August 22, 2023 – Posted in: Last King of Shang

I promised that the second installment of The Last King of Shang would be out by end of August. We’re going to miss that target by a month. Here’s why.

The book is pretty much written. But I decided that it would be fun to include the short introductory poem that the original author provided at the start of each chapter. We didn’t do that for Book 1, but we will do it for all subsequent books. And I suppose at some point we’ll go back and reissue Book 1 with the poems. The problem is that these poems are extremely difficult to understand, making them hard to rewrite into our restricted (HSK-4) vocabulary. For example, here’s one of the poems in the original Chinese:


Let’s start off by just running it through Google Translate, here’s the gibberish that results:

Zhongliang’s fate in the country will be ashes, and frequent floods and droughts will still plague thousands of people.
The sage and the grand master spin the handle, and the treacherous and evildoers lose the salt plum.
The three passes are long and the bridle can be left, and the four paths are singing grass one after another.
Let the chasing soldiers be lost in the daytime, and the sky is destined to guess.

Pretty awful. I asked a few professional translators for their take on this poem. A few of the results are listed below. It’s interesting to note that they are so different from each other that it’s hard to believe that they all are translations of the same poem.  Here they are:

Loyal and virtuous, departed from the land, Fortunes turned to ashes, droughts and floods unmanned.
Sages and scholars lost their guiding reins, Deceit and malevolence, havoc in their domains.
Through three gateways they tread, paths persist, Fourfold roads diverge, songs of grass and mist.
Chasing shadows of pursuit in daylight’s grace, Destiny’s enigma, concealed in cosmic space.

With the departure of the loyal and decorated generals, the outlook for the nation grew dim.
The people of the nation continued to suffer from frequent floods and droughts.
Saintly grand master swiftly took control, a national treasure was lost over the evil spirits in the advice offered.
Don’t even think about making it through the three passes, the enemy is closing in from all four directions.
All of a sudden, the armies chasing behind were perplexed; no use in wondering how this may end, for destiny had already been written.

The fate of the nation will be darkened if all loyal men leave their country.
At the same time, frequent floods and droughts can spell disaster for ordinary people.
A sage should be in charge of a country.
Otherwise, rumours of treacherous ministers will deprive the country of good talent.
Only the Three Gates and a long passage can stop the running horse.

Roads everywhere will get overgrown.
If the pursuing forces only indulge in shouting in the daytime, they are doomed to be defeated.
The loyal forced to betray, fate vague, land of the people floods and droughts plagued.
The virtuous advisor steers the celestial ladle, the nefarious evil triumphs over the able.
Before the three passes reins stay, between the four paths grasses weep away.
Troops in pursuit tricked in vain, there is no guessing the heavenly fate.

For a dim fate the good and upright general departs, Frequent floods and drought beset thousand names.
The saintly grand councilor wields the Big Dipper, Only to help the villains persecute the good.
Say not the three passes can stop their escaping steps, From four directions the grass laments their misfortune.
The pursuing troops are doomed to get lost in the daylight, For that’s the heaven’s will one is not to contradict.

So, that’s what we’re working on now. We are trying to get a good solid translation of each of the 17 poems for Book 2. Then we’ll simplify the English, then translate it back to Chinese. Once that’s done, the book will be ready for final editing, layout, and publishing. Stay tuned!

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