This is a translation of the Chinese poem 東城高且長 (Dōng chéng gāo qiě cháng), the eleventh poem in the Han dynasty collection 古詩十九首 (Nineteen Old Poems).
The Eastern Wall is High and Long
The Eastern wall is high and long,
snaking, winding, rejoining itself.
The turning wind shakes the earth and lifts it,
as the fragrant Autumn grasses lose their colour.
The four seasons change endlessly -
how quickly the year ends!
The falcon harbours a bitter heart,
and the crickets suffer from being cramped.
Cleanse yourself, set your emotions free -
why restrain yourself and hold back?
There are many exquisite women in Yan and Zhao,
the beautiful ones elegant like jade.
The clothing that covers her is fine latticed silk,
as she stands in the house composing a clear melody.
How mournful is the sound -
the strings are tense, the bridge is pressured.
A rush of emotion, she adjusts her composure, *
deep in thought, humming meditation.
In thought we are a pair of flying swallows -
let’s take mud and build a nest under your roof.
_* Literally this line is ‘she adjusts her belt’_
- 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.