A Senile Charcoal Seller

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Feb 13, 2017 02:33
by Bai Juyi, Tang Dynasty, China, (772-846)

There is an old man who sells charcoal.
All year round, he cuts firewood and makes charcoal in Nanshan.
His umber face is covered in layers of dust.
The sideburns are silver, his fingers darkened.
Why does he sell charcoal?
For clothes and food, to eke out a living.
Despite his loose, thin clothes, he wishes that it were colder so he could sell more.
The snow from last night is knee-deep.
It’s a good time to sell charcoal, then.
At dawn, he pulls a fully-loaded ox cart to a bazaar, scraping up the ice.
By the time the sun climbs high in the sky, the old man becomes famished, the ox tired.
They rest in the mud right outside the city's south gate.
Two horses draw near, ridden by two palace eunuchs.
One of the eunuchs recites an imperial edict from a paper in his hand.
Soon after, they shout at the ox, whip it, and draw the cart into the palace.
The load weighs hundreds of pounds.
The old man is reluctant but has no choice because the eunuchs are rude and haughty.
A few pieces of fabric, counted as the payment, are wrapped around the ox’s neck.


I studied this poem in junior high, but didn't have many thoughts about it back then. People in China often say that the older a person becomes, the deeper they will understand the ancient poems they studied in their youth. Now I agree. The other day, I came across this poem again, and was stunned to discover that over more than 1,300 years, in Chinese society, the authority suppressing the lowest class hasn't changed one bit.

唐朝,白居易, (772-846年)


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