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