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Category: Poems by – 蔡琰 [文姬] (177-?)
Eighteen Refrains on Tartar Pipes 13,14,15 Cai Yan [Cai Wenji] (ca. 177-?)
Tr. YK Chan 陈耀国译
This late in life my successful repatriation is not expected,
My blouse’s wetted by tears as my Tartar sons are hugged tight.
With the Han emissary and a four-horse-drawn carriage standing by,
Wildly I wail but who cares even when my wailing voices die?
In life-death departure, grieving for my boys the sun shines no more; return them not to me before they grow up?
A step farther away from them my feet cannot move,
Though their images are disappearing, my love for them is not remov’d.
At thirteenth refrain the tempo accelerates and melody turns grave,
No one but me know that I fall apart into an abysmal cave.
Repatriated without my sons for upbringing,
My heart forever starves of all my longings.
Everything thrives or dies according to the seasons,
But my sorrow and bitterness never waive with reasons.
In this whole wide world we’ll ne’er meet again,
Late at night in my dream you two come to me again.
Dreaming of holding your hands I’m split between joy and grief,
Awake my heart pangs never stop to offer me relief.
By fourteenth refrain my sobs and tears mingle,
Like a stream flowing east my thoughts tingle.
The tempo accelerates at fifteenth refrain,
Who’d recognize sulking and anger sound like twain?
Staying in Tartar camp at odds with their custom,
Heaven grants my wish of returning home I fathom.
Repatriating to Han I’m gladly satisfied,
But sadness in my heart is intensified.
The sun and moon shine all over but not on me,
For I can’t bear being separated my sons from me
Under the same sky yet we can ne’er meet,
About each other’s well being where to seek?
Eighteen Refrains on Tartar Pipes 10, 11, 12 Cai Yan [Cai Wenji] (ca. 177-?)
Tr. YK Chan 陈耀国译
Beacons on the Great Wall are ne’er out at ease,
Will fights on the battlefield ever cease?
Day after day killing rampages through the frontier gates,
Night after night gusts whip along moonlit border in haste.
Isolated from homeland news can’t be heard,
Muted sobs of frustration are swallowed and unheard.
A hard life since my separation from those I love,
At sad tenth refrain my tears turn fast into blood.
I loathe dying not because I wish to long live,
For good reasons I don’t take my own life.
Living, so one day to my homeland I’ll return,
If dead, and my bones buried that’s just not a concern.
Day in day out staying in war camp what I’ve done;
Tartar spoils me as I bore him two sons.
Them I nurture without dishonour,
‘Tis a pity they’re brought up off the border.
So it starts for the eleventh refrain,
My grief lingers deep inside unrestrained.
Vernal breezes harmonize in a warming trend,
By virtue of the Han emperor’s grace it tends.
Southern Huns celebrate by song and dance,
For the two nations reconcile and lay down their arms.
Han emissary suddenly brings forth the emperor’s mission,
That’s to send handsome monies for my repatriation.
Joyful of survival and meeting the virtuous son of heaven,
But regrets to leaving young sons without good reason.
At twelfth refrain grief and joy made even,
My mixed emotions are difficult for entailment.
Eighteen Refrains on Tartar Pipes 7, 8, 9 Cai Yan [Cai Wenji] (ca. 177-?)
Tr. YK Chan 陈耀国译
At dusk whining winds on all sides of frontier start,
To whom shall I bare my mournful heart?
By destitute rampart outskirts beacons and tents stretch mile after mile.
The weak and old mistreated but the young and strong held up in style.
Following water and grassland to settle as homestead in tents,
Herding cattle and sheep like bees and ants in open land.
Sheep and horses driven again when grass and water exhaust,
At seventh refrain I loathe why I reside here and find myself lost.
If an all-seeing eye is watching why it sees not I’m alone drifting?
If the Almighty keeps order why my world’s upside-down shifting?
I haven’t offended the one high above why am I betrothed into a foreign race?
I haven’t neglected the Almighty why am I banished to the wilderness without trace?
To relieve myself from sorrows this eight refrain ends,
Yet when the melody ends to melancholy my heart tends.
Heaven has no end, earth has no brink,
Melancholy in me is endless also I think.
Life passes suddenly as it is ephemeral and toyed,
Yet in my prime I am not overwhelmed with joy.
Regretful, I wish to learn from heaven high,
Yet in vast space no reason’s found to confide.
Looking far above are just mists and grey,
Sentiments at ninth refrain to whom shall I convey?
Eighteen Refrains on Tartar Pipes Cai Yan [Cai Wenji] (ca. 177-?)
Leaving Han Kingdom to enter Tartar territory,
Home lost and body violated I’d rather die than be sorry.
Wearing fur blanket scared me to the bone and flesh,
Stinking sheep taste numbed my feelings to clash.
Boisterous drum racket lasted from dusk to dawn,
Wintry winds stealthily through outskirt tents were drawn.
Third refrain ends with present grief and the past recalled,
When will my repressed sorrows and frustrations be forestalled?
All day all night I yearn for my homeland,
Bitterness I endure more than anyone can stand.
In disaster and chaos there’s no one to lead,
So ill-fated only I ended up in Tartar hand indeed.
‘Tis hard to fit into foreign customs,
To whom I tell what I can’t accustom?
‘Tis hard recalling my experiences to be told,
On the completion of the fourth refrain my sorrows grow.
I wish my yearning to be delivered by south-migrating geese,
And news obtained from home by north-returning geese.
But geese fly high and away I could hardly find,
Broken-hearted I’m muted with thoughts deep in mind.
Strumming the zither at the moon I frown,
Sad fifth refrain denotes meanings profound.
In icy and frosty weather I feel bitterly cold and low,
Though hungry dried meat and milk I can’t swallow.
I hear Long River murmuring as if sobbing at night,
At morn Great Wall meandering yonder though in sight.
Reminiscing the hardship of my long journey hither,
At pathetic sixth refrain I wish not to play the zither.