Singing for a Cicada While in Prison

Lo, Pin Wang 1 (622 A.D.-684 A.D.)

A cicada sings in the autumn.
I, imprisoned by false accusation, am moved to great sorrow,
Which turns all my hair white.
How can I endure a sad song from your darting and flitting black head 2?
Heavy dew 3 makes flying difficult;
Strong wind drowns a loud voice easily.
No one will believe in your integrity
Even though you eat wind and drink dew.
How can I convince people of my innocence?

1 Lo was one of the four great poets in the early T'ang dynasty. During Lo's time, Empress Wu persecuted many innocent people. A rebel army led by General Hsu tried to fight against the evil empress. Per the general's request, Lo wrote for a famous essay which called people to arms by denouncing Empress Wu. Later, the rebellion was crushed and Lo was captured. In this poem, Lo uses a cicada to describe himself.

2 "Black head" refers to the cicada.

3 Heavy dew and strong wind imply that the political environment was treacherous and that free expression was not allowed.