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.
《卖炭翁》

唐朝,白居易, (772-846年)

卖炭翁,伐薪烧炭南山中。
满面尘灰烟火色,两鬓苍苍十指黑。
卖炭得钱何所营?身上衣裳口中食。
可怜身上衣正单,心忧炭贱愿天寒。
夜来城外一尺雪,晓驾炭车辗冰辙。
牛困人饥日已高,市南门外泥中歇。
翩翩两骑来是谁?黄衣使者白衫儿。
手把文书口称敕,回车叱牛牵向北。
一车炭,千余斤,宫使驱将惜不得。
半匹红绡一丈绫,系向牛头充炭直。