Du Fu: The Conscription (From Chinese)

Written in 759 during the height of the An Lushan rebellion. "Stonemoat" (Shíháo) is a village in Henan province. Press-gangs were combing the villages, looking for men who could be forced into military service to replace the imperial army's massive losses against An Lushan.

The Conscription
By Du Fu
Translated by A.Z. Foreman

So I stopped at sundown to rest in Stonemoat Village
 They came in the night  to collar more men for war
The old inn-keeper slipped out over a wall
 While his elderly wife went out to the front door
Such angry curses  the pressgang officer bellowed
 Such pitiful tears the woman sobbed away
I listened to her proffer regretful pleas:
 I had three sons all serving at posts in Yeh1
One of my boys  just told me in a letter
 The other two  were killed in the attack
The one alive  won't last on borrowed time
 The dead are gone  dead boys do not come back 
There aren't any more men left to this household
 Just my grandson still nursing with his mother
My daughter cannot leave him here just yet
 And a shredded skirt  is all she has for cover 
I'm an old woman  I know my strength is gone
 But please let me come  tonight with your convoys
If you've urgent need  in Heyang2 I can be there
 In time to cook  some breakfast for our brave boys
As night drew on  all sounds of speaking stopped
 I thought I heard a whimper being choked down
Rising at dawn  to get back on the road  
 I took my leave  of the old man alone 

Notes:

1 Yèchéng — city about 300 miles northeast of Stonemoat, where imperial forces had suffered a severe defeat at the hands of the rebels earlier in the year

2 Héyáng — name of a place about 125 miles down the Yellow River from Stonemoat, and the site of an encampment for imperial forces that year.

The Original:

石壕吏

暮投石壕村,
有吏夜捉人。
老翁逾墻走,
老婦出門看。

吏呼一何怒,
婦啼一何苦。
聽婦前致詞:
三男鄴城戍,

一男附書至,
二男新戰死。
存者且偷生,
死者長已矣。

室中更無人,
惟有乳下孫。
有孫母未去,
出入無完裙。

老嫗力雖衰,
請從吏夜歸。
急應河陽役,
猶得備晨炊。

夜久語聲絕,
如聞泣幽咽。
天明登前途,
獨與老翁別。

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