The Long War

by Li Bai[1] (ca. 701-762)

They fought last year, by the upper valley of Son-Kan …

This year, by the high ranges of the Leek Mountains,

They are still fighting … fighting!

They wash their swords and armor in the cold waves

of the Tiao-Chih Sea;

                                    Their horses, turning loose over the Tien Mountains,

                                    Seek the meagre grasses in the white snow.

                                    Long, long have they been fighting, full ten thousand Li[2]

away from home;

                                    Their armor is worn out, the soldiers grown old …

                                    O, the warlike Tartars!

                                    To them manslaughter is their plowing,

                                    Plowing, O from ancient times, in the fields of white bones

and yellow sands!

                                    It was in vain that the Emperor of China built the Great Wall,

Hoping to shut out the fiery hordes.

Where the wall stands, down to the Han Dynasty,

The beacon fires keep on burning.

The war will never cease!

The soldiers fight and die in death-grapple on the battle-field,

While their wounded horses howl in lamentation,

Throwing up their heads at the desolate sky;

The grey ravens and hungry vultures tear

And carry away the long bowels of the dead,

Hanging them on the twigs of lifeless trees.

O soldiers that fight long—their blood vanished (in)

           the desert weeds!

                                    But what more have the generals accomplished?

                                    O swords and armor, ye murderous instruments!

                                    If the sages ever employed you, hearken, it was through

painful necessity!

                                    The Son-Kan Valley, the Leek Mountains, the Tiao-Chih Sea,

                                                and the

                                    Tien Mountains are all near or outside the north-western

frontier of China.


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