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The Songs of Six Border Cities

Zhang, Xiao-xiang 1 (1132-1169)

    When I gaze at the long Huai River in the distance, I see strategic passes and fortresses scattered on the boundless flat land. My view is dimmed by clouds of dust. The frosty wind is strong and the border area is quiet. Low spirited and lost in thought, I recall the war between the Jin and Northern Song dynasties. Our defeat in the war with Jin was almost due to fate rather than human power. The area between the Zhu River and Si River, the place of music and singing 2, also fell to enemy hands. When the cattle and sheep returned at sunset, the enemy scouts moved freely without challenge in the area occupied by Jin's troops across the river. When I watch the King of Jin hunt in the evening, their torches on horses illuminate the entire river. The sad sound of their whistles and drums startles me.

    The arrows in the quiver on my waist and the sword in my sheath are covered with dust and insects. What have they accomplished? It is easy to lose an opportunity. My aspiration soars in vain. Another year is about to end. The old capital of the Northern Song dynasty is remote and indistinct. The shields and flags held in dancers’ hands remind me of the distant battlefield. I hope the beacon fire 3 will be extinguished and the war will end. The envoys of Jin and Southern Song gallop hurriedly in succession as though there is an emergency. I have heard the veterans of the Northern Song dynasty often gaze south at the emperor's rainbow 4 flag decorated with feathers. This makes us indignant and causes our tears to stream down in torrents.

1 An-guo was Xiao-xiang Zhang's other first name. He was a native of Wu-jiang City in Li-yang County. In 1154, he attended the Palace Exam and won first place.

2 "The place of music and singing" refers to the school where Confucius taught.

3 In ancient China, when the enemy attacked China's border, a fire would be lit in a beacon tower. Once another beacon tower miles away saw the fire, it would light a fire of its own to notify the next beacon station. This warning system would quickly notify the capital when a war occurred at the border.

4 Here "rainbow" means "colorful".