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Posts Tagged ‘translation’

Tablet 11 & Other News

March 29, 2017 2 comments

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The fast and furious transformation that has overtaken RT since his mother’s death continues apace. He will start by mentioning that he has recently bought his first smartphone. That’s right, he just dictated, not typed, the previous sentence. And it was a lot easier than typing the current one.

On top of that, RT has recently moved, though not terribly far afield. His new digs are far larger and more comfortable than the old and not terribly more expensive. He has also been luxuriating in his new computer chair, which leads him to his next topic.

Tablet 11 of Gilgamesh is done. Yes, you heard that right: the tablet that RT started work on in October 2000 is finished, right down to the very last frisson of its apocalyptic vision. Chew them beans.

By way of celebrating  (insofar as one can celebrate the Flood), RT offers below a snippet of the great  catastrophe that inaugurated (at least in part) Western religious experience.

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iii. Warning

“Of gods most shrewd, Enki, Lord of Waters,

Schemed to save a man.  He spoke to me:

‘Reed hut, reed hut, wall, wall! Hear your father:

man of Shurrupak, son of renowned strength—  

abandon your house, renounce your wealth.

The life of all human flesh is forfeit!’

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“Urgent, he whispered news and secret guidance:

‘Build the boat a cube: a mile each side. 

Roof her straight and strong like heaven’s house.’

Appalled, I understood and pledged my part.

And still I recognized a flaw in the plan:

‘What will I tell my neighbors and the people?’

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“‘With these words you will quiet their speculation:

“Enlil of thunderbolts has condemned my life:

I escape into the waters, enjoying the deep,

Enki my compassionate father’s kindness.’ 

Say also: ‘To you Enlil sends true wealth,

a day of bright blessings and rich feasting.

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“‘The morning showers down angel’s bread;

the dusk bestows a rain of shining wheat.’

The god left me then, unseen as he had come.

I paused, reflected, planning this thing—

seven days was all I had to save our kind,

seven days to rescue our mortal wisdom.”

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iv. Ship

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“When dawn, when Utu climbs above the earth,

the skilled craftsmen assembled at my gate:

The carpenter carrying his hatchet and chisel, 

the shaper of reeds with his flattening stone,

the ingenious shipwright wielding his axe.

The children carried pitch; the women cooked.

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“The boat’s design was unfamiliar, elaborate;

the hull was immense, enclosing a perfect cube.

I built the vast decks, seven in number, 

six to store the seed of all the world’s life.

Partitions, exactly nine, each a shelter,

each to hold a different kind of beast.

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“In five days I finished, pitched and plugged the boat.

 I provisioned the ship with gear of every kind—

punting poles beyond count, ropes and blocks, 

pots and jars—endless quantities—of pitch,

and food for all—oil fresh-pressed and fine,

every kind of forage and meal for the beasts.

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“Sunset of the last day saw the boat complete. 

To launch her needed straining, stretching strength; 

in dark she floated. I set a table for our men:

ale, oil, wine flowed as if at New Year’s.

After plate I brought on board beast and plant,

also my family and treasure we might require.”

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Copyright 2017, Eric Quinn

Image: Protective Geni, WikiCmns, Public Domain.

Du Fu, Winding River 1

January 24, 2017 Leave a comment

Introspection has not been much in vogue for, well, the last four or five centuries, at least in the West, anyway. The man of thought has become the man of action, the one who changes the world, makes things better. As we head pell-mell into the post-digital, post-handwritten, robot-manufactured world, the question of just where we might be going should give us pause for thought. Certainly the notion that the very act of thinking could itself alter the world, build its complexity and beauty, and of course its wisdom, would meet with a sceptical response these days. Yet RT suspects that something like this understanding lies close to the heart of Eastern religion and art. This is the world we dream of, the world which heals us and in which we have our true place. It is not magic, but a sense of a broader connection to our surroundings.

Du Fu seems to have started his career as a gifted poet, but one who had not met with profound suffering. The collapse of China in the mid-8th century forced him to flee the capital, and to confront in a basic way his life and the unfolding of history around him. Out of his despair he refashioned the possibilities of Chinese poetry, the Chinese people, and RT would argue, the possibilities of humanity as it today struggles with overwhelming change.

Winding River 1

Du Fu

 

a last petal falling marks the close of spring;

trees shed their 10,000 tears in contentious winds.

I’ll drink my wine, then, and examine

blossoms lying trampled in the mud.

 

and yet, in the abandoned riverside pavilion,

kingfishers flash and mate. At the foot

of high tombs in the park, stone unicorns

rest in conjugal silence.

 

all things live in their joy—

exiled from the palace, I wander,

fame forgotten.

 

PhotoStatues in the Imperial Tomb of Tang Emperor Gaozong. Zingaro. WikiCmns. CC BY 2.0.

The Fire In Your Hearts

October 1, 2015 2 comments

RT has been struggling with some problems, not least of them an invasion of the local bug population… running through all the distractions like Ariadne’s thread has been the work on his mother’s memoirs. A Daughter’s Song and Dance is now at the proofing stage, and RT hopes to have the first bound copies in the next week or two. Then it’s publication on Lulu and fundraising for a larger paper run to distribute in bookstores nearby.

Here is one of RT’s reconstruction based on material in the Gospel of Thomas… he hopes it will lift the reader’s spirit, as it has lifted RT’s:

Saying 3. Jesus said, “Do not listen to those you have trusted. If they tell you, ‘Look, the Kingdom is in the sky,’ then the birds will get there before you do. If they say, “Hey, the Kingdom is in the ocean,’ then the fish will swim into it first. And if they say, ‘The Kingdom is in the earth,’ the dead will get there before you. But I tell you that the Kingdom is the fire in your hearts, so that you may precede all others.

© 2013, The Rag Tree

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Photo: burning match. Heidas. WikiCmns. CC BY-SA 3.0.

Chia Tao and a New Year

January 8, 2015 8 comments

The New Year has started, and it has been almost exactly a month since RT last posted. By way of explanation, he will say only that various transitions and plottings are afoot and have taken him away from his regular obligations and projects. More will be revealed as some of this work begins to bear fruit (which is to say, in the next post or two). Our distracted blogger’s first contribution of 2015 is his version of a poem by Chan Buddhist monk Jia Dao (old spelling, Chia Tao), 779-843 AD. Highly regarded during his life, JD is not now as well known as the small group of most famous T’ang poets that includes Du Fu and Bai Juyi; on the basis of the following poem, RT thinks this might be a mistake. JD seems to have combined a deep respect for natural process with indications of the intensity of his experience as a monk, linking his internal and external lives in unforgettable images.

Evening; Watching the Snow Stop

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Clutching my staff, I watch the storm lift; 

hills and clouds braid tight, dissolve in dusk.

Woodcutters disappear into their cabins

as a weary sun drops to its bed.

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And later: wildfire flowers in distant grass.

Tattered mist trailing; boulders, pine.

Hushed, I climb the monastery road—

night strikes the mountain like a bell.

Chia Tao/Jia Dao

version by Eric Quinn

copyright 2015, The Rag Tree

Photo: Tetons from Signal Mountain (1941); author, Ansel Adams. National Archives. Public Domain.   *

Du Fu: A Version of China’s Greatest Poet

December 8, 2014 Leave a comment

The An Lushan Rebellion, which broke out on December 16, 755 A.D., devastated China’s Tang Dynasty and brought to a close the era known as the “High Tang,” which is generally considered to be China’s finest cultural and political flowering. The last imperial census taken before the rebellion (in 755) reported a population of 53 million; the census of 764 (the year after the rebellion ended) counted just 17 million. Thirty-six million people had died or been left homeless during the fighting.

Out of the wreckage emerged a remarkable voice, a poet whom the Chinese have honored for centuries as the greatest they have ever produced. This man, Du Fu (712-770), developed a technical mastery of the demanding 5-character Shi form of Chinese poetry that has never been equaled. But while Du Fu’s skill was evident early on, his empathy for the suffering of ordinary people and criticism of the corruption and cruelty of the elite developed in response to the rebellion and place his work in a special category. Not that other Chinese poets didn’t develop a comparable concern for the welfare of the people (Bai Juyi among them), but none of these (admittedly gifted) men spoke with such heartbreaking clarity of the crisis and its place in the Chinese worldview.

To translate a poet as great as Du Fu is to spend significant time with him (or her) via reading, reflection, and writing; RT makes no claim to having invested the requisite energy and time in Du Fu, but offers here a step towards gaining an understanding of the writer the Chinese have called “the god of poets.”

Night Reflection

 

Grass murmurs along the riverbank,

and our mast sways high in the breeze;

stars fall. broad fields, flat, empty,

are gone in the moon’s eruption from water.

 

Has poetry not exalted my name?

old scribblers should know when to quit.

not yet a ghost, flickering, i drift

on a gull’s wings between heaven and earth.

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Copyright © 2014, The Rag Tree.

Photo: Statue of Du Fu (located in Chengdu). Photo author: Fanghong. WikiCmns; CC BY-SA 3.0.

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The DoGs on Winter Circuit: Endangered Languages

November 28, 2014 Leave a comment

It’s snowing in Martinsburg, and the Dragons of Grammar have started pestering RT, making a racket as they clamber all over the modest duplex he inhabits, blowing plumes of smoke at his sealed windows, and generally trying to cause an uproar in the neighborhood, which would be worse, except that nothing much is getting done in Martinsburg today (except last-minute preparations for Thanksgiving). People are paying the polite, if fiery and colorful, creatures no mind.

File:Zitkala Sa Sioux Indian and activist 1898.jpg

Zitkala Sa, “Red Bird”; English name, Gertrude Simmons (1876-1938). Sioux author, musician, composer, activist.

Now, RT is well aware that the DoGs love winter–it’s their favorite season, in fact–and at first he thought he also knew the subject that they wanted him to post on–Canadian Aboriginal Syllabics. Now CAS are certainly a worthwhile topic of exploration, but it turns out that that is not the DoGs’ primary concern on the day before Thanksgiving. Rather, they have a weighty matter they want RT to ponder: the definition and ways of helping endangered languages around the world.

Well, RT already knew that there are a lot of endangered languages out there, and a quick browsing of the net suggests that half of all languages, which numbered 6,900 in 2005, are in danger of going extinct (i.e., losing their last native speaker) within the next generation. About half of all languages spoken, moreover, are located either in Asia or Africa, but please take note, Oklahoma also constitutes a hot spot.

RT recollects that on occasion he has posted on endangered languages in these pages, but he thinks that a new post, especially one that contains a listing of items that help reflect the vitality of a language, would be quite useful.

Here is RT’s list:

1) Official Status. Does a language receive political or cultural support, and, in particular, is it taught in schools?

2) Writing System. Does a language have a writing system that was either created or evolved for its use? If so, is there a standardized orthography for the language? How easy is the language’s script to learn?

3) Child speakers. Are children learning the language?

4) Everyday transactions. Do people use the language in their daily routine?

5) Number of speakers. Last, and maybe least, how many people speak the language worldwide, whether as a first or second tongue? To which RT appends perhaps the most vital question: Is the number of speakers growing?

Now we come to subtler considerations.

6) Prestige. Do members of the cultural elite speak the language? Does everyone else in a society regard knowing the language as worthwhile or even as a cultural attainment?

7) National or Personal Identity. Is the language strongly linked to historical or national identity? A good example of this are the Gaelic languages in western Europe.

8) Variant of a Regional Language. Is the language a member of a widespread language family? Can a speaker travel to other areas where his or her native language is to some degree intelligible to others?

9. Global Status. Has a language become a lingua franca? Is it in danger of corruption through overuse? English immediately comes to mind as the lingua franca currently used by the largest number of speakers. How many people would speak English if it weren’t so closely tied to the current power elite?

10. Written and Audio/Video Materials. Here is a vital concern: to what extent is the language recorded in writing? In particular, do any of these materials include native legends and mythology? And do recordings of native speakers exist? Not only do these help preserve the language in the most direct way possible, but they also put a face on the language, another intangible but vital concern.

More than half the world’s languages are located in eight countries (in red): India, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Indonesia, Nigeria, Papua New Guinea, and Cameroon. These countries and the areas around them (in light blue) are the most linguistically diverse regions in the world.

 Now RT will try to sort out various languages by their vitality:

1) English, Spanish, French: the current global lingua francas.

2) Chinese (1.2 billion native speakers) and Hindi (800 million ns) : the most widely spoken single-nation languages.

3) Basque (720,000 ns, north-central Spain) and Mapundugan (250,000 ns, Chile and Argentina): language isolates (i.e., not related to any known language). Neither language is listed as endangered; both have been officially recognized. To give some idea of how different a language isolate can be, the Basque word for “father” is “aita,” and the word for “welcome” is “ongi.”

4) Insular Celtic: spoken in the British Islands (Welsh (580,000 speakers in Wales), Irish (130,000 ns), and Scottish Gaelic (57,000 ns)) and Brittany (Breton, 210,000 ns): protected minority languages; full to limited instruction in schools; the number of speakers is relatively small but growing. And here, to give some idea of the music of these languages, RT offers a link to a YouTube video on Scottish Gaelic, the IC language with the fewest native speakers:

5) Cree: limited official recognition within Canada; written in a system constructed for the language; limited instruction in school; 170,000 native speakers. Here is a brief sample of the language via YouTube:

6) Sioux: No official recognition in the U.S.; school instruction, including immersion classes; 44,000 native speakers.

7) ‘Amkoe:  This is a click language found in Botswana. 30 native speakers. Here is RT’s final video, on Xhosa click language:

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Meanwhile, the snow has stopped and the DoGs have flown off elsewhere to spread their warmth in icy climes… More on all this later.   RT

 PhotoA Quebec stop sign in Cree/English/French. Author: P199. CC3.0 BY-SA. Map: Linguistic Diversity in the World. Author: Davius. WikiCmns; Public Domain.

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Gilgamesh, Tablet 5: Decisions, Decisions

October 30, 2014 3 comments

File:Cedrus libani "Cedar of Lebanon" (Pinaceae) (tree).JPG

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Here’s a puzzle for RT: which of the following versions of a stanza from tablet 5 of Gilgamesh is the one he should use? Each was composed using a different metrical scheme. Decisions, decisions…

version 1:

Enkidu recovered his voice, challenged the ghoul:

“How could you dirty his pure and immortal name,

utter such blasphemy, make such a threat?

I owe you nothing! You would have devoured me,

savored my liver and heart, licked my skull.

But Enlil intervened, restrained your greed.”

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version 2:

Enkidu recovered his voice:

“How could you soil his name,” he said,

“show such reckless irreverence?

You would have devoured me,

dined on my liver and heart,

but Enlil muzzled your gaping maw.”

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version 3:

Enkidu recovered his voice, spoke:

“How could you insult such a pure name?

I owe you nothing—nothing! Your cannibal rage

would have torn me limb from limb,

devoured my liver and heart, licked my skull,

but Enlil leashed your appetite.”

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copyright © 2014, The Rag Tree.

PhotoCedrus libani var. libani, Cambridge University Botanic Garden. Author: Magnus Manske. WikiCmns.CC Attribution ShareAlike 3.0.

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