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Syndic Literary Journal

The Departure of a Homeless Man

By Chinese Poet Du Fu  712-770

Narration By Bill Wolak


Translated from Chinese by Hong Ai Bai and John Digby

After the end of the Anshi Rebellion,

the countryside became wasted and bleak


My hometown was left with nothing

to eat but mugwort and pigweed 


More than a hundred families

used to live in this village


But during the turbulent years

people scattered and fled elsewhere


Even if they were still alive

there was never any news about them


They might have died

decomposed into ashes and mud


After we suffered defeat

in the battles of Ye City


I turned around and set out tramping

the old roads toward my hometown


Though I walked for a long time

I saw only deserted lanes


As the sun became thinner and weaker

the air was filled desolation and remorse


In my village I came face to face

only with foxes and raccoons


With their hair standing on end

they were wailing furiously at me


Barely anyone remained 

except a few old widows


Even birds were reluctant to leave

the branches where they perched


Like them I would rather remain

in poverty than leave my hometown


When springtime arrived I took my hoe

and headed toward the field alone


From dawn until dusk

I hoed and irrigated the land


When the town’s governor

discovered that I came back


He wanted to draft me again

to fight in the war


Since the battle site was close to my town

I wouldn’t need to take anything with me


Fighting nearby as a single man

I would still be at home


If I were sent far I would feel lost

yet there was nothing left in my empty house


So it didn’t make any difference

whether I was staying local or sent away


For a long time I felt guilty about my mother

chronically tormented by diseases


She passed away five years ago

and lies buried comfortless in the valley


She gave birth to such a son

as me inept and powerless


Throughout our whole lives

we both suffered all kinds of pain


Without a place called home

what kind of life did we lead?


Can we even be called

citizens of this society?



Compiled/Published by LeRoy Chatfield
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