Old Man of Hsin-feng with a Broken Arm — Warning Against Border Wars

Old man of Hsin-feng, eighty-eight,
head, sidelocks, eyebrows, whiskers all like snow,
great-great-grandson helping him, walks by the tea stall,
left arm leaning on a shoulder, right arm broken.
I ask how many years since he broke his arm,
ask, too, how it came to be broken.
" I hail from Hsin-feng district, " the old man said,
" born in the time of a sage ruler, no battles then,
accustomed to hearing songs and pipes of the Pear Garden Players,
knowing nothing of war flags and lances, bows and arrows.
Then came the great conscription of the T'ien-pao era;
if a family had three sons, one was called up.
Once called, where were they hustled off to?
In the fifth month, off ten thousand miles to Yün-nan.
I heard them say, in Yün-nan the Lu River flows;
when pepper blossom time ends, malarial mists rise up.
Men of our great army wade water warm as soup —
before ten get across, two or three are dead!
In village south, village north, painful sounds of weeping,
sons parting from father and mother, husbands from wives.
And everyone said, of those who go to fight the southern barbarians,
a thousand men, ten thousand — not a one returns!
I was twenty-four at that time
and my last name and first name were in the War Bureau's roster.
Deep in the night, not daring to let anyone know,
in secret I took a big rock and smashed my arm.
No good now for drawing a bow or hoisting banners —
once like this, I'll never be sent to Yün-nan!
Not that shattered bones and torn sinews aren't painful,
but this way, I thought, I'll escape the draft, get to go home.
For sixty long years my arm's been broken;
one limb useless — yes — but one body still whole!
Even now on cold dark nights of wind and rain,
the pain's so great I lie awake till dawn,
lie awake in pain,
but never have regrets,
happy that at least I alone lived to old age —
otherwise, long ago, by the banks of Lu River,
body dead, spirit friendless, no one to collect my bones,
I'd have been just one more ghost in Yün-nan, yearning for home,
wailing, wailing over the mound where ten thousand men lie buried. "
Such were the old man's words,
and I ask you to heed them.
Have you never heard
how Sung K'ai-fu, prime minister in the K'ai-yüan era,
refused to reward border victories lest it encourage the use of arms?
And have you never heard
how the T'ien-pao prime minister, Yang Kuo-chung,
hoped to gain imperial favor through border war victories?
But before victories could be won, he stirred up the people's wrath —
ask the old man of Hsin-feng with the broken arm!
Author of original: 
Po Ch├╝-i
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