On the Frontier
All aspects change on the frontier when autumn comes:
Wild geese fly southward without faltering;
Shouts echo on all sides along the border when the bugle blows;
Amid a thousand mountains,
In the spreading mists and the westering sun,
the lonely citadel is closed.
A cup of poor wine, – my native land is ten thousand miles away;
The Huns have not yet been conquered, I have no power to go home.
The Tartar flute comes wailing over a land frost-bound;
One can hardly sleep –
The general’s white hair and the soldiers’ tears.
Autumn brings to the frontier prospects queer;
Wild geese en route to Hengyang* won’t loiter here.
These gloomy wilds have sounds entirely their own.
With each bugle call comes a peculiar drone.
A thick mist o’er distant peaks forms a dismal sight.
As the lonely city closes its gates for the night.
A cup of turbid wine! My home – far, far away.
Duty not done – to return home? No such a day!
The note of the tribesman’s fife floats in the air.
Hoary frost has covered the ground, dark and bare.
The nights are long; but people can hardly sleep.
The general’s hair turns white; the soldiers weep.
* Hengyang: a city in Human Province, Central South China.
Tune: Pride of Fishermen
When autumn comes to the frontier, the scene looks drear;
Southbound wild geese won’t stay e’en for a day.
An uproar rises with horns blowing far and near.
Walled in by peaks, smoke rises straight
At sunset over isolate town with closed gate.
I hold a cup of wine, yet home is far away;
The northwest not yet won, I can’t but stay.
At the flutes’ doleful sound over frost-covered ground,
None falls asleep,
The general’s hair turns white and soldiers weep.
Key: Yü Chia Ao
The autumnal scene is strange at the frontiers,
Wild geese do not stop at Hengyang but fly south.
The border sounds all around had mingled with the horns.
Among a thousand mountain peaks,
In the lone, closed city, a smoke rose toward the setting sun.
A cup of crude wine and leaving home three thousand leagues,
How could I return, without first carving the Mt. Yen Jan?
The sound of Tartar’s flute brings no cheers
To this chilly, frosty night,
And I, the white-haired general, can’t sleep but shed tears!
lines for the yu jia ao melody
the frontier is brooding in autumn
geese are heading south quickly now
they know it is time to leave this place
the challenges of military trumpets
echo from valley to valley along the border
the ancient high mountains surround us
columns of smoke raise warnings in the hills
the sun going down carries away the light
behind the city with the locked gates
soldiers drink wine there and reel abandoned
they could not repel the invaders
and now they can’t go home
the sound of the qiang flute never ceases
frost hardens the upland meadows
no one can rest easy in the long nights
and the general’s hair turns gray
soldiers posted to their watch
brush at their tears with numbed fingers
Yu Jia Ao
Outside the border fortress the autumn scene was strange.
Wild geese flew past with no sign of course change.
Called up by the bugle, border sounds came alive far and near.
Among numerous mountain tops
A pall of smoke hung straight against the sunset
In the tight-shut fortified town.
Holding up a cup of cheap wine
To my home thousands of miles away:
Before the enemies are checked
There is no way of returning.
Music from the aliens’ flute floated around,
The ground hoary with frost.
The general’s white hair, the men’s sobs.