Conscripts leaving for the Frontier

BY TU-FU

T'ang Dynasty

Chariots rumbling; horses neighing;
Soldiers shouting martial cries;
Drums are sounding; trumpets braying;
Seas of glittering spears arise.
On each warrior's back are hanging
Deadly arrows, mighty bows;
Pipes are blowing, gongs are clanging,
On they march in serried rows.
Age-bowed parents, sons and daughters
Crowd beside in motley bands;
Here one stumbles, there one falters
Through the clouds of blinding sands.
Wives and mothers sometimes clinging
To their loved ones in the ranks,
Or in grief their bodies flinging
On the dusty crowded flanks.
Mothers', wives', and children's weeping
Rises sad above the din,—
Through the clouds to Heaven creeping—
Justice begging for their kin.
'To what region are they going?'
Asks a stranger passing by;
'To the Yellow River, flowing
Through the desert bare and dry!
'Forced conscription daily snapping
Ties which bind us to our clan;
Forced conscription slowly sapping
All the manhood of the Han.'
And the old man went on speaking
To the stranger from afar:
''Tis the Emperor, glory seeking,
Drives them 'neath his baleful star.
'Guarding river; guarding passes
On the frontier, wild and drear;
Fighting foes in savage masses—
Scant of mercy, void of fear.
'Proclamations, without pity,
Rain upon us day by day,
Till from village, town, and city
All our men are called away.
'Called away to swell the flowing
Of the streams of human blood,
Where the bitter north wind blowing
Petrifies the ghastly flood.
'Guarding passes through the mountains,
Guarding rivers in the plain;
While in sleep, in youth's clear fountain,
Scenes of home come back again.
'But, alas! the dream is leaded
With the morn's recurring grief,
Only few return—grey-headed—
To their homes, for days too brief.
'For the Emperor, still unheeding
Starving homes and lands untilled,
On his fatuous course proceeding,
Swears his camps shall be refilled.
'Hence new levies are demanded,
And the war goes on apace,
Emperor and foemen banded
In the slaughter of the race.
'All the region is denuded
Of its men and hardy boys,
Only women left, deluded
Of life's promise and its joys.
'Yet the prefects clamour loudly
That the taxes must be paid,—
Ride about and hector proudly!
How can gold from stones be made?
'Levy after levy driven,
Treated more like dogs than men,
Over mountains, tempest riven,
Through the salty desert fen.
'There by Hun and Tartar harried—
Ever fighting, night or day;
Wounded, left to die, or carried
Far from kith and kin away.
'Better bring forth daughters only
Than male children doomed to death,
Slaughtered in the desert lonely,
Frozen by the north wind's breath.
'Where their bodies, left unburied,
Strew the plain from west to east,
While above in legions serried
Vultures hasten to the feast.
'Brave men's bones on desert bleaching,
Far away from home and love,
Spirits of the dead beseeching
Justice from the heaven above.'