This is a translation of the Chinese poem 去者日以疏 (Qù zhě rì yǐ shū), the fourteenth poem in the Han dynasty collection 古試十九首 (Nineteen Old Poems).
去者日以疏 qù zhě rì yǐ shū [go] [those who] [day] [take] [distant] The departed are more distant daily,
來者日已親 lái zhě rì yǐ qīn [come] [those who] [day] [already] [close] as daily those on their way draw closer.
出郭門直視 chū guō mén zhí shì [leave] [city wall] [gate] [straight] [look] I leave the city gate and look straight out,
但見丘與墳 càn jiàn qiū yǔ fén [only] [see] [mound] [and] [grave] only to see graves in their burial mounds.
古墓犁為田 gǔ mù lí wèi tián [ancient] [tomb] [plow] [as] [field] The ancient tombs have been ploughed into fields,
松柏摧為薪 sōng bǎi cuī wèi xīn [pine] [cypress] [break] [as] [fuel] their pine and cypress trees broken into firewood.
白楊多悲風 bái yáng duō bēi fēng [white] [poplar] [much] [sorrow] [wind] The white poplar, so sorrowful in the wind,
蕭蕭愁殺人 xiāo xiāo chóu shā rén [desolate] [desolate] [worry] [murder] [people] mournful, desolate, and deathly anxious.
思還故里閭 sī huán gù lǐ lǘ [think of] [return] [old] [village] [village gate] I long to return to my native village,
欲歸道無因 yù guī dào wú yīn [desire] [return] [principle] [not have] [reason] yet desiring to return is no excuse.
Notes on this poem
Like a lot of the other poems in this collection, pine, cypress and poplar trees are mentioned. All of these symbolise the grave. This is because they are traditionally used to mark tombs, as they are evergreen and this represents immortality.
The 蕭蕭 (xiāo xiāo) repetition also appears in this poem. Individually, the character means ‘mournful’ or ‘desolate’, and both these meanings were used in the translation above. Another option would be to repeat a single word, or emphasise the phrase in English with ‘so’.
- Chinese Lyricism (Burton Watson) – has a lot of quality translations and analysis.
- Popular Songs and Ballads of Han China (Anne Birrell) – more general insight into verse from this period.
On other websites:
Series: Nineteen Old Poems
- 行行重行行 Translation - Marching On and On
- 青青河畔草 Translation - Green, Green, Grass on the Riverbank
- 青青陵上柏 translation - Green, Green, Cypress on the Mound
- 今日良宴會 translation – Today we hold a splendid feast
- 西北有高樓 translation - A Tall Tower in the Northwest
- 涉江采芙蓉 translation - Crossing the River to Pick Hibiscus
- 明月皎夜光 translation - The Clear Moon Shines Brightly by Night
- 冉冉孤生竹 translation - Frail Bamboo Growing Alone
- 庭中有奇樹 translation - In the Courtyard there is a Strange Tree
- 迢迢牽牛星 translation - So Remote, the Draught Ox Star
- 迴車駕言邁 translation - I turn the carriage, pull the reins and set off
- 東城高且長 translation - The Eastern Wall is High and Long
- 驅車上東門 translation - I Ride My Chariot from the Upper East Gate
- 去者日以疏 translation - The Departed Are More Distant Daily (this article)
- 生年不滿百 translation - The Years of Life Reach Not One Hundred
- 凜凜歲云暮 translation - Bitterly Cold, the Year Ends
- 孟冬寒氣至 translation - In the First Month of Winter, Cold Air Arrives