The Preface says that this ode was used in spring, when the king in person turned up some furrows in the field set apart for that purpose, and prayed at the altars of the spirits of the land and the grain, for an abundant year. Kû Hsî says he does not know on what occasion it was intended to be used; but comparing it with the fourth ode of the second decade, he is inclined to rank it with that as an ode of thanksgiving. There is nothing in the piece itself to determine us in favour of either view. It brings before us a series of pleasing pictures of the husbandry of those early times. The editors of the imperial edition say that its place in the Sung makes it clear that it was an accompaniment of some royal sacrifice, We need not controvert this; but the poet evidently singled out some large estate, and describes the labour on it, from the first bringing it under cultivation to the state in which it was before his eyes, and concludes by saying that the picture which he gives of it had long been applicable to the whole country.
They clear away the grass and the bushes; And the ground is laid open by their ploughs.
In thousands of pairs they remove the roots, Some in the low wet land, some along the dykes.
There are the master and his eldest son; His younger sons, and all their children; Their strong helpers, and their hired servants. How the noise of their eating the viands brought to them resounds! (The husbands) think lovingly of their wives; (The wives) keep close to their husbands. (Then) with their sharp ploughshares They set to work on the south-lying acres.
They sow their various kinds of grain, Each seed containing in it a germ of life.
In unbroken lines rises the blade, And, well nourished, the stalks grow long.
Luxuriant looks the young grain, And the weeders go among it in multitudes.
Then come the reapers in crowds, And the o-rain is piled up in the fields, Myriads, and hundreds of thousands, and millions (of stacks); For spirits and for sweet spirits, To offer to our ancestors, male and female, And to provide for all ceremonies.
Fragrant is their aroma, Enhancing the glory of the state. Like pepper is their smell, To give comfort to the aged.
It is not here only that there is this (abundance); It is not now only that there is such a time:--From of old it has been thus.