about take a look at this? ->

  其实,人的悲剧往往是性格的悲剧。而人的性格,则跟原生家庭的教育息息相关。在笔者看来,肯尼迪家族的悲剧就是自我制造的悲剧。如果不是老肯尼迪夫妇在教育孩子方面太过功利又冷漠无情,他们的孩子也不至于为了讨好他们而形成事事争强好胜、傲慢自大的亡命性格。须知巨大的成功往往伴随着更大的风险。追求成功、追逐权力本身就是一个人生的魔咒

http://gzdaily.dayoo.com/html/2008-05/23/content_202541.htm

I think it is safe to say that the text has highly Buddhist overtones, right?
I smell more 道学 than 佛学。

Perhaps monto means that the poem expresses some sense of “inaction无为” and “seclusion避世”, especially in “费尽心情总把流光误” ,“浊酒三杯沉醉去”, “水流花榭知何处”. I think you take the text has highly Buddhist overtones, because you fell the sense of “impermanence无常” (or the uncertainty of like) in the poem, like, “百代兴亡朝复暮”, “江风吹倒前朝树”, “功名富贵无凭据”.

(本来还想多写点,病得不轻,头直打眩,咳个不住,霎时间,脑子一片空白,啥都不起来了。——惜乎!)

Cheers!

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