Watching the Reapers
- Poetry of Bai Juyi

《观刈麦》

- Last updated: 2024-06-11 14:42:41

Watching the Reapers by Bai Juyi
中文原文

田家少闲月,五月人倍忙。

夜来南风起,小麦覆陇黄。

妇姑荷箪食,童稚携壶浆。

相随饷田去,丁壮在南冈。

足蒸暑土气,背灼炎天光。

力尽不知热,但惜夏日长。

复有贫妇人,抱子在其旁。

右手秉遗穗,左臂悬敝筐。

听其相顾言,闻者为悲伤。

田家输税尽,拾此充饥肠。

今我何功德,曾不事农桑。

吏禄三百石,岁晏有余粮。

念此私自愧,尽日不能忘。


English Translation

Farmers have but little leisure,

but the fifth month is the busiest;

last night there came a strong south wind and the wheat turned to gold in the fields;

came wives and daughters with carrying-poles, 

children with water pots, 

streaming out to the fields to serve the strong lads harvesting;

heat from the earth burned the reapers feet; 

the sun played on their backs like fire,

yet all were so busy they did not care; 

they only feared that the sun would soon set.

And then I saw coming a poor woman carrying her child on her back,

in her right hand some ears she had gleaned, 

in her left a broken basket; 

and I listened to her as she spoke:

"The crop in my home all goes for taxes; only if I glean can I get enough to fill my stomach!"

I look at myself wondering what right have I, 

what special virtue, 

to be given three hundred piculs of rice each year, 

enough to eat with plenty to spare;

I listen and feel shame; 

this I cannot forget.

By Bai Juyi

· PreSidixiang
Why Chinese poems is so special?
The most distinctive features of Chinese poetry are: concision- many poems are only four lines, and few are much longer than eight; ambiguity- number, tense and parts of speech are often undetermined, creating particularly rich interpretative possibilities; and structure- most poems follow quite strict formal patterns which have beauty in themselves as well as highlighting meaningful contrasts.
How to read a Chinese poem?
Like an English poem, but more so. Everything is there for a reason, so try to find that reason. Think about all the possible connotations, and be aware of the different possibilities of number and tense. Look for contrasts: within lines, between the lines of each couplet and between successive couplets. Above all, don't worry about what the poet meant- find your meaning.

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