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Classical Chinese

086 杜甫 兵車行 translation - Ballad of the Army Carts, by Dufu

This is a translation and annotation of the poem 兵車行 (Bīng Chē Xíng) by the Tang dynasty poet 杜甫 (Dù Fǔ). 兵車行 is #86 in the collection 300 Tang Poems (唐詩三百首)”). The translation aims to be literal and close to the original, not idiomatic.

The poem is in the form of a popular ballad, using varied line lengths between three and seven characters. The ballad form also includes use of stock phrases, and quite a high amount of repetition.

兵車行

bīng chē xíng

  • 車轔轔 chē lín lín [cart] [rumble] [rumble] Carts rumble. _The character 轔 is used for the rumbling of wheels._
  • 馬蕭蕭 mǎ xiāo xiāo [horse] [whinny] [whinny] Horses whinny. _Doubling the character 蕭 is frequently used in Chinese poetry to describe the noise of animals._
  • 行人弓箭各在腰 xíng rén gōng jiàn gè zài yāo [service] [man] [bow] [arrow] [each] [at] [waist] Conscripted men, bows and arrows on each waist.
  • 爺孃妻子走相送 yè niáng qī zǐ zǒu xiāng sòng [father] [mother] [wife] [child] [walk] [them] [see off] Fathers, mothers, wives and children walk to see them off. _相 here is a generic pronoun._
  • 塵埃不見咸陽橋 chén āi bú jiàn xiān yáng qiáo [dust] [dirt] [not] [see] [_Xian_] [_yang_] [bridge] Through the dust and dirt, one cannot see Xianyang bridge.
  • 牽衣頓足攔道哭 qiān yī dùn zú lán dào kū [pull] [clothes] [stamp] [feet] [obstruct] [way] [weep] Pulling at clothes, stamping feet, blocking the way, or weeping.
  • 哭聲直上干雲霄 kū shēng zhí shàng gān yún xiāo [weep] [sound] [straight] [up] [hit] [cloud] [firmament] Weeping; the sound of it goes straight up, hitting the clouds of the firmament.
  • 道旁過者問行人 dào páng guò zhě wèn xíng rén [way] [side] [pass] [-er] [ask] [service] [man] On the way, a passer-by questions the conscripted men. _The passerby is Du Fu._
  • 行人但云點行頻 xíng rén dàn yún diǎn xíng pín [service] [man] [only] [say] [mark] [service] [frequent] The conscripted men only say, “Being marked down for service is frequent. _點行 here is something like 'to mark down for service', i.e. 'to be mobilised'._
  • 或從十五北防河 huò cóng shí wǔ běi fāng hé [some] [from] [ten] [five] [north] [guard] [river] Some of us from fifteen went north to guard the river.
  • 便至四十西營田 biàn zhì sì shí xī yīng tián [even] [reach] [four] [ten] [west] [army] [farm] And even on reaching forty, went West to the army farms. _營田 refers to an ancient system of Chinese garrisons, where soldiers would farm important territory when not fighting so that outposts could be self-sufficient indefinitely._
  • 去時里正與裹頭 qù shí lǐ zhèng yǔ guǒ tóu [go] [time] [village][head] [give] [wrap] [head] When it was time to go, the village chief wrapped our heads for us. _[里正](http://www.zdic.net/cd/ci/7/ZdicE9Zdic87Zdic8C311851.htm "Meaning of 里正") is a binome meaning 'head of the village'. 裹頭 refers to soldiers at this time wearing head-cloths. The implication is that these recruits were too young to know how to tie it up on their own, so the village head did it for them._
  • 歸來頭白還戍邊 guī lái tóu bái hái shù biān [return] [come] [head] [white] [still] [garrison] [border] Coming back with heads white, still we garrisoned the border.
  • 邊亭流血成海水 biān tíng liú xuě chéng hǎi shuǐ [border] [outpost] [flow] [blood] [form] [ocean] [water] At the border outposts, the flowing blood forms an ocean.
  • 武皇開邊意未已 wǔ huáng kāi biān yì wèi yǐ [_Wu_] [emperor] [open] [border] [desire] [not yet] [stop] Emperor Wu’s desire to expand the borders has not yet ceased. _武皇 is Emperor Han Wudi, but this is actually a thinly disguised reference to the Emperor in Du Fu's time, Xuanzong._
  • 君不聞漢家山東二百州 jūn bù wén hàn jiā shān dōng ér bǎi zhōu [lord] [not] [hear] [_Han_] [nation] [mountain] [east] [two] [hundred] [prefecture] Sir, have you not heard, in the Han nation, east of the mountains, in two hundred prefectures,
  • 千村萬落生荊杞 qiān cūn wàn luò shēng jīng qǐ [thousand] [village] [ten thousand] [hamlet] [grow] [thorns-brambles][] In thousands of villages and ten thousand hamlets grow thorns and brambles. _[村落](http://www.zdic.net/cd/ci/7/ZdicE6Zdic9DZdic9182998.htm "Meaning of 村落") is a binome meaning 'village or hamlet', which has been split in this line. [荊杞](http://www.zdic.net/cd/ci/9/ZdicE8Zdic8DZdic86101543.htm "Meaning of 荊杞") is another binome meaning 'thorns and brambles' (it sounds very similar to 荆棘)._
  • 縱有健婦把鋤犁 zòng yǒu jiàn fù bǎ chú lí [even if] [have] [healthy] [woman] [handle] [hoe] [plough] Even if there are healthy women to handle the hoeing and ploughing,
  • 禾生隴畝無東西 hé shēng lǒng mǔ wú dōng xī [crop] [grow] [fields][] [not have] [east] [west] The crops grow in fields but there’s no East or West. _[隴畝](http://www.zdic.net/cd/ci/7/ZdicE9Zdic99Zdic8759539.htm "Meaning of 隴畝") is a binome meaning 'fields'. This line is quite difficult. [Hawkes](http://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/0198154305/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&tag=easasistu-21&linkCode=as2&camp=1634&creative=19450&creativeASIN=0198154305 "Little Primer of Tu Fu, David Hawkes") translates it as 'the crops grow just anywhere', and Wilson and Zhang as 'crops are planted in the field to no avail'. It seems to mean that the crops are so haphazard that East can't be distinguished from West._
  • 況復秦兵耐苦戰 kuàng fù qín bīng nài kǔ zhàn [moreover] [again] [_Qin_] [soldier] [can endure] [bitter] [war] Moreover for Qin soldiers, who can endure bitter warfare, _That is, the situation is worse still for soldiers of Qin._
  • 被驅不異犬與雞 bèi qū búyì quǎn yǔ jī [(passive)] [drive] [not] [different] [dog] [or] [fowl] and are driven on, no different to dogs or fowl.
  • 長者雖有問 zhǎng zhě suí yǒu wèn [elder] [one who is] [although] [have] [ask] You sir, although you have enquiries, _長者 is a polite expression, something like 'you, sir'. Literally it's 'elder one'._
  • 役夫敢申恨 yì fū gǎn shēn hèn [conscript] [man] [dare] [state] [hate] Can a conscripted man dare to state his resentment?
  • 且如今年冬 qiě rú jīn nián dōng [for example][] [present] [year] [winter] For example, this year’s winter; _[且如](http://www.zdic.net/cd/ci/5/ZdicE4ZdicB8Zdic947174.htm "Meaning of 且如") means 'such as' or 'for example'._
  • 未休關西卒 wèi xiū guān xī zú [not yet] [rest] [_Guanxi_][] [soldiers] They have not yet relieved the Guanxi soldiers. _關西 is the area around Chang'an (now Xi'an)._
  • 縣官急索租 xiàn guān jí suǒ zū [county] [official] [urgent] [seek] [tax] The county officials urgently seek taxes;
  • 租稅從何出 zū shuì cóng hé chū [land tax][] [from] [what] [come out] But these land taxes - from where can they come? _租稅 is a binome meaning 'land taxes' (composed of characters for 'tax' and 'duties')._
  • 信知生男惡 xìn zhī shēng nán è [true] [know] [give birth] [male] [bad] Truly, know that bearing a son is bad.
  • 反是生女好 fǎn shì shēng nǚ hǎo [contrary] [is] [give birth] [female] [good] On the contrary, it is bearing a daughter that is good.
  • 生女猶得嫁比鄰 shēng nǚ yóu dé jià bǐ lín [give birth] [female] [still] [get] [marry] [neighbour][] Bear a daughter, and one still gets to marry her to a neighbour.
  • 生男埋沒隨百草 shēng nán mái mò suí bǎi cǎo [give birth] [male] [bury] [have not] [follow] [hundred] [grasses] Bear a son, and he will be without burial, with the hundred grasses. _This means that the son will die somewhere unknown and lie there unburied._
  • 君不見青海頭 jūn bú jiàn qīng hǎi tóu [lord] [not] [see] [_Qinghai_][] [side] Sir, have you not seen the Qinghai shores? _青海 here is not the modern province, but [Qinghai Lake](http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qinghai_Lake "Lake Kukunor - Wikipedia"), the largest lake in China._
  • 古來白骨無人收 gǔ lái bái gǔ wú rén shōu [old] [come] [white] [bone] [not have] [man] [collect] From old come forth white bones, and no-one to collect them.
  • 新鬼煩冤舊鬼哭 xīn guǐ fán yuān jiú guǐ kū [new] [ghost] [vexed] [grievance] [old] [ghost] [weep] The new ghosts are vexed by their grievances, the old ghosts weep.
  • 天陰雨濕聲啾啾 tiān yīn yǔ shī shēng jiū jiū [sky] [overcast] [rain] [wet] [voice] [wail] [wail] From the sky, overcast, the rain wets the voices, wailing, wailing.

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