(Click on “Annotations” to see notes on this first section of the Huangling Bei 皇陵碑 translation.)
孝子皇帝元璋謹述： The filial son, emperor Yuanzhang, sincerely relates:
洪武十一年夏四月，命江陰侯吳良督工新建皇堂。 In the 11th year of the Hongwu era, during the fourth month, the summer season, I commanded Wu Liang, the Duke of Jiangyin, to supervise work on the new construction of the Imperial Hall.
予時秉鑒窺形，但見蒼顏皓首，忽思往日之艱辛。 At this time, I picked up a mirror and examined my appearance, seeing that my color was pale and my hair white. My thoughts abruptly turned to the hardships of the past.
況皇陵碑記皆儒臣粉飾之文，恐不足為后世子孫戒。 Moreover, I realized the original text for the Imperial Tomb Tablet had been embellished by the Confucian ministers to the point that I feared it would not sufficiently admonish later generations and descendants.
特 述艱難，明昌運，俾世代見之， 其辭曰: Thus in order to describe the hardships and difficulties while clarifying the advances and good fortune so that future generations can witness this, the text is as follows:
Line 1: 昔我父皇,寓居是方 In former times, my imperial father lived in this place;
Line 2: 農業艱辛,朝夕彷徨. He endured the hardships of agriculture, working day and night, always worrying.
Line 3: 俄爾天災流行,眷屬罹殃 All at once, calamities gripped the land and my family met with disaster.
Line 4: 皇考終於六十有四,皇妣五十有九而亡 My imperial father had reached the age of 64, and my imperial mother 59, when they perished;
Line 5: 孟兄先死,合家守喪. My eldest brother was keeping vigil with the family before he died.
Line 6: 田主德不我顧,呼叱昂昂. Our landlord, (Liu) De, would not attend to our needs, carrying on with his arrogant shouting;
Line 7: 即不與地,鄰裡惆悵. Our neighbors were saddened that we had not been offered a burial plot.
Line 8: 忽伊兄之慷慨,惠此黃壤. To our surprise, Liu’s elder brother was generous to us, and kindly offered some yellow earth.
Line 9: 殯無棺槨,被體惡裳 Carried to the grave with no coffins, the bodies were shrouded only in rags;
Line 10: 浮掩三尺,奠何肴漿. They float concealed three feet under, how could there be proper food and drink offerings?
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(And click on the annotations to learn background on Zhu Yuanzhang, his family and the versions of this text. Also see Why does this text matter?)