A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems/The Desecration of the Han Tombs

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THE DESECRATION OF THE HAN TOMBS

By Chang Tsai [third century A. D.]

At Pei-mang how they rise to Heaven,
Those high mounds, four or five in the fields!
What men lie buried under these tombs?
All of them were Lords of the Han world.
"Kung" and "Wēn"[1] gaze across at each other:
The Yüan mound is all grown over with weeds.
When the dynasty was falling, tumult and disorder arose,
Thieves and robbers roamed like wild beasts.
Of earth[2] they have carried away more than one handful,
They have gone into vaults and opened the secret doors.
Jewelléd scabbards lie twisted and defaced:
The stones that were set in them, thieves have carried away.
The ancestral temples are hummocks in the ground:
The walls that went round them are all levelled flat.
Over everything the tangled thorns are growing:
A herd-boy pushes through them up the path.
Down in the thorns rabbits have made their burrows:
The weeds and thistles will never be cleared away.
Over the tombs the ploughshare will be driven
And peasants will have their fields and orchards there.
They that were once lords of a thousand hosts

Are now become the dust of the hills and ridges.
I think of What Yün-mēn[3] said
And am sorely grieved at the thought of "then" and "now."

 
  1. Names of two tombs.
  2. In the early days of the dynasty a man stole a handful of earth from the imperial tombs, and was executed by the police. The emperor was furious at the lightness of the punishment.
  3. Yün-mēn said to Mēng Ch'ang-chün [died 279 B.C.], "Does it not grieve you to think that after a hundred years this terrace will be cast down and this pond cleared away?" Mēng Ch'ang-chün wept.