Monday, May 26, 2014


Heroes in the Realm of Ghosts

"Guo shang," from Ch'u Tz'u, tr. David Hawkes:
Grasping our great shields and wearing our hide armour,
Wheel-hub to wheel-hub locked, we battle hand to hand.
Our banners darken the sky, the enemy teem like clouds:
Through the hail of arrows the warriors press forward.
They dash on our lines; they trample our ranks down.
The left horse has fallen, the right one is wounded.
Bury the wheels in; tie up the horses!
Seize the jade drumstick and beat the sounding drum!
The time is against us: the gods are angry.
Now all lie dead, left on the field of battle.
They went out never more to return:
Far, far away they lie, on the level plain,
Their long swords at their belts, clasping their elmwood bows.
Head from body sundered: but their hearts could not be vanquished.
Both truly brave and also truly noble;
Strong to the last, they could not be dishonoured.
Their bodies may have died, but their souls are living:
Heroes among the shades their valiant souls will be.
The same, tr. Burton Watson:
We take up the halberds of Wu,
    put on rhino hide armor.
Chariots clash, hub against hub,
    short swords parry.
Banners blot out the sun,
    the enemy come on like clouds.
Arrows fall in answering volleys,
    warriors vie for the lead.
They have broken through our formations,
    trampled over our lines.
The trace-horse on the left has fallen,
    the right one is slashed with knives.
The chariot wheels are dug in,
    teams of four horses entangled.
We seize our jade drumsticks,
    beat a call on the drums.
But Heaven's season frowns on us,
    the awesome gods are angry.
Our stalwart ones are all slaughtered,
    cast away on field and plain.
They set out, never to come back;
    went, never to return.
The level plains are distant,
    the road stretches on and on.
They buckled on their long swords,
    shouldered the bows of Ch'in.
Though heads are parted from bodies,
    their hearts have no regret.
Truly they were courageous,
    true men of arms as well.
To the end fierce and unyielding,
    they could never be cowed.
Though in body they have died,
    their spirits take on divinity.
Valiant are their souls,
    they are heroes in the realm of ghosts.

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