Role Model to Superheroes: Du Fu, Tang Dynasty Poet for the People (712–770 A.D.)

Ballad of the Army Carts

Wagons rattling, banging,
horses neighing, snorting,
draftees marching, bows arrows at hips,
fathers, mothers,
wives, children,
run to say goodbye —
kick up so much dust you can’t see Xian-yang Bridge!

Families pull at clothes,
feet stamp in anger!
Block the way — shrieking!
Despair raises tears to heaven, there is no need to pray

I walk alongside the column.  I ask, “What is happening??”

A soldier shrugs, “This happens all the time
from age fifteen they are sent to guard the North,
at forty they garrison the West
When leaving home the village elder wraps their turbans,
when returning home their hair is white

Frontiers flood with blood oceans
War loving emperors dream of conquests forever

Haven’t they head, in Han, east of the mountains,
there are two hundred prefectures, thousands upon thousands of villages
growing nothing but thorns?

Even where strong wives handle hoe and plough,
crops grow chaotically, fields are disasters

It’s harvers for men of Quin, they’re such good fighters
they’re driven from battle to battle like dogs, chickens

Even though you were kind enough to ask, sir,
perhaps I shouldn’t complain, as a soldier

Take this winter,
Shanxi troops were never sent home.
Their tax collectors are demanding land taxes though — land fees!
Where is that money supposed to come from?!?

A son is born to be killed

Have you seen the shores of Kokonor?
White bones lie in drifts, uncollected

New ghosts moan,
old ghosts cry

Under lowering clouds their voices scream in rain.

(Du Fu’s retirement cottage and writing room)
Du Fu, Mao, and Me
(native Chinese tourists who took this picture also got a laugh)