Can you fish snow?

gladorient

Senior Member
Chinese
Dear friends, Happy New Year! Thank you for your help since I came to this forum. This is my first thread here in 2012: I read a poem, actually a translated version from Chinese---
From hill to hill no bird in flight;
From path to path no man in sight.
A lonely fisherman afloat
Is fishing snow in lonely boat.

My question is that, does the sentence "A lonely fisherman is fishing snow in a lonely boat" make sense to you? I feel it somewhat odd and doubt it is acceptable to say so in English. Thanks!
 
  • sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    My question is that, does the sentence "A lonely fisherman is fishing snow in a lonely boat" make sense to you?
    No sense whatsoever, but that often is the case with poems and song lyrics.

    Edit: As long as speculation runs rampant, we should include the possibility of poor translation in hopes of maintaining rhyme and meter. I seriously doubt that the words used to rhyme here also rhyme in Chinese.
     
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    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    You can do anything in a poem. I think it is a beautiful image. A man catching snowflakes instead of fish. There might be no fish in fact in this icy desert.
     
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    sound shift

    Senior Member
    English - England
    It's difficult to imagine. You can fish lakes and rivers but you can't fish snow - or does it mean that the boat is surrounded by ice on which snow has fallen? Poets have more latitude, but I don't have a clear image of what is happening here. If the Chinese version says that it is snowing, the English version should read "Is fishing in snow in a lonely boat".
     

    mr cat

    Senior Member
    English - England
    I think there is poetical ambiguity in the original;
    Liu Zongyuan’s autobiographical poem, “River Snow,” is considered an example of how a few words can be used to convey a great deal of meaning.
    << Chinese deleted. >> A thousand hills, but no birds in flight,Ten thousand paths, with no person's tracks.A lonely boat, a straw-hatted old man,Fishing alone in the cold river snow.or
    A thousand mountains without a bird.Ten thousand miles with no trace of man.A boat. An old man in a straw raincoat,Alone in the snow, fishing in the freezing river.(Kenneth Rexroth, trans.)

    http://www.newworldencyclopedia.org/entry/Liu_Zongyuan
     
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    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Chinese poetry can often only be understood with a lot of cultural and literary context. The average English speaker (including me) doesn't have that context, and it's impossible to convey it in a translation. We may recognize the beauty of the image, and get a general idea of what the poet is trying to say, but we would not really understand the meaning.
     

    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    Chinese poetry is more like Chinese painting: an image or set of images. They often appeared on the paintings. The snow can be a separate image from fishing, I agree, still very powerful.
     

    sdgraham

    Senior Member
    USA English
    Chinese poetry is more like Chinese painting: an image or set of images. They often appeared on the paintings. The snow can be a separate image from fishing, I agree, still very powerful.
    Going back to the question of "Can you fish snow?"
    Trying to remember that the original question is one of the English language and not of poetic mysticism, the unambiguous answer is "no, fish don't live in snow and fishing in snow is nonsense although one might fish through snow collecting on slush on water where the temperature is borderline freezing."
     

    Egmont

    Senior Member
    English - U.S.
    Well, if you can ice fish, why can't you snow fish? ...
    For one thing, English isn't entirely logical in this regard (or in many others). If "trout fishing" is fishing for trout, shouldn't "ice fishing" be fishing for ice? If I ask my neighbor where he was yesterday, and he says "I went ice fishing," should I ask him if he caught any? :D
     

    gladorient

    Senior Member
    Chinese
    My understanding of the original Chinese sentence is: fishing in a snowstorm. The trouble is that in Chinese "fish snow" can mean both fish some snow and fish in snow. That is why I ask can you say fish snow in English.
     

    LilianaB

    Banned
    Lithuanian
    I think in Chinese poetry things are supposed to be ambiguous, like in most poetry. So it is probably fishing and then snow, which can either be an image of fishing followed by an image of snow or an image of fishing snow or both, fishing snow and snow around. Sometimes ambiguity is intentional in poetry. An image of fishing snow will be for me an image of a fisherman who is either catching snowflakes or is fishing, metaphorically the snow which covers the frozen lake as there is nothing else to fish, possibly. To me the metaphor would not be strange at all.
     

    JamesM

    Senior Member
    Sometimes ambiguity is intentional in poetry. An image of fishing snow will be for me an image of a fisherman who is either catching snowflakes or is fishing, metaphorically the snow which covers the frozen lake as there is nothing else to fish, possibly.

    Ah yes! I can see those interpretations. Thanks.

    I think in Chinese poetry things are supposed to be ambiguous, like in most poetry. So it is probably fishing and then snow, which can either be an image of fishing followed by an image of snow or an image of fishing snow or both, fishing snow and snow around.

    Yes, but this is in English. Unless the person knew it was a Chinese translation I think it would only come across as your interpretations in the previous quote.
     

    Hermione Golightly

    Senior Member
    British English
    I have no idea what anybody is talking about. Just kidding.:)

    "Fishing in a snowstorm" sounds exactly right to me. Not that I know what I am talking about.

    Hermione
     

    brampton

    Member
    English - English RP
    For a near-literal translation, one would need something very longwinded:-- In a lonely boat, an old fisherman, in bamboo hat and straw coat, is fishing in the cold snowy river.

    There are both printed and online texts and translations of some of the Tang Shi San Bai Shou (300 Tang poems), and the standard translation is that of Witter Bynner (1929). River Snow is translated thus:--

    A hundred mountains and no bird,
    A thousand paths without a footprint;
    A little boat, a bamboo cloak,
    An old man fishing in the cold river-snow.


    In the US and other cold countries, ice fishing is traditional. Even within cities such as Madison, Wisconsin, people build huts on the lake, and use little stoves. And alcohol, of course. However, one could hardly take a boat. A motor vehicle. A sledge.
     

    airportzombie

    Senior Member
    English - CaE/AmE
    Lastly, Prof. Xu* uses creatively "fishing snow" instead of "fishing in snow" so as to better show the loneliness and loftiness of the fisherman, symbolic of the Chinese intellectual. The birdless and untraveled mountains and snow-covered river shores provide a background which looks so cold and dreary that the cold-proof fisherman seems lonely and lofty, all the lonelier and loftier for he is fishing snow instead of fishing in snow.

    It all boils down to context, subjectivity and creativity when translating. Even this quote is an interpretation of someone else's interpretation of someone else's work. Compare Xu's translation (below) with Bynner's (post #22). I'm sure if Liu Zongyuan were alive today and he reread the poem he wrote over one thousand years ago, he would probably see it differently, even ever so slightly, from what he originally intended.

    So, to answer the OP's question (and to keep within topic since how a piece of work is translated from Chinese to English is outside the scope of this forum), "a fisherman is fishing snow" on its own does not make any sense to me. In the context of a poem, it gives me a touching mental image. In the greater context of what I was able to find regarding the poet and his life, and a translator's subjectivity, it has overtones of socio-political tension and defiance.

    ---
    * Although Xu Yuanchong's translation (1998) of Liu Zongyuan's poem isn't the exact one in the original post, it uses the phrase "fishing snow" (ironically it's called "Fishing in Snow"...but I don't know if that's a mistake by the author of the thesis or if it is Xu's own translation).

    FISHING IN SNOW
    From hill to hill no bird in flight,
    From path to path no man in sight;
    A straw-cloak'd man afloat, behold!
    Is fishing snow on river cold.​
     

    suzi br

    Senior Member
    English / England
    Thanks airportzombie, a delightful link and comment from you.

    (btw I thought fishing snow sounded just fine in the context of the little bit of poetry quited by the OP.)
     
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