Scholars say the poem “Song of the Wagons” was written by Du Fu (712-770) in 750 or 751. This was a few years before the start of the An Lushan Rebellion. This is one of the earliest surviving poems of Du Fu. Here is the poem in Chinese (simplified):
The martial emperor’s dream of expansion has no end
This poem has been translated into English by a number of scholars. The earliest translation I know of was in 1967 by David Hawkes. I don’t know who made this particular translation.
The wagons rumble and roll,
The horses whinny and neigh,
The conscripts each have bows and arrows at their waists.
Their parents, wives and children run to see them off,
So much dust’s stirred up, it hides the Xianyang bridge.
They pull clothes, stamp their feet and, weeping, bar the way,
The weeping voices rise straight up and strike the clouds.
A passer-by at the roadside asks a conscript why,
The conscript answers only that drafting happens often.
“At fifteen, many were sent north to guard the river,
Even at forty, they had to till fields in the west.
When we went away, the elders bound our heads,
Returning with heads white, we’re sent back off to the frontier.
At the border posts, shed blood becomes a sea,
The martial emperor’s dream of expansion has no end.
Have you not seen the two hundred districts east of the mountains,
Where thorns and brambles grow in countless villages and hamlets?
Although there are strong women to grasp the hoe and the plough,
They grow some crops, but there’s no order in the fields.
What’s more, we soldiers of Qin withstand the bitterest fighting,
We’re always driven onwards just like dogs and chickens.
Although an elder can ask me this,
How can a soldier dare to complain?
Even in this winter time,
Soldiers from west of the pass keep moving.
The magistrate is eager for taxes,
But how can we afford to pay?
We know now having boys is bad,
While having girls is for the best;
Our girls can still be married to the neighbors,
Our sons are merely buried amid the grass.
Have you not seen on the border of Qinghai,
The ancient bleached bones no man’s gathered in?
The new ghosts are angered by injustice, the old ghosts weep,
Moistening rain falls from dark heaven on the voices’ screeching.”
Every human being must speak out against war. It is never justified. It is errors compounded. It is failure compounded. War degrades humanity’s ability to navigate an increasingly difficult world. War discourages humanity from believing it can rise and unite to become a strong race, which it must. The martial emperor’s dream of expansion has no end? Humanity must awaken.
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