Of the Good Earth

A Farming Family
(From the Chinese of Fan Ch’ang-ta, 1126-1193AD)

In daylight they go to hoe the fields;
at night they spin their flax.
Every village lad and lass
is busy at some task.
And tots who can’t yet understand
how to plough or weave
can practise planting melons
by the shade of mulberry trees.

The Farmer’s Day Begins
(From the Chinese of Mei Yao-ch’en, 1002-1060AD)

The cock crows thrice. The sky’s getting light.
Fixed up, flasks of tea, bowls of rice.
Good people, all anxious for an early start ploughing.
I pull up the window blinds. Dawn stars still gleaming.

Bamboo in Rock
(From the Chinese of Chang Hsieh, 1695-1765)

Holding firmly to the mountain,
not loosening that grip
from the first time rooted, fixed
in fissures of the rock.
Though stricken time and time again,
such strong and sturdy stems;
the winds of all four quarters
of no concern to them.

Chi Le Plain
(Anonymous, 420-589 AD)

Chi Le plain, below Yin Shan.
Sky like a tent, envelops the land.
Sky darkest grey, steppe so vast.
Wind beats grass low. See the herds pass.

Grass on the Ancient Plain
(From the Chinese of Pai Chu-yi, 772-846AD)

Grass spreads across the plain.
Each year the same recession and rebirth.
Wildfire cannot burn it up entirely –
when spring winds blow, it grows again.
From far away its scent will reach the ancient road,
its new, fresh brightness hug the ancient Wall.

From ‘Beneath the Silver River: Translations of Classical Chinese Poetry’

6 thoughts on “Of the Good Earth

    1. Thank you, Cicymru! Yes, some nice, simple observations by those poets. I like the first one very much, with the tiny tots busy under the mulberry trees. Then there’s the pure simplicity of ‘Chi Le Plain’ spread out under the great tent of the sky; so easy to imagine the herds slowly lumbering by.

      Liked by 2 people

  1. These are wonderfully pictorial cameos of the tenacity of nature and man’s involvement in the natural cycle of living things. I particularly like the simplicity of Chi Le Plain, it paints such a powerful picture so effortlessly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Gill. Yes, a nice set of pictures, here, painted over a period of some 1,300 years. ‘Chi Le Plain’ is a favourite of mine, too; ‘below Yin Shan’ – ‘shan’ in Chinese, means ‘mountain’. So in the distance there is the great mass of Yin Mountain, like us, watching the herds pass by interminably over the wide grasslands.


    1. Thank you, Jacydo. Yes, the first two are timeless pictures of life on the land. Amazing to think that such down-to-earth poetry was being written a thousand years ago.


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