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!
the military column
soweli tawa pi jan utala li mu suli
sijelo poka pi jan utala ale 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
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
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
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”
“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.”
“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:
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.