Du Fu

(712 - 770 / Henan Province / China)

Ballad Of The Press-Gang At Shihao Village


One evening I found lodging in a village where
A press-gang stole by night to seize my aging host,
Who, hearing them, scaled the wall and hid nearby.
Furious, the bailiff bellowed at the gate
Until the woman of the house unbarred the door,
Stepped out, and offered up this pitiful reply:
“Three boys I nursed and raised and, on the selfsame day,
Saw them sent off to the garrison at Yeh.
My oldest boy, he sent a letter by and by
To say the other two were lying in their graves
And he himself was living but a stolen life—
‘O Mother dear, how short we live, how long we die!’
And now there’s not another male under my roof
Besides this man-child nursing at his mother’s breast.
That you could find some use for her I’ll not deny,
But as you see she hardly has a stitch to wear,
And there’s the child to think of—so why not think on this?
Granted I am old and gray yet I am spry
Enough to keep up with the other conscripts, and
I know I’ve strength to serve the men their morning meals.”
With that the voices died, though now and then a cry
Or plaintive sob choked off the silence of the night.
At break of day, when I continued on my way,
No one was left but that old man to say goodbye.

Submitted: Thursday, April 08, 2010
Edited: Monday, May 09, 2011

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