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.