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Polyhistor

Elementary Translation Practice - 广成子 from 神仙传

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Polyhistor

I just got my copy in the mail, opened it up, and was amazed to see how easy it was to read the first story. I thought that this could make for a good practice run at translating 文言文, so I typed it all out and proofread it twice. 

 

广成子者,古之仙人也。居崆峒之山石室之中。黄帝闻而造焉,曰:“敢问至道之要?”广成子曰:“尔治天下,禽不待候而飞,草木不待黄而落,何足以语至道?”黄帝退而闲居,三月后,往见之。

 

膝行而前,再拜请问治身之道。广成子答曰:“至道之精,杳杳冥冥,无视无听,抱神以静,形将自正;必静必清,无劳尔形,无摇尔精,乃可长生。慎内闭外,多知为败。我守其一,以外其和,故千二百岁而形未尝衰。得我道者,上为皇;失吾道者,下为土。将去汝,入无穷之门,游无极之野,与日月齐光,与天地为常,人其尽死,而我独存矣。”

 

I wrote out half the translation last night before bed. I will try to get the other half done tonight or tomorrow and post it. 

 

This is the entire biography. It is the first in 卷一, followed by 卢敖  若士, which is only slightly longer, and then by 老子, which is quite a bit longer. 

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Polyhistor

This is the first time I've posted a translation, though I've lurked in this subforum and I have produced a couple dozen in the past couple months which I could have posted before this one. I really like this text, though, and would like to encourage others to try their hand at Englishing it.

 

There are some issues with the translation. I chose to render 至道 as "attain the Way". This I put in more as a placeholder while learning more about this period's thinking and perceptions with a mind to updating my terms of choice in future. 黄帝 as Yellow Emperor might be anachronistic, so any other suggestions for an English alternative would be welcome. I was debating between "xian" and "transcendent", going with the former since this is a Chinese-language focused audience. As with 黄帝 and any other choice, I'm always interested to hear a justified alternative. "Under-Heaven" I came up with as I was writing this and I liked the sound of it. 

 

Anyway, without further ado, here is my translation:

 

Guang Chengzi was a xian of ancient times. He lived in a stone house (cave?) on Mount Kong Tong. 

 

The Yellow Emperor heard of this and went to pay him a visit, saying, "Dare I ask what is needed to attain the Way?" 

 

Guang Chengzi said, "You govern the Under-Heaven. Fowl do not observe portents to fly, vegetation does not yellow to fall. How could words be sufficient for attaining the Way?"

 

The Yellow Emperor departed back to his leisurely life. Three months later, he went to see him again. 

 

Advancing on his knees, again he humbly inquired how to govern in accordance with the Way. 

 

Guang Chengzi responded, saying, "The essence of attaining the Way is vague and shrouded in the darkness of slumber, in stillness and in silence, envelop the divine with tranquility and mould the self to rightness. Needed is peace and needed is clarity, without moiling your form and without wavering your essence, then can there be long life. Be cautious of what is internal and close yourself to what is external, for excessive perception makes decline. I observe this totality, the abode of their harmoniousness, the reason for my 1200 years of life during which my form has not withered. Attain the Way and rise to sublimity; abandon the Way and descend into the soil.

 

"I am going to leave you to enter through the gate of the limitless, to journey through the boundless expanse, to shine equal with the sun and the moon, to be as constant as Heaven and Earth. Men in their entirety die out, while I alone am existing."

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Jim

 广成子曰:“尔治天下,禽不待候而飞,草木不待黄而落,何足以语至道?”

I think in this line he's criticising the emperor so it should be more along the lines of, "Under your rule the birds fly away before the right season and the leaves fall from the trees before they've even turned, are you qualified to be asking about the Way?" Qualified isn't great either but I think the whole thing is making a link between the quality of his rulership and whether he should e asking about the Way or not, rather than it being something that can't be put into words.

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Kenny同志

You might have misunderstood the immortal's reply. I would translate it as follows. 

 

”广成子曰:“尔治天下,禽不待候而飞,草木不待黄而落,何足以语至道?”

"Under your rule," Guang Chengzi replied, "birds do not migrate phenologically and leaves fall from trees and plants before they turn yellow. (Such being the case,) how can I discuss the Untimate Way with you?"

 

Cross-posted...

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Polyhistor

That was one of the lines I was most uncertain about.  

 

The one thing I noticed was that 黄帝 asks a slightly different question the second time. First, he asks how to 至道, but next he asks how to 治身至道. I thought it possible that the different formulation of the question was responsible for the different type of answer, which made the interpretation of 何足以语至道 in my translation seem more reasonable at the time.

 

 

But I really do like the idea of it being about the quality of his leadership. However, it is the Yellow Emperor we're talking about, a deified ancient king who is considered one of the greatest in Chinese history. Would 广成子 really have had such a damning line ready for such a person? 

 

Maybe. Maybe he, being 仙, is the one person who can speak truth to power? Or maybe his legacy as a great ruler stems from those interactions with the 仙? 

 

Such difficult questions arise when translating such culturally distinct and such ancient writings. I certainly hope I'll get to see everyone else's translation of this fascinating story.

 

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Kenny同志
Quote

First, he asks how to 至道, but next he asks how to 治身至道. 

In my view, 至 works as an adjective in 至道, meaning of the highest level or ultimate. Therefore, 至道 means the Ultimate Way. 

治身至道 is a typo for 治身之道. 

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