Song of the Conscripts
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, straight away.
An onlooker by roadside asks an enrollee.
“The conscription is frequent,” only answers he.
Some went north at fifteen to guard the river shore,
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 known 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.
The poet criticizes the Bright Emperor of the Tang Dynasty for his conscription of soldiers in war.
The poem is divided into two stanzas: the first stanza describes the tragic farewell and the second stanza conveys the plight of the conscripts. The poem is divided into two stanzas: the first stanza is a chronicle of the tragic farewell; the second stanza is a chronicle of the conscripts’ complaints. The poem has a profound ideological content. Through the words of the conqueror to the old man, the poem tells the people’s hatred of war and exposes the long-standing militarism of Emperor Tang Xuanzong, who has caused great disasters to the people through years of warfare. The entire poem is a narrative of emotions, with the narrative sequence echoing back and forth, and the changes in order, and the clever use of transitional lines and idiomatic words, resulting in an evocative artistic effect. The poet created a new theme of music to write about current events, making a pioneering contribution to the new music movement that emerged in the Middle Tang Dynasty.