Border Song (III) by Lu Lun 塞下曲 (卢纶)

Wild geese fly high in moonless night;

The Tartars through the dark take fight.

Our cavaliers after them go;

Their swords are soon covered with snow.





This poem vividly depicts an intense scene of fighting with only twenty characters. The first part describes the enemy’s fleeing helter-skelter, while the last part describes the Tang troops’ brave pursuit and attack. When connected together, the whole poem is like a lively tableau: in a pitch-dark night when the sky was overcast and snowflakes were falling thick and fast, the Khitan invaders who knew that they had lost the battle wanted to seize the opportunity to flee, but didn’t expect to startle the soundly sleeping wild geese. The wild geese flied high with fear, notifying the Tang troops who were watching closely. The officers and men took up their bows and broadswords. Lightly equipped on horse back, they began to chase the enemy in spite of the snow. Their bodies, horses and even weapons were covered with snowflakes. They couldn’t attend to all these things and made up their minds to wipe out the fleeing enemy.

The Tang troops in this poem represented the winners. However, they didn’t relax their vigilance. It should have been time for stopping fighting and taking a rest at night, but the officers and men were prepared at all times to brandish their weapons and go into the battle. Marching and fighting in such a dark night with whirling snow would be very difficult. Yet the officers and men full of indomitable spirit and militancy. The poem didn’t describe the scene of fighting which would be more horrible. The poet left this inevitable outcome for us to imagine, and it made the poem pregnant with meaning.

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