The Sigh of a Peasant Woman

This year the rice plants ripen late,
They won’t be ready
until frosty winds begin to blow.
And when frosty winds came
the rain never stopped,
Mold grew on the hoe,
the sickle turned rusty.


Her eyes had no more tears,
yet still the rains came down.
Staring bitterly at yellow stalks
lying in black mud.
For a month she stayed
in a shack in the fields,
Picked what she could
when the weather cleared,
then followed the ox home.


Sweating,
she carried the crops to the market,
her shoulders bruised from the load,
But received a price
usually paid for mere husks of grain.
She sold the ox to pay taxes,
stripped wood from her roof
for her cooking fire,
Desperate acts
with no thought for next year’s hunger.


This year the tax collectors
demand cash not crops
To recruit Tibetans
to guard the vast northwestern frontier.
Sage officials fill the court,
but the people’s lives get worse,

Better to end her days as the River Lord’s wife!

(Su Shi 1036-1101)

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