Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Dufu: beyond the frontier

>> Nine Poems <<

Full of bitterness,taken
From our homes to be sent past
Far western frontiers, knowing well
That with time limits set, all
Infringements will be punished;
Wondering why the Emperor who
Controls so vast a territory
Should want to extend it; cut off
From the love of home folk,
We hold back tears, and shouldering
Spears, are forced to march away.

Long since I left home, so
No more a raw recruit;
The warmth of family love
Still remains with me, though
I know that at any moment
I might die; bridle falling off,
Reins still in my hand,
Or when leaping down a hillside
To seize the enemy flag below.

Grinding weapons in the gurgling stream,
A sound comes through
The swishing water as it
Suddenly turns red from hands
Cut by the blade; the sharp pain
Joining up with my bitterness;
Yet we are picked men who have
Promised to serve the Emperor,
So why should one complain?
We Shall do much, gain fame, even
Though bones left on the battlefield
Quickly change to dust again.

You are in charge of conscription
And I must go to distant frontiers,
That is that; so shall I march on,
Live or die!
Needless for you to scowl
And bully more; perhaps too,
I shall meet
Someone I know, and give him a letter
To bring back; sad that I must leave
My home folk without even the hope
Of sharing our hardships together.

Away into the distance
They march us to join
Frontier armies, where
For some it is easier
Than for others; how can
A commander know all?
At one river we suddenly
See the tribesmen in
Their many units; so far
I have been thought little of;
When can I show how bravely
I fight for our land?

In picking bows
We prefer taut ones;
In choosing arrows we take
The longest; in killing
The enemy we go first
For their horses; in taking
Prisoners we first capture
Commanders; yet there comes
To be a limit to killing;
A country must have boundaries
And hold them; useless to slaughter
Many people to make a victory.

I urge my horse on through
The snow, as our troops enter
Mountain ravines, then leading it,
Frozen fingers hold on to rocks as we
Wind around precipices; how long
Since I left home, when shall I
Finish building this wall
And be able to return?
Evening, and the clouds go south,
I would that I could grasp then
In both hands, to go along with them.

(8) The tribesmen muster in strength,
Hurling themselves against our defences;
All around, as far as one can see, the wind
Is heavy with the dust of their cavalry;
But our strength is sufficient, and with ease
We rout them, bringing back one
Of their great leaders as prisoner,
Roped around the necek, and delivering him
Into the gates of our fort; but we
Are just soldiers and fighting our task --
No sense in taking one victory too seriously.

A soldier for ten years or more
I have some credit; honour forbids
Me to be as others seeking privilege;
Now wars are raging on Central Plains
As well as frontier struggles against
The tribesmen; at a time like this
A soldier must think of other things
Than rank and a life of ease; with
Fighting in every quarter, how can
Its bitterness be escaped?

Tu-Fu (Du-fu)
(712-770, Tang Dynasty)
"Beyond the Frontier (Nine Poems)"
Translated by Rewi Alley
Tu Fu, Selected Poems, compiled by Feng Chih
Hongkong: Commercial Press, 1977, pp. 7-11