THE CHARCOAL SELLER

(A Satire against “Kommandatur”)

An old charcoal-seller
Cutting wood and burning charcoal in the forests of the              Southern Mountain.
His face, stained with dust and ashes, has turned to the
colour of smoke.
The hair on his temples is streaked with gray: his ten fingers are black.
The money he gets by selling charcoal, how far does it go?
It is just enough to clothe his limbs and put food in his
mouth.
Although, alas, the coat on his back is a coat without lining.
He hopes for the coming of cold weather, to send up the
price of coal!
Last night, outside the city,—a whole foot of snow;
At dawn he drives the charcoal wagon along the frozen ruts.
Oxen,—weary; man,—hungry: the sun, already high;
Outside the Gate, to the south of the Market, at last they stop
in the mud.
Suddenly, a pair of prancing horsemen. Who can it be
coming?
A public official in a yellow coat and a boy in a white shirt.
In their hands they hold a written warrant: on their tongues
—the words of an order;
They turn back the wagon and curse the oxen, leading them
off to the north.
A whole wagon of charcoal,
More than a thousand pieces!
If officials choose to take it away, the woodman may not
complain.
Half a piece of red silk and a single yard of damask,
The Courtiers have tied to the oxen’s collar, as the price
of a wagon of coal!

From: A Hundred and Seventy Chinese Poems
Translator: Arthur Waley

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