Chinese Pwns Shakespeare?

I discovered this little gem of translation magic in my WeChat feed the other day under the title 中文远比英文美 (“Chinese is far more beautiful than English”). The poem quoted below is widely attributed to Shakespeare online, so the attribution is reasonable. (More on that later.)

Qu Yuan Pwns Shakespeare?

I’ve tried to maintain a 4-line structure to make comparisons easier, but in a few cases it was inappropriate to break the Chinese poem structures, so I left them as is, since the 4-part structure is obvious anyway.

Original English Poem

You say that you love rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains.
You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines.
You say that you love the wind, but you close your windows when wind blows.
This is why I am afraid–you say that you love me too.
― William Shakespeare

普通版 (“Normal” Version)

This is the “normal” version, a straight translation of the English above into modern Chinese. (This is also the second most accessible version if you want to try reading the Chinese.)

你说你爱雨,但当细雨飘洒时你却撑开了伞;
你说你爱太阳,但当它当空时你却看见了阳光下的暗影;
你说你爱风,但当它轻拂时你却紧紧地关上了自己的窗子;
你说你也爱我,而我却为此烦忧。

文艺版 (“Artsy” Version)

文艺 literally means “literature and arts,” but these days it’s often closely associated with the phrase 文艺青年, a young person who pursues artistic beauty (especially of the literary nature), but may often come across pretentious to normal people.

You’ll immediately notice how difficult the following translation is compared to the first one; it’s chock-full of hard words.

你说烟雨微芒,兰亭远望;后来轻揽婆娑,深遮霓裳。
你说春光烂漫,绿袖红香;后来内掩西楼,静立卿旁。
你说软风轻拂,醉卧思量;后来紧掩门窗,漫帐成殇。
你说情丝柔肠,如何相忘;我却眼波微转,兀自成霜。

诗经版 (“Book of Songs” Version)

This one is written in the style of the 诗经, the “Classic of Poetry,” AKA “The Book of Songs.”

You’ll notice a dramatic reduction in length, plus a classical style.

子言慕雨,启伞避之。
子言好阳,寻荫拒之。
子言喜风,阖户离之。
子言偕老,吾所畏之。

离骚版 (“Departing in Sorrow” Version)

离骚, also known as “Departing in Sorrow,” is a famous Chinese poem from the Warring States period, written by 屈原, the poet commemorated by China’s “Dragon Boat Festival.”

君乐雨兮启伞枝,君乐昼兮林蔽日,
君乐风兮栏帐起,君乐吾兮吾心噬。

七言绝句版

七言绝句 is a Tang Dynasty poem structure using seven characters in 4 “sentences.”

恋雨却怕绣衣湿,喜日偏向树下倚。
欲风总把绮窗关,叫奴如何心付伊。

吴语版 (Wu Version)

吴语 is a “topolect” of Chinese; it’s the family that Shanghainese belongs to.

Shanghainese friends tell me that this version is a little forced and not very poetic (it doesn’t do Shanghainese justice). Seems like it just got tacked on later after a 文艺青年 did the other versions.

弄刚欢喜落雨,落雨了么搞布洋塞;
欢喜塔漾么又谱捏色;
欢喜西剥风么又要丫起来;
弄刚欢喜唔么,搓色唔霉头。

女汉子版 (“Strong Woman” Version)

女汉子 is difficult to translate, but 汉子 normally refers to a man. So 女汉子 refers to a “manly” woman, or more appropriately a “strong woman,” the type that takes no crap from nobody. “你有本事” (literally, “[if] you have the ability”) lends an air of direct challenge to the whole thing, kind of a “what are you gonna do about it?” feel.

This one, like the 吴语 version above, also seems tacked on, since the phrase 女汉子 is trendy these days.

你有本事爱雨天,你有本事别打伞啊!
你有本事爱阳光,你有本事别乘凉啊!!
你有本事爱吹风,你有本事别关窗啊!!!
你有本事说爱我,你有本事捡肥皂啊!!!!

七律压轴版

七律压轴 is an 8-line poem format, 7-characters per line. (I don’t know much about this, and my Googling didn’t turn up any definitive results, so if anyone wants to help out in the comments, feel free!)

江南三月雨微茫,
罗伞叠烟湿幽香。
夏日微醺正可人,
却傍佳木趁荫凉。
霜风清和更初霁,
轻蹙蛾眉锁朱窗。
怜卿一片相思意,
犹恐流年拆鸳鸯。

The Original Original Poem (in Turkish)

OK, so here’s the thing… That “original” English poem was not by Shakespeare, and it’s actually a translation into English from Turkish. There’s a reason it doesn’t see too “Shakespearean” (especially in word choice). Below is the original word choice:

Yağmuru seviyorum diyorsun, yağmur yağınca şemsiyeni açıyorsun…
Güneşi seviyorum diyorsun, güneş açınca gölgeye kaçıyorsun…
Rüzgarı seviyorum diyorsun, rüzgar çıkınca pencereni kapatıyorsun…
İşte,bunun için korkuyorum; Beni de sevdiğini söylüyorsun…

Source: http://www.turkishclass.com/poem_136

Conclusion

This little experiment certainly doesn’t prove any superiority or “pwnage,” and the English translation was clearly chosen because it matches existing Chinese poem forms, but… Chinese is still pretty awesome.

6 Comments to “Chinese Pwns Shakespeare?

  1. Lucas says:

    Your words claim your love for the rain, while you shelter your face from its drops

    Your words provide praise for the sun, yet you run from the touch of its rays

    Your words claim you relish the breeze, while you shutter your window against it

    Those words also say that you love me, and that is what makes me afraid.

    I can’t read Turkish, but there are dozens if not hundreds of ways you could reword the initial English version going off the translation alone.

  2. Brad says:

    How about the opposite direction?

    How very young was I so long ago When I departed from my home that day But years have passed and I am aged so An old man now I have returned to stay And still I speak the language of my kin My tongue has never changed its native tone Although with time my once thick hair’s turned thin The inky black to grey and white has gone Now sometimes as I go a-rambling ‘round I pass the local children out of doors But they don’t seem to know I’m from this town And they don’t recognize me anymore They never fail to greet me with a smile And ask me, “Whence does this fair stranger hail?”

  3. Brad says:

    Or maybe a limerick?

    There was young man who left home and returned long after he’d grown. His accent had stayed, But his hair had all grayed. Kids these days don’t even know ‘im.

  4. I actually had a book once that did a similar thing with a lot of different texts. It would take classical Chinese texts and rewrite them as super slangy modern Chinese. It would likewise take traditional Western fairy tales like the Little Red Riding Hood and re-translate it into classical Chinese. It also did a similar thing with Japanese porn star Sora Aoi’s biography, rewriting it into an ancient Chinese chronicle.

    http://book.douban.com/subject/4908981/

  5. Kryby says:

    In this case, the poem is rather plain and simple with almost nothing of interest. You can’t say the translations are bad, because there’s nothing in the English version that you’d miss. A real Shakespeare sonnet is a different kettle of fish. For example, the first two lines of Sonnet 141:

    “In faith I do not love thee with mine eyes, For they in thee a thousand errors note;”

    Now, let’s go find one of the most popular translations (by 梁實秋):

    “老实说,靠眼睛我并不爱你, 因为在你身上我发现千种缺陷”.

    It’s disappointing, right? The content is there, but the beauty is missing. Of course I imagine it’s equally disappointing reading Chinese poetry when it’s translated into English.

    It reminds one of the claim that ‘poetry is what is lost in translation’. What we can all agree on is that both Chinese and English are awesome in their own ways.

  6. nommoc says:

    Orig You say that you love rain, but you open your umbrella when it rains. You say that you love the sun, but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines. You say that you love the wind, but you close your windows when wind blows. This is why I am afraid–you say that you love me too.

    Four words You say love rain, yet rains open umbrella. You say love sun, yet shines find shade. You say love wind, yet blows shut windows. You say love me, yet I am afraid.

    Five words You claim to love rain, yet you open the umbrella. You claim to love sun, yet you find the shade. You claim to love wind, yet you shut the windows. You claim to love me, yet afraid I am everstill.

    Five words You say you love rain, yet rains you open umbrella. You say you love sun, yet shines you find shade. You say you love wind, yet blows you shut windows. You say you love me, yet I am left afraid.

    Six words You say you love the rain, yet if rains you open umbrella. You say you love the sun, yet if shines you find shade. You say you love the wind, yet if blows you shut windows. You say you love only me, yet I am only left afraid.

    Six words You say you love the rain, yet rains you open the umbrella. You say you love the sun, yet shines you find the shade. You say you love the wind, yet blows you shut the windows. You say you love only me, yet afraid is all I am.

    Six words You profess you love the rain, yet when rains open the umbrella. You profess you love the sun, yet when shines find the shade. You profress you love the wind, yet when blows shut the windows. You profess your love for me, yet only afraid it leaves me.

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