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  • Julia Min

吴中田妇叹 The Complaint of a Peasant Woman at Huzhou

吴中田妇叹 (和贾收韵)

原作: 苏轼(字子瞻, 号东坡居士; 11世纪北宋)

旧版英译:戈登.奥赛茵, 闵晓红, 黄海鹏(1990)

新版英译及赏析: 闵晓红(2023)


今年粳稻熟苦迟,庶见霜风来几时。

霜风来时雨如泻,杷头出菌镰生衣。

眼枯泪尽雨不尽,忍见黄穗卧青泥!

茅苫一月垅上宿,天晴获稻随车归。


汗流肩赪载入市,价贱乞与如糠粞。

卖牛纳税拆屋炊,虑浅不及明年饥。

官今要钱不要米,西北万里招羌儿。

龚黄满朝人更苦,不如却作河伯妇。


The Complaint of a Peasant Woman at Huzhou

- To echo the rhymes of Jia Shou’s poem


written by: Su Shi (11th AC, social name 'Dongpo')

old En. trans. by G. Osing, J. Min & H. Huang (1990)

new En. trans.+ annot. by Julia Min ( Feb. 2023)


My field of sinica rice won’t make it this year.

The frosty wind is here before the crops mature.

To make it worse, the killing rain starts to pour.

My sickle’s rusted, the rake mossed all over.

To see a harvest in mud I can hardly bear.

For a month I live onsite to drain the water.

The rain is endless, but dried my eyes of tears.

As it clears I reap the yield in sweat and pain,

Loading my cart down and carrying it to town.


Then I found the price as low as chaff there.

The tax payment takes cash not grains this year,

Treating the Huns thousands of miles northwest.

I have to sell my cow and wreck my house here,

to settle the tax and get wood for winter.

Nothing’s left, what shall I do for next year?

They say the Court’s filled with virtuous courtiers

Like Gong and Huang, yet my life is no better

Than the sacrificed wife to Yellow River.

Notes:

1. To echo the rhymes of, ‘heshi’ or heyun’, a poem composed in the same rhyming pattern as another poem to show appreciation; I have not been able to find anything like this in the English world, so I call it ‘an echoe poem’, or here in full, ‘to echo the rhymes of’.

2. The Huns: a nationality on the northwest of the Song territory. There had been disorders and invasions along the northwest borders and the policy of Wang, Anshi, the leader of the New Law, was to pacify the Huns by offering money and silk. It was this unintelligent weak attitude that enraged many patriotic people of the time.

3. Lord Gong and Lord Huang: Lord Gong Sui and Lord Huang Bai, two highly respected officials from the Han Dynasty;

4. Yellow River: here refers to the God of the Yellow River to whom a sacrifice was made in time of flood in ancient China. It was believed a beautiful girl, drowned to be the sacrificed wife, could please the river god and stop the flood. Similar things happen also in other countries at ancient time.


Appreciation:

This poem was written in 1072 in Huzhou, about 80 kilometres from Hangzhou, an advanced agriculture region. It’s overtly political satire using a peasant’s tone for the experience, like Jonathan Swift’s Modest Proposal. The subject matter focuses on the common people – the miseries of the farmers saddled with armaments and with high taxes, yet no relief from an indifferent government even in times of natural disaster. The New Law proved to be a hasty effort, resulting in severe consequences in many parts of the country. For a change, the peasants are required to pay their taxes in cash, not in commodities. Such theme was quite popular during this time. Every Song courtier from the Royal Court, as well as every official despatched to districts, has a taste for poetry as it’s part of the Imperial Exam, a gateway to become a civil servant. You could imagine the impact of a collective output of poems by high officials in the gentlemen’s society, on the top of the many reports to the Emperor.


Interesting to know this poem was versed in the same rhyme as Su Shi’s friend Jia Shou’s poem. Soon after, Su Shi’s brother Su Zhe echoed with a new poem in the same rhyming pattern to this one. It’s an intellectual game very popular back then.


Reference:

1. Blooming Alone in Winter by Gordon Osing, Julia Min and Huang Haipeng,published by the People's Publication House Henan Province in 1990 (《寒心未肯随春态》戈登.奥赛茵,闵晓红,黄海鹏) ("My field of japonica rice won’t make it this year;/ Any night now come the killing frost and wind,/ And with the wind will surely come great rains./ The rakes will rot and cobwebs grow in our sickles/ I’m exhausted with drying my eyes and endless rains.// I can’t bear the sight of the harvest dead in the mud./I lived in my fields for a month digging ditches for drains./ As soon as it quit I came back with my cart loaded down./I sweated the pain in my shoulders and got it to town./ But the price was so low at the market it could have been chaff./ The cattle paid taxes and I burned the rafters for lunch.// So much for this year and forget food for the winter./ It’s cash not rice the boys in the capital need./ How else will they pay for the army they need in the north!/Judge Gong and Judge Huang can’t hear all the bitterest sad cases./ My life’s good as being the river God’s sacrificed wife.")

2. pictures from Google;

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