The chariots go forth to war,
Rumbling, roaring as they go;
The horses neigh and whinny loud,
Tugging at the bit.
The dust swirls up in great dense clouds,
And hides the Han Yang bridge.
In serried ranks the archers march,
A bow and quiver at each waist;
Fathers, mothers, children, wives
All crowd around to say farewell.
Pulling at clothes and stamping feet,
They force the soldiers’ ranks apart,
And all the while their sobs and cries
Reach to the skies above.
"Where do you go to-day ?" a passer-by
Calls to the marching men.
A grizzled old veteran answers him,
Halting his swinging stride:
"At fifteen I was sent to the north
To guard the river against the Hun;
At forty I was sent to camp,
To farm in the west, far, far from home.
When I left, my hair was long and black;
When I came home, it was white and thin.
Today they send me again to the wars,
Back to the north frontier,
By whose gray towers our blood has flowed
In a red tide, like the sea–
And will flow again, for Wu Huang Ti
Is resolved to rule the world.
"Have you not heard how in far Shantung
Two hundred districts lie
With a thousand towns and ten thousand homes
Deserted, neglected, weed-grown?
Husbands fighting or dead, wives drag the plow,
And the grain grows wild in the fields.
The soldiers recruited in Shansi towns
Still fight; but, with spirit gone,
Like chickens and dogs they are driven about,
And have not the heart to complain."
"I am greatly honored by your speech with me.
Dare I speak of my hatreds and grief ?
All this long winter, conscription goes on
Through the whole country, from the east to the west,
And taxes grow heavy. But how can we pay,
Who have nothing to give from our land ?
A son is a curse at a time like this,
And daughters more welcome far;
For, when daughters grow up, they can marry, at least,
And go to live on a neighbor’s land.
But our sons? We bury them after the fight,
And they rot where the grass grows long.
"Have you not seen at far Ching Hai,
By the waters of Kokonor,
How the heaped skulls and bones of slaughtered men
Lie bleaching in the sun?
Their ancient ghosts hear our own ghosts weep,
And cry and lament in turn;
The heavens grow dark with great storm-clouds,
And the specters wail in the rain."