Poems of Tang Dynasty with English Translation

The Pipa Tune ( 琵琶行) was written in 816 AD by Bai Ju-Yi (白 居易). At the time he served as the Commander of Jiangzhou ( 江州司馬), stationed in Xunyang (潯 陽). Two years earlier he was demoted and left the capital city. Like The Song of Everlasting Regret (長恨歌), The Pipa Tune (琵琶行) has been extremely popular over the years. The poem contains a total of 88 verses. This translation is a more liberal and rhyming one.  If you have any suggestion or comment about my translation, please email me. -Ying Sun. Dec. 3, 2008.  Return to main page.         Copyright 2008 Ying Sun


琵琶行 (白居易)
The Pipa Tune (Bai Ju-Yi, 772-846 AD, China)                              Ying Sun 2008
潯陽江頭夜送客,
楓葉荻花秋瑟瑟。
主人下馬客在船,
舉酒欲飲無管絃。
醉不成歡慘將別,
別時茫茫江浸月。
忽聞水上琵琶聲,
主人忘歸客不發。
At night, by the Xunyang River to a guest we bid farewell.
With autumn chills, maple leaves and reed flowers fell.
On the boat was the guest, on a horse arrived the host.
Alas there was no music; still we raised cups for a toast,
Drunk without joy; in sadness we had to say goodbye.
The river was misty then, reflecting the moon up high.
Suddenly across the water came the sound of pipa.
The host forgot to leave and the guest didn't depart.
尋聲暗問彈者誰,
琵琶聲停欲語遲。
移船相近邀相見,
添酒回燈重開宴。
千呼萬喚始出來,
猶抱琵琶半遮面。
轉軸撥絃三兩聲,
未成曲調先有情。
Towards the sound in the darkness we inquired about the player.
The playing stopped, but the player hesitated to answer.
To ask the musician to join us, we moved our boat closer.
Adding wine and brightening lamps, we resumed the dinner.
Only after many pleas did she come out of her place,
Still holding the pipa that shadowed half of her face.
She plucked the strings and turned the pegs to tune.
Even before the music started, we already felt boon.
絃絃掩抑聲聲思,
似訴平生不得志。
低眉信手續續彈,
說盡心中無限事。
輕攏慢撚抹復挑,
初為霓裳後六么。
大絃嘈嘈如急雨,
小絃切切如私語。
Her notes were restrained but full of sentiment,
As if she was voicing her lifelong disappointment.
She lowered her head, continued to play at will,
Telling endless stories that her heart could not fulfill.
Strings were picked and plucked, bent with vibrato.
First was Rainbow Dress, then Minor Sixth to follow.
The bass strings rumbled like thunderstorms pelting.
The treble strings rustled like lovers whispering.
嘈嘈切切錯雜彈,
大珠小珠落玉盤。
間關鶯語花底滑,
幽咽泉流水下灘。
水泉冷澀絃凝絕,
凝絕不通聲暫歇。
別有幽愁暗恨生,
此時無聲勝有聲。
Rumbling and rustling interwove at a fast rate,
Like large and small pearls falling on a jade plate.
A warbling canary glided underneath a blossom.
An underground brook trickled out of a rock bottom.
The brook became frozen, as the strings diminished.
Decrescendo continued until all sounds perished.
Yet a dark and gloomy meditation had grown.
At this moment, silence eclipsed any tone.
銀瓶乍破水漿迸,
鐵騎突出刀槍鳴。
曲終收撥當心畫,
四絃一聲如裂帛。
東舟西舫悄無言,
唯見江心秋月白。
沉吟放撥插絃中,
整頓衣裳起斂容。
Suddenly, a silver vase burst, splashing water everywhere.
Armored knights charged out, swords clashing here and there.
To end the piece she drew the pick to strum a chord
Like tearing silk, four strings resonated in concord.
Neighboring boats east and west made a silent night scene.
Reflected by the river, only the autumn moon was seen.
She inserted the pick between strings contemplatively,
Straightened her clothes, and stood up gracefully.
自言本是京城女,
家在蝦蟆陵下住。
十三學得琵琶成,
名屬教坊第一部。
曲罷曾教善才伏,
妝成每被秋娘妒。
五陵年少爭纏頭,
一曲紅綃不知數。
She said that the capital was originally her home.
She lived in the neighborhood of the Xiama Tomb.
An accomplished pipa player at the age of thirteen,
She was with the music school and on the elite team.
Her playing was highly praised by the pipa masters.
Her looks were the envy of pretty paramours.
Wealthy young men vied to pay her patronage:
Countless silk rolls just for one appearance on stage.
鈿頭銀篦擊節碎,
血色羅裙翻酒污。
今年歡笑復明年,
秋月春風等閒度。
弟走從軍阿姨死,
暮去朝來顏色故。
門前冷落鞍馬稀,
老大嫁作商人婦。
To keep the beats she broke her silver trinket.
Spilt wine stained her laced silk skirt scarlet.
Over years she indulged herself in pleasure and feast.
Autumn moon and spring breeze were noticed the least.
Then her brother enlisted and her aunt was deceased.
As time went on, her beauty gradually decreased.
Fewer and fewer carriages stopped by her door.
Finally she married a merchant when a youth no more.
商人重利輕別離,
前月浮梁買茶去。
去來江口守空船,
繞船月明江水寒。
夜深忽夢少年事,
夢啼妝淚紅闌干。
我聞琵琶已歎息,
又聞此語重唧唧。
The merchant was profit-minded, always on the road.
He went to Fuliang to buy tea two months ago.
In his absence she waited by the empty boat,
Surrounded by cold water keeping the moon afloat.
She suddenly dreamed of her youthhood late at night.
The tears streaked her makeup as she cried.
The music of her pipa already caused me to sigh.
Hearing her pensive story now almost makes me cry.
同是天涯淪落人,
相逢何必曾相識。
我從去年辭帝京,
謫居臥病潯陽城。
潯陽地僻無音樂,
終歲不聞絲竹聲。
住近湓江地低濕,
黃蘆苦竹繞宅生。
In this uncaring world we are two wretched drifters,
Treasuring this encounter even though we're strangers.
Just last year I quit and left the capital hill.
Being demoted to Xunyang, I am stranded and ill.
Where music is concerned, Xunyang is barbaric.
Throughout the year I hear no wind or string music.
I live by the Peng River where it is low and damp.
Yellow reeds and bamboos grow all around the camp.
其間旦暮聞何物,
杜鵑啼血猿哀鳴。
春江花朝秋月夜,
往往取酒還獨傾。
豈無山歌與村笛,
嘔啞嘲哳難為聽。
今夜聞君琵琶語,
如聽仙樂耳暫明。
What sound do I hear from dawn till evenfall?
Cuckoos' wails and gibbons' screams - that's all.
On a blossom day in spring or a full moon night in fall,
I often pour wine by myself and drink it all.
How about the rustic song and the homemade reed?
Screeching and shrieking, hard to listen to indeed.
I listened as your pipa played just now.
It was magic sent as only a fairy knows how.
莫辭更坐彈一曲,
為君翻作琵琶行。
感我此言良久立,
卻坐促絃絃轉急。
淒淒不似向前聲,
滿座重聞皆掩泣。
座中泣下誰最多,
江州司馬青衫濕。
Please don't refuse – play us one more tune.
I'll compose a poem for you called the Pipa Tune.
Moved by my words, she stands there for a while,
Then sits down and starts to play a presto style.
The profound sadness in the music, unlike previous sound,
Brings tears to the eyes of all who sit around.
Of all the people in the audience, who weeps the most?
The Commander of Jiangzhou, his coat is soaked almost.              Ying Sun 2008
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