The Ballad of Mulan

Traditional 6th Century Chinese Poem

Translated by Jack Yuan

The sound of one sigh after another,

As Mulan weaves at the doorway.

No sound of the 
loom and shuttle,
Only that of the girl lamenting.

Ask her of whom she thinks,
Ask her for whom she longs.

"There is no one I think of,
There is no one I long for.

Last night I saw the army notice,
The Khan is calling a great draft –

A dozen volumes of battle rolls,
Each one with my father's name.

My father has no grown-up son,
And I have no elder brother.

I'm willing to buy a horse and saddle,
To go to battle in my father's place."

She buys a fine steed at the east market;
A saddle and blanket at the west market;

A bridle at the south market;
And a long whip at the north market.

She takes leave of her parents at dawn,
To camp beside the 
Yellow River at dusk.

No sound of her parents hailing their girl,
Just the rumbling waters of the Yellow River.

She leaves the Yellow River at dawn,
To reach the Black Mountains by dusk.

No sound of her parents hailing their girl,
Just the cries of barbarian cavalry in the 
Yan hills.

Ten thousand miles she rode in war,
Crossing passes and mountains as if on a wing.

On the northern air comes the sentry's gong,
Cold light shines on her coat of steel.

The general dead after a hundred battles,
The warriors return after ten years.

They return to see the 
Son of Heaven,
Who sits in the Hall of Brilliance.

The rolls of merit spin a dozen times, 
Rewards in the hundreds and thousands.

The Khan asks her what she desires,
"I've no need for the post of a gentleman official,

I ask for the swiftest horse,
To carry me back to my hometown."

Her parents hearing their girl returns,
Out to the suburbs to welcome her back.

Elder sister hearing her sister returns,
Adjusts her rouge by the doorway.

Little brother hearing his sister returns,
Sharpens his knife for pigs and lamb.

"I open my east chamber door,
And sit on my west chamber bed.

I take off my battle cloak,
And put on my old-time clothes.

I adjust my wispy hair at the window sill,
And apply my 
bisque makeup by the mirror.

I step out to see my comrades-in-arms,
They are all surprised and astounded:

'We travelled twelve years together,
Yet didn't realise Mulan was a lady!'"

The buck bounds here and there,
Whilst the doe has narrow eyes.

But when the two rabbits run side by side,
How can you tell the female from the male?


*The Chinese name is Hua Mulan, in the tradition of Chinese family names coming first and “first name” coming last.  Hua means “flower” and Mulan means “Magnolia,” so the English name would be “Magnolia Flower(s)”