A 1200+ yrs old poem

This morning, I tackled a big piece: it’s an interesting poem from the Tang period which depicts the departure of the soldiers and deplores the permanent state of war in those times.

This translation (only ⅓ of the poem) is quite a challenge. The classical Chinese is minimalist in form but the richness of the vocabulary makes it more descriptive than it seems. A lot of subtleties are lost. I added an English version (which is rough) to the Toki pona (which is super rough).

If you are interested, please feel free to propose your own version. And of course, if you have any advice or corrections, I’d love to hear from you!

兵車行

nasin tawa pi jan utala
the military column

Author : 杜甫 (Du Fu 712-770)

  1. 車轔轔,馬蕭蕭,行人弓箭各在腰。

tomo tawa li tawa li kalama suli
jan utala pi soweli tawa li mu suli
jan utala ale pi sijelo poka li jo e ilo utala

The carriages rattle and roar, the horses neigh
The column’s soldiers all have bows and arrows at their belt

  1. 耶孃妻子走相送,塵埃不見咸陽橋。

tan ni la ken ala kama lukin e ma tomo Senja pi nasin sewi tan ko ma
jan mama en jan meli en jan lili li tawa toki tawa pona

Parents, wives and children came to say farewell
Because of the dirt, no one can see XianYang’s bridge

  1. 牽衣頓足攔道哭,哭聲直上幹雲霄。

ona ni li luka e len pi jan utala tan ni:
ona ni li wile pake e tenpo pi tawa weka
jan mute li pana e telo oko
toki ike pi ona ni li wawa li kama tawa lon kon sewi

Some of them were crying and were trying to prevent soldiers from leaving by grabbing their cloth. Their crying was so loud that it pierced the clouds

  1. 道傍過者問行人,行人但云點行頻。

jan pi nasin poka wile sona e ni: “sina mute tawa lon seme?”
jan utala li toki e ni: “mi mute tawa utala suli. “
“tenpo ni la, utala li kama lon tenpo mute.”

Passers-by on the road asked the soldiers where they were going
Soldiers from the column answer: “we were conscripted, it happens quite often nowadays”

  1. 或從十五北防河,便至四十西營田。

“jan utala pi tenpo lili li tawa awen e linja telo lon tawa lete (north) “
“jan ni li kama e jan suli la ona li tawa utala tan lawa ma lon nasin pi suno pini”

“At only 15 years old, some have been deployed to guard the (Yellow) river in the north.
At 40, they were sent to fight for the west territories.”

  1. 去時里正與裹頭,歸來頭白還戍邊。

kin tenpo pi kama sin lon tomo la jan ni linja lawa li ale walo”

“They had white hair by the time they returned home.”


To get you in the mood, here is an epic performance:


The poem ends this way:

新鬼煩冤舊鬼哭,天陰雨溼聲啾啾!

The new ghosts lament their misery while the old ones continue to cry,
The overcast sky whistle hissing sounds in the humidity of the rain.

Source: https://www.shiwenlu.com/shi/10076.html