Chinese Poems – A Shepherd’s Song

By the side of the rill,

At the foot of the hill

The grassland stretches under the firmament tranquil.

The boundless grassland lies

Under the boundless skies.

When the winds blow

And grass bends low,

My sheep and cattle will emerge before your eyes.

效勒川,

阴山下田。

天似穹庐.

笼盖四野田。

天苍苍,

野茫茫。

风吹草低见牛羊。

This poem was composed in the mid Northern Wei Dynasty during the Northern – and Southern Dynasties. It was originally written in Xianbei (Sienpi) dialect, singing the praise of the beautiful prairie which was the home of the ancient Chile people. It was translated into Chinese later by an anonymous person, thus forming such a poem consisting of long and short lines. The translator, however, was familiar with the life of the grassland and had a good command of Chinese.  Although the lines vary in length, the poem is plain and smooth and can be read aloud fluently. It has become a rare treasure in the Chinese poetic treasure-house singing the life of the ethnic minority people.

The first line tells the readers the geographical background, and the second line shows that the poet felt the grassland boundless when he was standing on it gazing upward into the sky and downward onto the grass. When one looks as far as his eyes can on the smooth and vast grassland, he sees that the heaven and the earth appear to merge at the horizon and form a circle around him. Only those who have experienced this personally can write the lines “Heaven looks like a vaulted house, which shrouds the vast expanse of the open ground.” The last two lines point out that between the boundless sky and the earth, it’s full of life. The rich grass covering the land grows higher than the herds, surging as the wind blows and one can see cattle and sheep grazing here and there when the grass bends Iow. There is quietness in motion and motion in quietness in the poem, so the poem is full of vitality. The whole poem is magnanimous, making us feel carefree and happy. The poem has really expressed the herdsmen’s love for their native land, and has thus become one of the most excellent pieces of the grassland pastorals.

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