Lament of the Frontier Guard

Original Text: 
Ezra Pound, "CATHAY for the most part from the Chinese of Rihaku, from the notes of the late Ernest Fenollosa, and the decipherings of the professors Mori and Ariga," Lustra (London: Elkin Mathews, 1916): 78-79. PS 3531 O82L8 1916 Robarts Library.
2Lonely from the beginning of time until now!
3Trees fall, the grass goes yellow with autumn.
4I climb the towers and towers
5        to watch out the barbarous land:
6Desolate castle, the sky, the wide desert.
7There is no wall left to this village.
8Bones white with a thousand frosts,
9High heaps, covered with trees and grass;
10Who brought this to pass?
11Who has brought the flaming imperial anger?
12Who has brought the army with drums and with kettle-drums?
13Barbarous kings.
14A gracious spring, turned to blood-ravenous autumn,
15A turmoil of wars-men, spread over the middle kingdom,
16Three hundred and sixty thousand,
17And sorrow, sorrow like rain.
18Sorrow to go, and sorrow, sorrow returning,
19Desolate, desolate fields,
20And no children of warfare upon them,
21    No longer the men for offence and defence.
22Ah, how shall you know the dreary sorrow at the North Gate,
24And we guardsmen fed to the tigers.
By Rihaku. [Li Po?]


1] Translated from Li T'ai-po, II, 2.14a. Rihaku (701-72), to which Pound attributes this poem, is the Japanese form of Li Po, which Leung Shu Ren tells me is a British pronunciation of the Cantonese name of the poet known today throughout as Li Bai in Mandarin. No other English translation of this poem is recorded by Kai-chee Wong, Pung Ho, and Shu-leung Dang, A Research Guide to English Translation of Chinese Verse (Chinese University Press, 1977). Back to Line
23] Rihoku (died 223) fought for China against the Tartars. Back to Line
Publication Start Year: 
Publication Notes: 
See Gallup A9
RPO poem Editors: 
Ian Lancashire
RPO Edition: 
RPO 1998.