Wei Yingwu – Gazing at the Farmhouse

Wei Yingwu (韋應物, 위응물, 737-792) was a Tang dynasty (唐, 당, 618-907) bureaucrat and poet. He was born in Jingzhao (兆, 경조), Wannian (萬年, 만년), near modern day Xi’an (西安, 서안). At the age of fifteen, he became one of the Three Guardsmen (三衛郎, 삼위랑) and assisted to Emperor Xuanzong (玄宗, 현종, 685-762, r. 712-756); however, he was dismissed for poor behavior during the An Lushan Rebellion (安史之亂, 안사의 난, 755-763) that devastated China. After the rebellion, during the reign of Tang Emperor Suzong (肅宗, 숙종, 711-762, r. 756-762), he passed the imperial civil service examinations (科擧, 과거) and served in various bureaucratic positions, most notably being appointed to the successive Provincial Governorship positions (刺史, 자사) of Chuzhou (滁州, 저주), Jiangzhou (江州, 강주), and Suzhou (蘇州, 소주). Since Wei Yingwu’s last office was as Provincial Governor of Suzhou, his nickname was “Wei Suzhou.” He was also renowned for his poetry. Some five hundred thirty six poems composed by Wei Yingwu can be found in the Complete Tang Poems (全詩, 전당시), another historic anthology of Tang Dynasty poems. In particular, he was highly regarded for his pentasyllabic archaic style poetry (五言古詩, 오언고시). Wei Yingwu’s poetry was said to have been very much influenced by Tao Yuanming’s poetry (陶淵明, 도연명, 365-427), and thus was called “Tao-Wei” (陶·韋, 도·위). Another renowned Tang dynasty poet, Bai Juyi (白居易, 백거이, 772-846), gave high evaluations Wei Yingwu’s poetry, commenting that his poetry can be considered as “having achieved its own class by itself” (自體, 자성일가지체). 

In the poem below, Wei Yingwu writes about the Day of Awakening of Insects (驚蟄, 경칩). The day marks when the Sun is between the celestial longitudes of 345-360 degrees. As it is a solar term, it falls around March 5 of every year on the Western Gregorian Calendar, but varies on the Chinese Lunar Calendar. The day traditionally marked when spring’s warm air returned, along with the thunderstorms that would startle or awaken (驚, 경) insects. In Korea, it also marked when frogs and toads come out of hibernation and lay eggs in the water.

觀田家 관전가

Gazing at the Farmhouse

微雨衆卉新 미우중훼신  Fine rain renews packs of flowers.
一雷驚蟄始 일뢰경칩시  One thunder, and the Awakening of Insects begin.
田家幾日閑 전가기일한  For how many days, will the farmhouse be at leisure?
耕種從此起 경종종차기  Plowing and planting will start from now.
丁壯俱在野 정장구재야  All then men in their prime age are in the fields;
場圃亦就理 장포역취리  To the vegetable garden, they also go out to administer.
歸來景常晏 귀래경상안  When they return and come, the scene is always late;
飮犢西澗水 음독서간수  They feed the calves with the waters from the western ravines.
飢劬不自苦 기구불자고  Hungering and toiling, they do not agonize by themselves;
膏澤且爲喜 고택차위희  With well time rain, they are gratified.
倉廩無蓄儲 창름무축저  In the silo, nothing is stored up;
徭役猶未已 요역유미이  The conscripted laborers too still have not finished.
方愧不耕者 방괴불경자  I now pity those that have not plowed;
祿食出閭里 녹식출려리  Our allowance and food comes from these hamlets and villages!

Definitions:

Small • rain • many • flora • new
One • thunder • to startle • insects • to begin
Rice paddy • house • how many • days • leisurely
To plow • seeds • from • this • to arise
Prime age • men • all • to reside • fields
Yard • vegetable garden • also • to go out • to administer
To return • to come • scene • always • late
Feed • calves • west • ravine • water
To hunger • to toil • not • by itself • agony
Oil • moisture •  also • to become • happy
Storage • storage • to have not •  to store •  to store
Forced labor • labor • still • not • to cease
About to • to pity • not • to plow • indefinite noun marker
Salary • food • to originate • hamlets • villages

Notes:

  • Pentasyllabic archaic style poetry (五言古詩, 오언고시). Riming character (韻, 운) is 紙(지), an oblique tone (仄聲, 측성).
  • Korean translation available here.
6 comments
  1. setohj said:

    Thanks for another well presented post, but shouldn’t “Heptasyllabic” under Notes be changed to “Pentasyllabic?”

  2. riroriro said:

    _ 幾日閑 = how many days of leisure ? = not many
    _ 晏 = in this context , would mean bright ?
    _ 飮犢西澗水 = calves drrink water from the western brook
    _ 膏= fat ; 膏澤= two-word expression meaning benefits ( rain or gifts , benefits , foods bestowed )
    _ 愧不耕者= I am ashamed not being a peasant

    • 歸源 said:

      1. Corrected
      2. Most people return from work at night, even today. So, I think it refers to being late.
      3. Current translation is not much different.
      4. Current translation is a literal translation.
      5. 愧 is used as a transitive verb here.

  3. setohj said:

    ~ 晏 = late. I agree with Kuiwon’s. In the Kaiping dialect, we use 晏 to mean late as in “late getting out of bed” (晏起床).
    ~ 祿食 = official salary, official’s pay or emolument. Kuiwon’s literal translation is accurate, but I’m just suggesting terms that might allude to Wei’s dislike for bureaucratic life in officialdom, a feeling he seems to share with Gao Yuanming.

  4. 1. I also agree that Kuiwon’s translation of 耕者 as “those who had not plowed” is best as a poetic term for farmers. Being a peasant would be highly inaccurate since not all peasants are farmers (woodcutters and fishermen)

    2. 晏 definitely here means late. Modern Cantonese also use this meaning as in 晏起 (wake up late), 晏食 = eating late.

    3. Oily sweat? Hahah! Here it means “timely rain”

    4. More precisely, a grouping of 25 families in ancient times. So a “hamlet” is best since it is smaller than a village.

    5. 祿食, I would translate this as “official/bureaucrat salaries” since it would be quite confusing in just using “allowances” alone.

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