Monday, 4 December 2017

My Translation of 'The Ballad of Mulan' into English

Disney's just announced that the Chinese actress Liu Yifei is to be cast as the warrior woman Mulan!!! And just for fun, and because I enjoy this sort of thing, I've been working on a translation of the original ballad which kicked it all off! It was written between AD420-589, and set between the years AD386-536 when Northern China was ruled by the Xianbei people, whose Emperor was known as a 'Khan' or 'Son of Heaven', and whose culture revolved around horses. 

Some traditions elaborate on the ballad, giving details such as Mulan's surname (in some stories, she is surnamed Zhu, but in most stories, her surname is Hua), but this, the earliest version, gives the barest of details. The change in tenses was quite tricky, but I am pleased with what I have now. I did it for fun; enjoy!

木兰诗The Ballad of Mulan

唧唧复唧唧 木兰当户织
Tut-tutting, tut-tutting, tut-tutting;
Across the door, Mulan was weaving
不闻机杼(zhù) 唯闻女叹息
Though they could not hear her loom
Her family heard her sigh with gloom
问女何所思 问女何所忆
They asked what she was thinking
Or what she was recalling
女亦无所思 女亦无所忆
She said her thoughts were dull
And her recollections, null
昨夜见军帖(tiě) 可汗大点兵
But she'd seen an army notice last night
The Khan was calling men to fight
军书十二卷 卷卷有爷名
The Khan’s army had twelve scrolls
Her father’s name was on them all
阿爷无大儿 木兰无长兄
Her father had no eldest son
No older brother had Mulan
愿为市鞍马 从此替爷征
She decided to ride into town
And take her father’s place on the battleground

东市买骏马 西市买鞍鞯
East of town, she bought a steed
West of town, saddle and lead
南市买辔(pèi) 北市买长鞭
South of town, reins and a bridle
North of town, a whip for survival

旦辞爷娘去 暮宿黄河边
She said goodbye to her parents at the break of morning
And camped by the Yellow River in the evening
不闻爷娘唤女声 但闻黄河流水鸣溅溅(jiān)
She didn’t hear her parents calling for her
But instead heard the roaring of the Yellow River
旦辞黄河去 暮至黑山头
She left the Yellow River at the break of morning
And reached the Black Mountains in the evening
不闻爷娘唤女声 但闻燕山胡骑()鸣啾啾 jiūjiū
She didn’t hear her parents calling for her
But heard instead the foreign horsemen of Yanshan chatter

万里赴戎机 关山度若飞
She charged ten thousand li towards the battlegrounds
Crossing mountains so quickly, it was as if she had flown
朔气传金柝(tuò) 寒光照铁衣
The chilly northern winds led her towards the army timekeepers’ sounds
And on soldiers’ iron gowns, the coldest wintry moonlight shone

将军百战死 壮士十年归
Hundreds of generals and soldiers died in the fighting
And ten years passed before the warriors could return
归来见天子 天子坐明堂
When they arrived home, they and the Son of Heaven had a meeting
In a splendid throne room sat The Son of Heaven
策勋十二转(zhuǎn) 赏赐百千强
He used bamboo scrolls to record twelve promotions
And gifts and rewards worth hundreds of thousands
可汗问所欲 木兰不用尚书郎
The Khan asked everyone what were their needs
But Mulan had no use for officialdom
愿驰千里足 送儿还故乡
All she asked was for some swift steeds
To take her back to her old home

爷娘闻女来 出郭相扶将
Her parents heard of her return
And led the city out to greet her
阿姊()闻妹来 当户理红妆
Her elder sister heard of her younger sister’s return
And styled her hair and put on rouge and makeup at the doorway
小弟闻姊来 磨刀霍霍向猪羊
Her younger brother heard of his older sister’s return
And his knives whirred as he sharpened them, his pigs and sheep to slay

开我东阁门 坐我西阁床
I open my east-bedroom door
And sit on my west-bedroom bed
脱我战时袍 著我旧时裳(chang
I take off my robes of war
And put on my old dress instead
当窗理云鬓 对镜帖花黄
In front of my window, my hair like a cloud is done up
In front of my mirror, I put on yellow-flower makeup
出门见火伴 火伴皆惊忙
Outside, I face my army mates
And leave them in a whirl

同行十二年 不知木兰是女郎
We’ve known each other for twelve years to date
But they never guessed Mulan’s a girl!
雄兔脚扑朔 雌兔眼迷离
A male rabbit’s forelegs wriggle
And a female rabbit’s eyes wiggle
双兔傍地走 安能辨我是雄雌
But when two rabbits run, how can I tell
Which one’s male, or female?