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DIALOGUE ON POVERTY Yamanoue Okura (around 700 a. C.)

Question by the poor man: On cold nights when the cold rain beats and the wind howls, on cold nights when the cold snow falls and the sleet swirls, my only defence against that cold is to nibble black salt and sip sake dregs. But I finger my beard – scanty and starved – sniffle and cough. and say to myself ‘I’m a good fellow’ – proud words, and empty: I freeze all the same, swathing myself in sheets made of sacking, piling on top my flimsy clothes. The cold still seeps through. But there are some poorer than I am, parents cold and hungry, womenfolk and children choking on tears. On cold nights how do they live?


Reply by the destitute man: Heaven and earth are broad, so they say. For me they are narrow. Sun and moon are bright, so they say. They don’t shine for me. Is it the same for all men, this sadness? Or is it for me alone? Chance made me man and I, like any other, plough and weed. But from my clothes – thin even when new – tatters hang down waving like seaweed. In my rickety hovel the straw lies on bare earth. By my pillow squat my parents, at my feet my wife and children: all huddled in grief. From the earth no smoke rises, In the cauldron a spider weaves its web. How do you cook rice when there is no rice left? We talk feebly as birds. And then, to make bad worse, to snip the ends of a thread already frayed and short, the village headman comes, shaking his whip in my face, shouting out for his tax, right at my pillow. Is this the way things go? Must it go on and on? Yes. We are on earth.

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