Pity the Peasant
Hoeing cereal in the midday sun
His sweat drops and nourishes the grain and the earth
But few people know his supper
Is nothing but hard work
Li Shen’s poem is usually titled Pity the Farmer. Parents teach this poem to their children to remind them to eat everything on their plate. Sound familiar?
The original Chinese title is:
And it is often translated as Toiling Farmers. This does not seem to me an adequate translation. First of all, 悯, is literally the Chinese character for “pity” and Li Shen, the poet, is using his poem as a supplication. Take sorrow on, or take pity for the peasant who puts food on your table. The second character 农, translates as either farmer or peasant. I like peasant for obvious social and phonetic reasons. Then again, Mao’s Communist Revolution extolled the peasant, so maybe farmer is the better choice.
The rhyme is aaba.
The pinyin translation:
Chú hé rì dāng wǔ
hàn dī hé xià tǔ
shuí zhī pán zhōng sūn
lì lì jiē xīn kǔ
禾 is the Chinese character for cereal grain. The character is used in both the first and second lines, but I have chosen to vary the word selection because Li Shen intends to convey the meaning of all cereal grains and not just one type of grain like rice or wheat.
Literally, the last line should be “each and every granule is hard work.” It begins with the repetition of 粒, which suggests to me that the peasant struggles mightily to grow and harvest each and every granule. And ends with 辛 苦, which can be interpreted as bitter work or hard work.
I suppose the child gets the point that the peasant does not always eat or that the fruits of his labor are sometimes bitter.