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This is a cross-post of this Quora space post.

Chinese poem Chūn Xiǎo, by Mèng Hàorán:

春眠不觉晓,
处处闻啼鸟。
夜来风雨声,
花落知多少。

Pinyin:

Chūn mián bù jué xiǎo,
Chùchù wén tí niǎo.
Yè lái fēng yǔ shēng,
Huā luò zhī duōshǎo.

I found this poem on Wikipedia back in March 2013, and produced this interpretation:

If in Spring you sleep and don’t feel the dawn,
[When] everywhere you hear singing birds;
[And] the night comes with the sound of wind and rain,
Do you know how much you’ve lost?

Obvious translation mistake: 花落 does not mean “waste/lose”. I was probably misled by having in mind 老妹阿花 by 张绍林 Zhang Shaolin, specifically the 钱乱花 in it. That line would mean « Do you know how many flowers fell?”.

Much later, I looked for it online, and found translations along the lines of the one at 春晓 (Chun Xiao) - China:

Sleeping in spring, I hardly know day breaks.
Everywhere I can hear birds singing.
At night I heard the sound of wind and rain.
Next morning, who knows how many flowers had fallen.

And I was like, hm. Who’s right here? Both versions now seem to go a bit heavy on the additions: mine from 2013 is adding a subordination on l. 2 and one on l. 3, the online one has that “next morning” which is nowhere in the poem that I can see. So let me turn them around a bit:

Sleeping in spring, you will not be aware of dawn
And hear singing birds everywhere.
Night will come with sound of wind and rain,
And will you know how many flowers fell?

Sleeping in spring, I’m not aware of dawn
And don’t hear singing birds everywhere.
Night will come with sound of wind and rain,
And will I know how many flowers fell?

So basically we have either a generic you, meaning this is sort of a moral advice (Do not sleep in spring), or an I, a personal experience. Which do you think is the correct version, and why? Any changes you’d suggest for either version?

UPDATE

After the first three answers, I tried remaking the translation:

Drowsy past sunrise,
I hear birds all 'round;
With last night's wind-cries,
Flowers fell to the ground!

What do you think?

Here is a fricking docufilm about my interactions with this poem: Youtube.

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    Yes, the "Update" definitely fits the economy of words that Oriental poems are famous for, (think Haiku) The last line could, IMHO, be shortened, not just for the sake of shortening, but as a crisp counter balance for the longish 3rd Line. My suggestion, "Flowers fell on ground" which also complements the second Line both in syllabic value and rhythm. Mar 24 at 2:04
  • @WayneCheah absolutely. I think I was taking flowers as a single syllable, which is a bit forced. "Blooms fell to the ground" would solve that, but flowers is probably better.
    – MickG
    Mar 24 at 7:35
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    Maybe it's just me, but I always feel a kind of sinister connotation when I read this poem: a peaceful morning, contrasting with violence in the night. Who knows how many flowers fell? May 13 at 21:07
  • In my opinion, it is slightly better not to translate 知 directly as "know" here. I think it is more a general exclamatory along the lines of "How many flowers must have fallen [last night]!" Of course, putting that poetically in a way that fits with the rest of the poem is a literary challenge.
    – Brian Tung
    May 14 at 6:08

4 Answers 4

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很抱歉你的两种解释都不是最理想的解释。 这首诗应该是表达出来作者当时的心情起伏,并且表现出对春的怜惜。古诗作者大多用景物、事件变化来表达心情的起伏。

大概翻译一下第一句

  1. 春眠不觉晓

"晓":1.代表天亮了 2.代表醒来了

意思:在春季中睡觉时,昏昏沉沉不知是否已经醒来了(早上昏昏沉沉时,半睡半醒)。

为什么会这样,因为第二句和第三句提到了鸟叫声,和刮风、下雨声,在吵闹的环境中睡觉,早上起床时容易造成半睡半醒的错觉。

  1. 处处闻啼鸟

“处处”:

  1. 字面意思鸟非常多,周围都是

  2. 昏昏沉沉,意识不清醒时,感觉鸟在周围叫,无法分辨鸟儿到底在哪

3.夜来风雨声

第三句有了一个情感的转折(思维跳跃),清晨睡醒,鸟儿欢快的叫,为什么忽然想到了昨夜的下雨、刮风?原来是因为第四句。

3.花落知多少

这句诗不是问句,而是一个感叹句,意思是不知道会有多少花都落了啊。作者在感叹,一夜风雨过去啦,花都不知道落了多少。

此句借物表达情感。表达思念春天,感叹时间的流逝


I'm sorry, but both of your explanations are not the most ideal interpretations. This poem should express the author's fluctuating emotions at the time and show pity for the spring. Ancient poets often used changes in scenery and events to express the ups and downs of their emotions.

Here is a rough translation of the first line:

  1. 春眠不觉晓: "In slumber of spring, unaware of dawn"

"晓": can mean both "dawn" and "awakening"

Meaning: In the spring season, while sleeping, one is drowsy and unaware if it's already dawn (cognitive leap).

The reason for this is that the second and third lines mention bird calls, wind blowing, and rain. Sleeping in a noisy environment can cause a half-awake illusion upon waking up in the morning.

  1. 处处闻啼鸟: "Everywhere, hearing birds cry"

"处处": can have multiple meanings:

a. Literally, there are many birds, all around.

b. In a drowsy state, with unclear consciousness, feeling that birds are crying around, unable to discern where the birds actually are.

  1. 夜来风雨声. The third line introduces an emotional shift (a four-dimensional leap). When waking up early in the morning, the birds are happily chirping, but suddenly, the author thinks about the rain and wind from the previous night. It turns out to be because of the fourth line.

  2. 花落知多少: "Who knows how many flowers have fallen"

This line is not a question but an exclamation. It means not knowing how many flowers have fallen. The author is expressing astonishment that after a night of wind and rain, so many flowers have fallen. This line uses metaphor to express emotions, conveying a longing for spring and lamenting the passage of time.

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  • very good response. I just want to add that this should not only be taken as a good expalnation of the meaning at face value, but also as an example of why classical chinese to english is so hard. Often a phrase may be conveying multiple things at once, and you have to pick just one to write in english. This is also why you will often see what seems like a complete rewrite of a few lines, as the translator attempts to capture the orginal mood//emotion compared to any exact word choice.
    – zagrycha
    Mar 6 at 11:35
  • You can search for the analysis of the ancient poem by adding its title followed by "赏析" on www.baidu.com. This is a Chinese search engine, where you can find standard answers more quickly and directly.
    – 高向阳
    Mar 6 at 11:45
  • What do you think about my retranslation? (In the update to the question)
    – MickG
    Mar 17 at 19:26
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The wind and the rain may flatten the delicate spring flowers.

春眠不觉晓,
Spring-sleep sleep through the dawn,
处处闻啼鸟。
From all quarters comes birdsong.
夜来风雨声,
At eventide, the sound of wind and rain
花落知多少。
How many flowers do they fell?

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My attempt:-

春眠不觉晓

处处闻啼鸟

夜来风雨声

花落知多少

Slumber beyond dawn in Spring,

Birds everywhere are heard to sing;

A night of wind and rain,

Fallen leaves un-ascertained.

My interpretation:-

It is an ode to how Nature and natural phenomena intrudes and dictates the very rhythm and tempo of all our daily lives, whether asleep or awake.

Nature and natural phenomena are represented by Springtime, the birds and their singing and the inexorable power of wind and rain.

These natural phenomena intrudes and dictates even our sleep patterns.

The fallen leaves which fell prematurely, owing to the merciless power of the wind and rain, while the author was hopelessly asleep, emphasizes once again the inescapable embrace which Nature has on both humans and the natural environment.

The last line 花落知多少 is therefore not a question, (a rhetorical one perhaps), but a melancholic commentary on the un-knowable incidences of havoc that guiltless Nature must have perpetrated on humans and even nature itself while we are asleep which represents a state of helplessness against the forces of Nature.

Edit:-

@MickG

You have decided to rhyme your verse.

I asked an AI Platform to improve on my poetic effort and it came back with:-

Spring's light paints my face, a brand new morn,

Birdsong floods the air, a joyful horn.

A night of wind's harsh cry and rain's soft sigh,

Leaves unseen beneath a tear-filled sky.

Question:-

You think this captures it better?

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  • Definitely. Thing is, I have not just rhymed my verse, I tried to keep the meter of the original (lines of 5 syllables), because I wrote a tune for this poem and wanted to sing the translation for an upcoming video on my YT channel Mick Gorro. I am planning to try doubling the number of syllables, which still essentially fits the tune since each syllable is on either a long note or multiple notes. Now that I try to sing the AI translation, it does fit the tune. Apart from l. 3 where I need to add a note at the beginning.
    – MickG
    Mar 23 at 15:47
  • I'm currently editing my blog post on these translations, keep an eye on that and on the channel to see what I decided to do.
    – MickG
    Mar 23 at 15:47
  • Update: edit complete. Witness the amount of work I've done with this poem :).
    – MickG
    Mar 23 at 16:26
  • Update: video is up.
    – MickG
    May 13 at 14:27
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    Interesting. What is your day job, if I may ask? May 13 at 14:46
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Here's my attempt:

春眠不觉晓,
处处闻啼鸟。
夜来风雨声,
花落知多少。

In springtime, slept through morning fair
On waking, birdsong everywhere.
At midnight, sound of storm and rain
Who knows how many flowers fell here?

I don't like the last line, "here" is banal and redundant. If there is a better rhyme that keeps the word "fall", with all its connotations, I would like to know it.

I think there is a contrast between a peaceful morning and violent night. Maybe it is nature that is violent, or maybe not. Perhaps the flowers are not really flowers?

天地不仁,以万物为刍狗。圣人不仁,以百姓为刍狗。

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  • How about "Who knows how many flowers fell in vain?" The "flowers" were both real flowers as well as serving as an imagery substitute or metaphor for all the good and beauty of the mundane World which in just one fitful night of wind & rain were mercilessly destroyed, and the author did not even know it because he slept so deeply all through the night and even way past morning. The pleasant, refreshing sound of the birdsongs were to serve as a rude contrast to the devastation he saw of the flowers wrecked by the storm which failed to wake his deep slumber May 14 at 3:23
  • Yes that would work, although it would be introducing an element of personal judgement, deploring that nature is so wasteful. It feels to me like that's not something the original author would have intended, although of course there is no way to confirm this! May 14 at 3:52
  • Perhaps the author also felt a bit guilty as well for having slept through it all. I think the author is alluding to the impersonal, non-nonjudgemental actions of Nature which is never "wasteful" as even the fallen leaves would eventually serve as composted fertilizer. The birds singing happily nearby also serves to enhance the impersonal, neutral continuity of all nature's actions or omissions. The author seems to admonish himself for not witnessing these significant events simply because he overslept. May 14 at 14:49
  • Drop the "who knows", maybe. The attempt was not in iambic pentameters, so "who knows how many flowers fell in vain?", which is an i.p., would be out of meter.
    – MickG
    May 15 at 12:44
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    @MickG, I like that. May 16 at 1:27

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