Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, there are still two cups at my table.


Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Tang Dynasty Poems, #77: Song of an Old General

The Tang Dynasty was a high point of culture in ancient China. Especially esteemed were poems. There was no home coming or leave taking; no event too small to not be commemorated with a poem.

Some of the best poems of that period have been collected into an anthology known as The 300 Tang Dynasty Poems. A online version of the anthology may be found here. Today we have #77: Song of an Old General.


SONG OF AN OLD GENERAL
When he was a youth of fifteen or twenty,
He chased a wild horse, he caught him and rode him,
He shot the white-browed mountain tiger,
He defied the yellow-bristled Horseman of Ye.
Fighting single- handed for a thousand miles,
With his naked dagger he could hold a multitude.
...Granted that the troops of China were as swift as heaven's thunder
And that Tartar soldiers perished in pitfalls fanged with iron,
General Wei Qing's victory was only a thing of chance.
And General Li Guang's thwarted effort was his fate, not his fault.
Since this man's retirement he is looking old and worn:
Experience of the world has hastened his white hairs.
Though once his quick dart never missed the right eye of a bird,
Now knotted veins and tendons make his left arm like an osier.
He is sometimes at the road-side selling melons from his garden,
He is sometimes planting willows round his hermitage.
His lonely lane is shut away by a dense grove,
His vacant window looks upon the far cold mountains
But, if he prayed, the waters would come gushing for his men
And never would he wanton his cause away with wine.
...War-clouds are spreading, under the Helan Range;
Back and forth, day and night, go feathered messages;
In the three River Provinces, the governors call young men --
And five imperial edicts have summoned the old general.
So he dusts his iron coat and shines it like snow-
Waves his dagger from its jade hilt in a dance of starry steel.
He is ready with his strong northern bow to smite the Tartar chieftain --
That never a foreign war-dress may affront the Emperor.
...There once was an aged Prefect, forgotten and far away,
Who still could manage triumph with a single stroke.


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