Song of an Old General
- Poetry of Wang Wei


- Last updated: 2024-03-18 15:45:58

Song of an Old General by Wang Wei

少年十五二十時, 步行奪得胡馬騎。

射殺山中白額虎, 肯數鄴下黃鬚兒。

一身轉戰三千里, 一劍曾當百萬師。

漢兵奮迅如霹靂, 虜騎崩騰畏蒺藜。

衛青不敗由天幸, 李廣無功緣數奇。

自從棄置便衰朽, 世事蹉跎成白首。

昔時飛箭無全目, 今日垂楊生左肘。

路旁時賣故侯瓜, 門前學種先生柳。

蒼茫古木連窮巷, 寥落寒山對虛牖。

誓令疏勒出飛泉, 不似潁川空使酒。

賀蘭山下陣如雲, 羽檄交馳日夕聞。

節使三河募年少, 詔書五道出將軍。

試拂鐵衣如雪色, 聊持寶劍動星文。

願得燕弓射大將, 恥令越甲鳴吾君。

莫嫌舊日雲中守, 猶堪一戰取功勳。

English Translation

When he was a youth of fifteen or twenty,

He chased a wild horse, he caught him and rode him,

He shot the white-browed mountain tiger,

He defied the yellow-bristled Horseman of Ye.

Fighting single- handed for a thousand miles,

With his naked dagger he could hold a multitude.

...Granted that the troops of China were as swift as heaven's thunder

And that Tartar soldiers perished in pitfalls fanged with iron,

General Wei Qing's victory was only a thing of chance.

And General Li Guang's thwarted effort was his fate, not his fault.

Since this man's retirement he is looking old and worn:

Experience of the world has hastened his white hairs.

Though once his quick dart never missed the right eye of a bird,

Now knotted veins and tendons make his left arm like an osier.

He is sometimes at the road-side selling melons from his garden,

He is sometimes planting willows round his hermitage.

His lonely lane is shut away by a dense grove,

His vacant window looks upon the far cold mountains

But, if he prayed, the waters would come gushing for his men

And never would he wanton his cause away with wine.

...War-clouds are spreading, under the Helan Range;

Back and forth, day and night, go feathered messages;

In the three River Provinces, the governors call young men --

And five imperial edicts have summoned the old general.

So he dusts his iron coat and shines it like snow-

Waves his dagger from its jade hilt in a dance of starry steel.

He is ready with his strong northern bow to smite the Tartar chieftain --

That never a foreign war-dress may affront the Emperor.

...There once was an aged Prefect, forgotten and far away,

Who still could manage triumph with a single stroke.


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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