There came an officer knocking by night at my door
In a loud voice demanding grain-tax.
My house-servants dared not wait till the morning,
But brought candles and set them on the barn floor.
Passed through the sieve, clean-washed as pearls,
A whole cart-load, thirty bushels of grain.
But still they shout that it is not paid in full:
With whips and curses they push my servants and boys.
Once – a mistake – I entered public life;
I am inwardly ashamed that my talents were not good enough.
One after the other I held four government jobs;
For doing nothing — ten years’ salary!
Often have I heard that saying of ancient men
That “good and ill follow in an endless chain.”
And today it should set my heart at rest
To return to others the grain in my great barn.
(adapted from a translation by Arthur Waley)
More about Bai Juyi
Song of Everlasting Sorrow
The Philosopher (a poem)
To read more of Bai Juyi’s poetry: