Going out of the Fortress

Wang, Zhi-huan (688 A.D.-742 A.D.)

The Yellow River is far up among the white clouds.
One lonely garrison sits by a mountain ten thousand feet high.
Must tribal flutes complain about willow trees 1?
The spring wind can never cross the Jade Gate 2.

1 The words used to the song "Plucking a Willow Withe" from the time of the North dynasty are:

Mounting a horse without a whip,

A traveler plucks a willow withe instead.

After dismounting, playing the flute,

The traveler feels disheartened.

Later poets often associate "plucking a willow withe" and "playing a flute" with separation from one's home. Here Wang expresses double sympathy toward border guards. First, they play tribal flutes to vent their sorrow. Second, the border is so barren that they do not even have a chance to see a willow tree which might remind them of home.

2 The fortress was near the Jade Gate, toward the west end of the Great Wall. The spring wind usually comes from the east. The Jade Gate is so far west that the spring wind cannot reach there. Consequently, the land outside the Jade Gate is barren.