Song of the Conscripts
Chariots rumble and horses grumble.
The conscripts march with bow and arrows at the waist.
Their fathers, mothers, wives and children come in haste
To see them off; the bridge is shrouded in dust they’ve raised.
They clutch at their coats, stamp the feet and bar the way;
Their grief cries loud and strikes the cloud straight, straightaway.
An onlooker by roadside asks an enrollee.
“The conscription is frequent,” only answers he.
Some went north at fifteen to guard the rivershore,
And were sent west to till the land at forty.
The elder bound their young heads when they went away;
Just home, they’re sent to the frontier though their hair’s gray.
The field on borderland becomes a sea of blood;
The emperor’s greed for land is still at high flood.
Have you not heard
Two hundred districts east of the Hua Mountains lie,
Where briers and brambles grow in villages far and nigh?
Although stout women can wield the plough and the hoe,
Thorns and weeds in the east as in the west o’ergrow.
The enemy are used to hard and stubborn fight;
Our men are driven just like dogs or fowls in flight.
“You are kind to ask me.
To complain I’m not free.
In winter of this year
Conscription goes on here.
The magistrates for taxes press.
How can we pay them in distress?
If we had know sons bring no joy,
We would have preferred girl to boy.
A daughter can be wed to a neighbor, alas!
A son can only be buried under the grass!”
Have you not seen On borders green
Bleached bones since olden days unburied on the plain?
The old ghosts weep and cry, while the new ghosts complain;
The air is loud with screech and scream in gloomy rain.