Selected Poems from Royal Conservatory Songs of Western Han Dynasty (206 B.C. - 8
translated by John A. Turner
The Dew That on Shallot-leaves Lies
How soon in sunlight dries
The dew that on shallot-leaves lies!
Yet the same dew,
Though now 'tis dry,
Tomorrow morn will fall anew.
But when shall mortal men,
If once they die,
Ever return again?
Green are the garden mallows! Soon
The morning dews will be a-drying.
Though wide the blithe Spring shed his boon,
A radiant world revivifying:
Yet dread I Autumn's coming on,
-- Sere yellow leaves of blossoms flying.
Our brooks that eastward reach the sea,
When to the West shall they return?
If Youth in sloth should wasted be,
Old Age can only grieve and mourn.
* "Long-song Lay" is a literal translation of the title. "Long-song Lay" and "Short-song Lay" are names of genres, both dealing with the transiency of human life. "Long" and "short" do not refer to the length or shortness of the poem, but to the degree of sonority or lightness in the music to which it was sung.
Fighting South of the Castle
They fought south of the Castle,
They died north of the wall.
They died in the moors and were not buried.
Their flesh was the food of crows.
"Tell the crows we are not afraid;
We have died in the moors and cannot be buried.
Crows, how can our bodies escape you?"
The waters flowed deep
And the rushes in the pool were dark.
The riders fought and were slain:
Their horses wander neighing.
By the bridge there was a house*.
Was it south, was it north?
The harvest was never gathered.
How can we give you your offerings?
You served your Prince faithfully,
Though all in vain.
I think of you, faithful soldiers;
Your service shall not be forgotten.
For in the morning you went out to battle
And at night you did not return.
* There is no trace of it left. This passage describes the havoc of war. The harvest has not been gathered: therefore corn-offerings cannot be made to the spirits of the dead.
The Eastern Gate
I went out at the eastern gate:
I never thought to return.
But I came back to the gate with my heart full of sorrow.
There was not a peck of rice in the bin:
There was not a coat hanging on the pegs.
So I took my sword and went towards the gate.
My wife and child clutched at my coat and wept:
"Some poeple want to be rich and grand:
I only want to share my porridge with you.
Above, we have the blue waves of the sky:
Below, the yellow face of this little child."
"Dear wife, I cannot stay.
Soon it will be too late.
When one is growing old
One cannot put things off."
At Fifteen I Went with the Army
At fifteen I went with the army,
At fourscore I came home.
On the way I met a man from the village,
I asked him who there was at home.
"That over there is your house,
All covered over with trees and bushes."
Rabbits had run in at the dog-hole,
Pheasants flew down from the beams of the roof.
In the courtyard was growing some wild grain;
All by the well, some wild mallows.
I'll boil the grain and make porridge,
I'll pluck the mallows and make soup.
Soup and porridge are both cooked,
But there is no one to eat them with.
I went out and looked towards the east,
While tears fell and wetted my clothes.