Tang Dynasty poet Li Bai, translated by Gary Geddes with the assistance of George Liang.
Battle of South City
Last year’s battle at the source of Sang Gang,
this year’s at Tsing Leung basin.
Teoshi rains slice through the ranks,
horses graze on the snows of T’ien Shan.
Long marches, years of toil, for what:
three armies brought to their knees.
Huns sowed slaughter in their midst
and left a crop of bones upon the land.
Chin raised up its wall to stop invaders,
Han then kept alive the beacon fires.
Flames of warning aren’t extinguished
and no end to fighting yet in sight.
Casualties strewn on every hand,
cries of dying horses pierce the sky.
Vultures rip and disembowel the dead,
they leave intestines hanging from the trees.
When soldiers’ bodies fertilize the weeds,
what value have a general’s strategies?
The war machine’s so violent and cruel,
let saints employ it as a last resort.