Machine vs. Legge&Waley: Shijing 1-6 Peach-Tree

From Chapter one of The Odes aka 《詩經 – Book of Poetry》. A machine translation of the articles on this ode Peach-tree 桃夭 from the Chinese literary website The Chinese Text Project page for this ode is also helpful.

The DeepL machine translation doesn’t get it right. Nice try though. I don’t want the machine overlords hunting me down after the Singularity occurs! Thus far AI really means assisted (human) intelligence rather than artificial intelligence, at least as far as a homo sap like me can tell.

The peach is beautiful, and it burns brightly.
The peach is young and luxurious. The son of the peach returns to his family.
The peach is young, its leaves are luxuriant. The son of the peach returns to his family.




Machine translation success depends upon context and so the radical concision of classical/literary Chinese as well as the sparsity of classical Chinese text input to translation engines (I expect it only get some classical Chinese incidental to getting modern Chinese text).

Here is what James Legge (his vast, erudite and abundantly footnoted translations are available online) did with this verse:

Tao Yao:The peach tree is young and elegant;
Brilliant are its flowers.
This young lady is going to her future home,
And will order well her chamber and house.

The peach tree is young and elegant;
Abundant will be its fruits.
This young lady is going to her future home,
And will order well her house and chamber.

The peach tree is young and elegant;
Luxuriant are its leaves.
This young lady is going to her future home,
And will order well her family.
James Legge translation

Here is what Arthur Waley from The Book of Songs edited by Joseph R. Allen did with it:

Peach-tree:Buxom is the peach-tree;
How its flowers blaze!
Our lady going home
Brings good to family and house.

Buxom is the peach-tree;
How its fruit swells!
Our lady going home
Brings good to the family and house.

Buxon is the peach-tree;
How thick its leaves!
Our lady going home
Brings good to the people of her house.
Arthur Waley translation

[DeepL] Notes on vocabulary:

The peach’s leaves are beautiful.
The peach’s leaves are beautiful.
Hua: the same as “flower”.
Zizi: this person, this refers to this woman.
Yu Return: To get married.
YI: Harmony, harmony, means a man and a woman are at the right age to get married.
Room and family: the couple. In ancient times, women had families and men had rooms.
Hemp seeds: The fruits are numerous and large.
Family: Judging from the word “family”, it refers to family and dependents.
Nicco [zhēn zhēn]: The appearance of lush grass and trees.

[DeepL] Translation

The peach blossoms are bright and luxuriant, and their blooms are glorious. This woman is about to get married, so that the couple will respect each other as a couple. The peach blossoms are fresh and prosperous, and the fruits are large and numerous. This woman will be married, so that there will be peace and happiness in the family. The peach blossoms are fresh and flourishing, and the branches and leaves are dense and shady. This woman is getting married, so that her family will be happy and prosperous.

[DeepL] Commentary (Fairly good job here — although awkward in places, gets the point across. Here is can take advantage of the vast amount of Chinese text online, some of it on literary topics)

This poem is one of the most widely circulated classical poems in the Book of Songs, and Yao Jiheng, a scholar of the Qing Dynasty, said in his “General Commentary on the Book of Songs” that this poem “started the ancestor of the thousands of ancient lyrics and poems on beauty. The first line of the poem, “The peach is beautiful, and it burns brightly”, is a famous poem for the ages, and has had a profound influence on a large number of poems and lyrics based on peach blossoms in later times. For example, Ruan Ji’s “Chanting – The former prosperous son”, “Every day the peach and plum blossoms burn with brilliance”, Cui Gu’s “Title of the Southern Villa of the Capital”, “Last year and today, in this gate, the peach blossoms reflect red”, Bai Juyi’s “Peach Blossoms in the Da Lin Temple”, “In April on earth The peach blossoms are in full bloom in the mountain temple”, and Su Shi’s “Evening View of Spring River in Huichong”, “Three or two peach blossoms outside the bamboo, and the duck is a prophet of the warm water in the spring river”, and so on.

This poem expresses the praise and blessing of a young woman who is about to get married, hoping that she will have a “good home and family” after her marriage, and that the couple’s family will be peaceful and beautiful. The opening lines of the poem still use the expression of simile, using the brightness of peach blossoms as a metaphor for the woman’s dignity and beauty, and the word “scorching” is particularly dazzling, which is also very apt for the woman’s radiant appearance. However, the “four virtues of women” should not only have “women’s appearance”, but also “women’s virtue” and “women’s words”, so as to In the second two chapters, the peach and the peach are used as the basis for the woman’s virtues. In the second two chapters, the fruitfulness and prosperity of the peach tree are used to symbolize the woman’s virtue and success in running the family, which will lead to a large number of children and a prosperous family. In the three chapters, the emphasis on the desirability of the family, the family and the people is also reflected in the fact that the real key to the rise and fall of the family lies in the woman’s inner virtue and cultivation.

The first lines of each chapter start with peach blossoms, followed by a metaphor of flowers, fruits and leaves, with a sense of hierarchy. The gradual changes from flowering to fruiting, and from fruiting to leafing also match the growth pattern of peach blossoms, making the whole poem watery and muddy. The traditional concept of marriage and family expressed in “Peach Blossom” has also influenced the culture of ritual and music for thousands of years.





蓁蓁〔zhēn zhēn〕:草木茂盛貌。







About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated, with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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