估客行(英译)Journey of Merchant

“Travelling the Silk Road: Ancient Pathway to the Modern World” is an exhibition developed by the American Museum of Natural History, New York and is now showing at the National Museum of Australia in Canberra Australia.

The remarkable presentation of various cultural artifacts, textiles, musical instruments, raw materials and finished products depict the greatest trading route in the history of the Silk Road from east to west enabling the trade of merchandise including paper, furs, tea and ceramics travelling west from China and ivory, glass, spices, metalwork and aromatics were sent eastward back to China.

Watching a section of the exhibition about “Trading by Sea”, I noticed a poem written by Li Bai was translated by David Hinton on the display as below:

Song of Merchant

On heaven’s wind a sea traveler
Wanders by boat through distances
It’s like a bird among the clouds
Once gone, gone without a trace

The “Song of Merchant” was a popular music among merchants during that time written for their joyful singing and chanting. The original poem by Li Bai as follows was about the “Journey of Merchant”:

估客行-唐李白

海客乘天风
将船远行役
譬如云中鸟
一去无踪迹

The poem was about merchant’s trade by sea. They knew when the best time was to sail their ships and where to go to sell their merchandise. So the use of “wander “seems to mean” travel without a purpose” is not accurate. Also, the birds don’t live in the clouds. The use of “It’s like a bird among the clouds” is not the metaphor that the poet Li Bai wanted to express.

注:
⒈ 《估客行》又被称为《估客乐》,是当时流行的乐府,在唐代商人之间传唱。估客又称贾客,是当时对行商之人的称呼,而不是一般的游客,译为 sea traveler 不太正确。
⒉ 行役是因事出外跋涉,在这里是有目的的出外做生意,而wanders 是没有目的的游荡,用在这里不恰当。
⒊ 鸟不住在云里,而是飞入云里,这里用 among the clouds 不贴切。

So here is my version of translation:

【唐】李白诗
周昕英譯
海客乘天风
将船远行役
譬如云中鸟
一去无踪迹
by Li Bai【Tang Dynasty】
Translation by Hsing Chou
A sea merchant by seasonal wind sails
Let his ship go afar to trade
Just like a bird flies into clouds
Gone without a trace
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