Gower in China: Xiaoling Wu Review

Xiaoling Wu is a PhD student at the School of International Studies of Zhejiang University in Hangzhou, China. Her major is Foreign Language and Literature, and she is currently working on her dissertation on the Confessio Amantis.

 

沈弘(2009),《英国中世纪诗歌选集》,台北:书林出版有限公司。461-75。

Shen, Hong. “Selected Translation of Confessio Amantis.” An Anthology of Medieval English Poetry. Taipei: Bookman Books Co. Ltd, 2009. 461-75.

Hong translates an excerpt of the Confessio Amantis, the confession on idleness and the Tale of Rosiphelee in Book 4, lines 1083-1462. As the confessional pattern goes, Gower’s Confessor first explains the new concept of idleness in love as being in love’s service while in search of love. Amans confesses that his case is quite unlike being idle. He takes the initiative to serve, or make it possible to serve his lady. The Confessor excuses him on this matter, and he creates a correlation between being idle by a refusal to love using the Tale of Rosiphelee as an exemplum.

In poetic form, Hong’s translation conforms to eight Chinese characters on each line, which is an apparent simulation of the octosyllabic line in English. Apart from that, there is little metrical parallelism since the Chinese does not retain the couplet structure throughout the Tale. Of nearly four hundred lines the eleven couplets that do appear should be ascribed to coincidence rather than intentional composition. In content, Hong sticks to a line-to-line translation on the whole. According to the well-known principles of translation proposed by Yan Fu(严复, 1854-1921), the translator should strive for a faithful, expressive, and elegant translation. Hong’s translation has lived up to the requirement for expressiveness, and the Chinese text reads coherently. Hong is skilled at selecting a culturally pertinent counterpart, instead of translating in a stiff and literal way. For example, he translates “faileth” in “He faileth ofte of that he wolde”(4.1111) as “run against the wall”[碰壁], a common metaphor for failure in Chinese parlance. To avoid repetition, Hong tries to find synonyms: “What so sche wole so wole I”(4.1171) is translated as “Her will is my intention”[她的意愿即我的初衷]. Since it is not rhymed, however, the line reads as factually prosaic rather than elegantly poetic. The four-character phrase is the most representative poetic feature of the translation. We might get a sense of this from the following translation:

 

English lines Chinese translations
Ne nevere schal, whil I mai go( 4.1117). 一息尚存,永远不会[One breath be, never shall so]。
Towardes love, and that was rowthe(4.1254); 懈怠爱情,终酿苦果[Having love idled, bitter fruits gained]。
Which tho was in hir lusti age(4.1267), 花信年华,正值妙龄[Year of flower, age of youth],
The madle go with the female(4.1301). 耳鬓厮磨,成双结对[Rubbing hair and ear, matching a couple];
Al lene and galled on the back,

And haltede, as he were encluyed

(4.1344-45),

骨瘦如柴,满身疮痂[Skinny as firewook, scab all over],

蹄若埋钉,蹒跚而行[As if hoof nailed, staggering ahead],

 

Apart from the four-character phrase, there is another translation that captures the spirit and vivacity of the Middle English text. The disappearance of the woeful woman is compared to a cloud in “And with that word al sodeinly / Sche passeth, as it were a sky”(4.1435-36), which is translated as “floatingly, she gradually passes like a cloud”[她飘飘然像云彩般缓缓逝去]. The Chinese adverb “飘飘然” (floatingly) not only matches the cloud metaphor, but creates an immortal and celestial context associated with Chinese culture.

As the above example also shows, the “sudden” disappearance is translated as a “gradual” passing. Hong’s translation conveys the general idea of the didactic teaching on avoiding idleness, but it will not stand up to a line-to-line, word-for-word correspondence. Some flaws are caused by negligence. For example, the “other” in the first line “Among these othre of Slowthes kinde”(4.1083) is taken as “three” by mistake, as shown in the translation “the three kinds of Slow ghosts”[这三种懒散鬼]. Another example is that the lover “playing” with the hound and birds to avoid being sent away by his lady (4.1189) is treated as “feigning” [装扮] with the hound and birds of his lady.

There are more examples of non-correspondence in connotation caused by slight changes in tone, shifts in delivery, and variances in meaning. I shall refrain from listing these lines one by one, for as I see it, this excerpt is valuable mostly for having provided a miniature of Gower’s style and structure in the Confessio Amantis. Hong strives to elucidate some cultural meanings in the poem, as we can see when he points out in the notes the association of the mounted woman with another poem, Sir Orfeo, and the meaning of the blue and white dress of the mounted ladies. Since the non-correspondence is very confusing to me I would raise two points for further discussion.

First, Amans denies being idle as he replies to the Confessor, “Nay, fader, God I give a gifte, / That toward love, as be mi wit, / Al ydel was I nevere yit, / Ne nevere schal, whil I mai go”(4.1114-17). The “God I give a gifte” is translated as “Although I am not smart”[余虽不敏]. It seems to me that the English functions as “I swear to God,” which is far from the connotation of “gift” meaning “talent.”

Another example is the description of the burden that the poor mounted lady has been bearing: “Aboute hir middle twenty score / Of horse haltres and wel mo / Ther hyngen ate time tho”(4.1356-58) Here the translation reads “although around her waist there are more than four hundred halters, where used to hinge innumerable horses”[尽管围着她的腰间/缠有四百多个栓套,/在那儿曾拴马无数。]. I think it should not be translated with the past tense of the attributive clause. It simply says “there at that time about her waist hung more than four hundred halters.”

Overall, Hong’s version proves the general translatability of Middle English verse into Chinese verse. It is encouraging that the CA as a long poem with more than 140 tales can provide many samples for more translation practice. The concordance or the non-correspondence of the translation is worthy of additional study.

梁实秋(2011),《英国文学史》卷一,北京:新星出版社。93-95。

Liang, Shiqiu. “John Gower.” History of English Literature. Vol.1. Beijing: New Star Press, 2011. 93-95.

The “History of English Literature” remains a crucial means by which we might approach English literature for Chinese students and scholars. As far as I know, Liang’s History is the only version that includes an independent entry for John Gower and the Confessio Amantis. Gower is on Liang’s list of the representative poets of Chaucer’s Age (1349-1400); the friendship between Gower and Chaucer is introduced before Chaucer then becomes the center of the chapter. The introduction is quite brief, but offers information on Gower’s late marriage, blindness, and tomb as well as a synopsis of the three long poems. Liang mentions the metrics, structure, plot, and ends with commentary. While he finds the Speculum Meditantis and Vox Clamantis to be didactic and bland, he praises Chaucer’s acuteness by comparison with “moral Gower.” Liang saves the most commentary and criticism for the Confessio Amantis. He provides us with a glimpse of the poem’s favorable reception in history: The 1390 version is dedicated to King Richard II, and the 1393 version is dedicated to King Henry IV; it is said that the CA makes Gower equivalent with Chaucer as the “father of English poetry”; the number of CA manuscripts exceeds forty-three, and the CA ranks high in the list of Caxton’s 1483 publications. The CA was translated into Spanish in 1400 from a Portuguese version, which documents it as the first English literary work to be translated into a foreign language. Though Liang acknowledges the glamour of the CA, he immediately highlights the loss and lapse of its poetic honor, so that he confirms and reaffirms Gower’s inferiority to Chaucer, the time-honored poet.

Leaving aside Liang’s expression of doubt about Gower’s status as a poet, his presumption that time has excluded the poet is shaky. The resurgence of scholarship on Gower would provide evidence against his assertion.

In the synopsis, Liang introduces the affiliation of the CA to the confessional genre of religious writing. In the Prologue Gower points out from his perspective in a corrupt contemporary society that no salvation will be achieved without confession and prayer. Then suddenly Gower shifts to the topic of love and presents a confessional scene with Venus’s priest Genius on teachings and remedies for the Seven Deadly Sins with exemplary tales. At last, he is dismissed by Venus for being too old to serve at her court. As noted above, Liang’s biased opinion appears to be due to his oversimplified treatment of the CA. He seems to have been puzzled about the shift from a critical narrator in the Prologue to Amans the lover in Book I. That would be coherent, however, if the intent of “some lust and some lore” were taken into consideration, along with the social background of Gower and literary codes of courtly love. Liang also does not elaborate on the complexities of history, social conditions, politics, and science when all are of considerable significance for this work. Liang distinguishes Gower by including him in his four-volume History of English Literature, even as he seems not to have a positive opinion of Gower as a literary man. The lack of support from close textual reading, and his simplified framework of the CA makes one wonder whether he has truly read through the entire poem. Although to compose a history of English literature on one’s own and to be required to read the whole text is perhaps too harsh (and maybe it should never be one person’s burden), it would be wise not to render judgment unless one knows the poem in its entirety.

杨明苍(2003),《爱人的告白》序言中的方言翻译。《中外文学》第32卷第6期。93-110。

Yang, Mingcang. “Vernacular Translation in John Gower’s Prologue to Confessio Amantis.” Chung Wai Literary Quarterly 32.6 (2003): 93-110.

Yang’s paper entitled “Vernacular Translation in John Gower’s Prologue to Confessio Amantis” offers a literary review on the significance of English as the poetic language of choice in the CA. The Englishness that he covers is not limited to the Prologue. Since scattered arguments have been presented by various authors before, he justifies the critical role that English plays in the poem. First, on interpreting the decision to compose an English poem, he points out how Gower shows the historical significance of writing in English (Prol. 1-10, 23), which Wetherbee and Scanlon also note. The “New Troy” analogy (Prol. 24-92), Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, and Babel are concerned with the political translatio imperii in the reign of Richard II (Prol. 24-92), as Mahoney and Copeland observe, and the New Arion represents a new authority of the poet (Yeager and Copeland). He further quotes the Tale of Florent (in Book 1) noted by Yeager to demonstrate English inheritance and alteration of the classical tradition, as Batchelor and Pearsall affirm. Second, on the mixture of Latin and English, Gower uses the authority of Latin to frame the English text, as noted by Pearsall and Machan. The Carmentis in Prol. I stands for Gower’s importing of the Latin for the control of Englishness, as Echard and Fanger assert. The Latin marginalia beside line 3106 of Book 8, the Tale of Florent in Book 1 (line 1408), the Tale of Alexander and the Pirate in Book 3 (line 2362) explain the reference of the English verses, as Minnis, Batchelor, Yeager, Pearsall, Copeland, and Wetherbee suggest. Yang’s critical review offers ample scholarship on the Englishness and ambition of Gower, though it is not quite original in terms of its arguments.

Xiaoling Wu

Zhejiang University

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