Night at the Tower by Tu Fu

Yin and Yang cut brief autumn days short. Frost and snow
Clear, leaving a cold night open at the edge of heaven.

Marking the fifth watch, grieving drums and horns erupt as
A river of stars, shadows trembling, drifts in Three Gorges.

Pastoral weeping–war heard in how many homes? And tribal
Songs drifting from the last woodcutters and fishermen. . . . .

Chu-ko Liang, Pai-ti: all brown earth in the end. And it
Opens, the story of our lives opens away. . . .vacant, silent.

translated by David Hinton

note: Chu-ko Liang & Pai-ti were both state ministers: one famous, the other infamous. Thus,Tu Fu uses another set of opposites in this poem.

Ch’en-t’ao Lament by Tu Fu

Now fine homes in ten prefectures have dead sons
making water with their blood on Ch’en-t’ao Marsh.

An early winter’s panoramic waste: crystal sky,
the silence of war. Forty thousand dead in a day.

Mongol battalions return. Their arrows bathed blood-
black, drunk in the markets, they sing Mongol songs.

And we face north to mourn, another day conjuring
our army’s appearance passing into hopeful night.

translated by David Hinton

K’uei-chou by Tu Fu

Above K’uei-chou’s wall, a cloud-form village. Below:
wind-tossed sheets of falling rain, a swollen river

Thrashing in the gorge. Thunder and lightning battle.
Kingfisher-gray trees and ashen ivy shroud sun and moon.

War horses can’t compare to those back in quiet pastures.
But of a thousand homes, a bare hundred remain. Ai–

Ai–the widow beaten by life’s toll, grief-torn,
Sobbing in what village where on the autumn plain?

translated by DAvid Hinton

I Climb A Hilltop: anti-war poem from the Book of Songs

I climb a rock-strewn hilltop
and gaze, gaze out toward my
father, O father calling: My child, my child dragged off to war,
no rest all day and all night.
Take care, take care and be ever
homeward, not stuck out there.

I climb a grass-patch hilltop
and gaze, gaze out toward my
mother, O mother calling: My little one, my little one dragged off to war,
no sleep all day and all night.
Take care, take care and be ever
homeward, not lost out there.

I climb some windblown ridge
and gaze, gaze out toward my
brother, O brother calling: My brother, my brother dragged off to war,
formation all day and all night.
Take care, take care and be ever
homeward, not dead out there.

translated by David Hinton

My Love’s Gone Off To War from the Book of Songs

My love’s gone off to war,
who knows how long gone
or where O where.
Chickens settle unto nests,
an evening sun sinks away,
oxen and sheep wander in–
but my love’s gone off to war
and nothing can stop these thoughts of him.

My love’s gone off to war,
not for days or even months,
and who survives such things?
Chickens settle onto perches,
an evening sun sinks away,
oxen and sheep wander home–
but my love’s gone off to war
if hunger and thirst spared him that long.

translated by David Hinton

Recruiting Officer of Shih-hao by Tu Fu

At dusk I sought lodging at Shih-hao village,
When a recruiting officer came to seize men at night.
An old man scaled the wall and fled,
His old wife came out to answer the door.

How furious was the officer’s shout!
How pitiable was the woman’s cry!
I listened as she stepped forward to speak:
“All my three sons have left for garrison duty at Yeh;
From one of them a letter just arrived,
Saying my two sons had newly died in battle.
Survivors can manage to live on,
But the dead are gone forever.
Now there’s no other man in the house,
Only a grandchild at his mother’s breast.
THe child’s mother has gone away;
She has only a tattered skirt to wear.
An old woman I am feeble and weak,
But I will gladly leave with you tonight
To answer the urgent call at Ho-yang–
I can still cook morning gruel for your men.”

The night drew on, but talking stopped;
It seemed I heard only half-concealed sobs.
As I got back on the road at daybreak,
Only the old man was there to see me off.

translated by Irving Y. Lo