Watching the Reapers
- Poetry of Bai Juyi


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

Watching the Reapers by Bai Juyi














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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