己亥岁二首 Two Poems Written in the Year Ji Hai
曹松 (Author: Cao Song, 9th century)
其一 Number One
泽国江山入战图，lake nation river mountain enter war map
生民何计乐樵苏。live people how plan happiness firewood grasscutting
凭君莫话封侯事，rely on you no talk about grant marquess affair
一将功成万骨枯。one general achievement success ten thousand bones dry
The southern part of a nation blessed by fresh water enters the arena of war.
How can the people find happiness cutting firewood or grass?
Please don’t talk about winning aristocratic titles.
For one general’s glory, a thousand bones are left drying, crumbling to dust.
其二 Number Two
传闻一战百神愁，spread hear one war hundred deity worry
两岸强兵过未休。two banks strong armies pass no stop
谁道沧江总无事，who say Cang river always no affair
近来长共血争流. recent come long together blood strive flow
I’ve heard that when war begins, hundreds of gods grieve.
There are strong armies on both sides of the river, but neither can stop this thing.
Who says nothing ever happens beside the Cang waters?
Now there are torrents of blood and water flowing east, struggling against each other.
These two poems were written by Cao Song, a poet in the late Tang Dynasty. Cao took the imperial examination many times, but didn’t pass the final exam and receive the degree until he was in his early 70s. Since four other scholars in their 70s passed that final exam in the same year as Cao, the announcement from that year’s exam was nicknamed “the list of five elderly”. Cao was famous for using accurate and refined words in his poems. His experience of failing the imperial exams many times is a reflection of how difficult it is for the educated people to pass such exams and become government officials at that time.
During Cao Song’s era, the power of the warlords had significantly expanded, and the central government of the Tang Dynasty had essentially lost control of the local armies. Cao’s poems focused on the sufferings of the commoners when local armies engaged in constant warfare with each other, and pointed out clearly that it was the commoners who were paying the unbearable cost of the warfare.