To a Sick Buffalo
By Li Gang
You’ve ploughed field on field and reaped crop on crop of grain.
Who would pity you when you are tired out and done?
If old and young could eat their fill, then you would fain.
Exhaust yourself and lie sick in the setting sun.
This poem personifies an old sick ox. By what the old ox said when it was facing its approaching death after it had labored hard all its life without any repayment, the poet expressed his lofty ideals of hoping the country’s ordinary people to be able to live a better life and being ready to dedicate his life to it. The last two lines of the poem are often quoted.
Li Gang (1083-1140), statesman and man of letters of the Northern Song Dynasty, was a native of Shaowu (in present day’s Fujian Province). His courtesy name was Boji. He lived in the transitional period from the Northern Song Dynasty to the Southern Song Dynasty and was the prime minister under Emperor Gaozong, the last emperor in the last years of the Northern Song Dynasty. In the face of the invasion of the Jin troops, he firmly advocated a war of resistance against aggression, and opposed moving the capital southwards, and he even led troops himself fighting against the attack of the Jin army. But the capitulators were in power at that time, so Li Gang was dismissed from his post only about seventy days after he assumed assume office. After the capital was moved to the South, he repeatedly submitted memorials to the emperor to put forward matters of vital importance on how to recover the lost territory, but his suggestions had not been adopted. Throughout his life he concerned himself with affairs of state and showed solicitude for the people. Li Gang also liked writing poems, which showed his sincere love for the country and his concern about his country and people.