At the Western Pass, wind and sand,
leafless trees, yellowing grass.
From these barren heights our guards
keep watch for the Tartar foe.
Far below, a deserted fort commands the plain,
but not a wall of the old village stands.
Only bones, thousands of bones,
heaped and bleaching in the bracken.
Who is more to blame, the treacherous Tartar
or our emperor beside himself with rage?
Obedient armies beat the drums of war,
the sun goes dark, the air smells of blood.
Recruiting officers raid the countryside—
three-hundred-sixty thousand men!
Mid cries of woe and tears like rain
the doomed conscripts are marched off.
Who will plow the fields and dig the gardens
while our sons pace the bitter mountain pass?
Don’t tell us how Li Mu once triumphed,
where soldiers have always been fed to wolves!
—Li Po (T’ang)
Translated by Taylor Stoehr