Introduction to classical Chinese (part 4)

A sad poem for wartime: 兵车行

Welcome to our lesson on the classical Chinese poem 兵車行. This poem, composed by the renowned Tang Dynasty poet 杜甫 (Du Fu), depicts the harsh realities of war and the tough life of soldiers. In this lesson, we’ll delve into the original classical Chinese text, comparing it with modern Mandarin, and offer translations and explanations in English.

Text of the Poem

The poem 兵車行 consists of several lines, each rich in imagery and emotion. We will break them down one by one for a better understanding.

  1. 車轔轔,
  2. 馬蕭蕭,
  3. 行人弓如滿月,
  4. 鬥人馬如流星.

Translation and Pronunciation

Here we provide a table comparing the original classical Chinese phrases with their modern Mandarin counterparts, their pinyin transliteration, and English translations.

Classical Chinese Modern Mandarin Pinyin English
車轔轔 车辆连绵不绝 chē lín lín The carts roll on and on
馬蕭蕭 马匹悲鸣 mǎ xiāo xiāo The horses whinny softly
行人弓如滿月 行人弓箭挽满月形 xíng rén gōng rú mǎn yuè The marchers’ bows are drawn like full moons
鬥人馬如流星 战士们马速如流星 dòu rén mǎ rú liú xīng The warriors’ horses dash like shooting stars

Cultural and Historical Context

This poem paints a vivid picture of a military campaign’s grim reality. Du Fu, through his evocative imagery, reflects the turmoil and chaos of his time, particularly during the An Lushan Rebellion. Understanding the historical background enriches the reading experience, as it places the poem within the broader tapestry of Chinese literary history.

Analysis and Interpretation

  • 車轔轔 and 馬蕭蕭: These lines effectively convey the continuous movement and the somber mood of the scene. The repetitive sounds in the original text mimic the monotonous rumble of carts and the sad whinnying of horses.
  • 行人弓如滿月, 鬥人馬如流星: These lines contrast the steady preparation of the soldiers with the swift action of battle. The imagery of full moons and shooting stars adds a layer of natural beauty to the harshness of war.

Vocabulary Review

In this section, we’ll review some of the key vocabulary from the poem.

Classical Chinese Mandarin Pinyin English
chē Cart, chariot
行人 行人 xíng rén Marchers, travelers
鬥人 斗士 dòu rén Warriors, fighters

WWe’ve only seen the beginning of the poem. Since I can read your mind, I know you’d like to study the rest. It shouldn’t be long now…