梭罗《红蚂蚁大战黑蚂蚁》 -经典文学英译-中英双语赏析



By Henry David Thoreau

THE BATTLE OF THE RED AND THE BLACK ANTS, From Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, Chapter XII, “Brute Neighbors.”

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862), American philosopher. Thoreau built himself a hut in the woods near Walden Pond in Walden, Massachusetts, U.S.A., and did only enough work to keep himself alive. He spent most of his time observing things about him.

One day when I went out to my wood-pile, or rather my pile of stumps, I observed two large ants, the one red, the other much larger, nearly half an inch long, and black, fiercely contending with one another. Having once got hold they never let go, but struggled and wrestled and rolled on the chips incessantly. Looking farther I was surprised to find that the chips were covered with such combatants, that it was not a “duellum” but a “bellum,” a war between two races of ants, the red always pitted against the black, and frequently two red ones to one black. The legions of these Myrmidons covered all the hills and vales in my woodyard, and the ground was already strewn with the dead and dying, both red and black. It was the only battle which I have ever witnessed, the only battlefield I ever trod while the battle was raging;internecine war; the red republicans on the one hand and the black imperialists on the other hand. On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely.

I watched a couple that were fast locked in each other’s embraces in a little sunny valley amid the chips; now at noonday prepared to fight till the sun went down, or life went out. The smaller red champion had fastened himself like a vise on his adversary’s front, and through all the tumblings on that field never for an instant ceased to gnaw at one of his feelers near the root, having already caused the other to go by the board; while the stronger black one dashed him from side to side, and, as I saw on looking nearer, had already divested him of several of his members. They fought with more pertinacity than bulldogs. Neither manifested the least disposition to retreat. It was evident that their battle-cry was “Conquer or die.”

In the meanwhile there came along a single red ant on the hillside of this valley, evidently full of excitement, who either had dispatched his foe, or had not yet taken part in the battle; probably the latter, for he had lost none of his limbs;whose mother had charged him to return with his shield or upon it. He drew near with rapid pace till he stood on his guard within half an inch of the combatants; then, watching his opportunity, he sprang upon the black warrior, and commenced his operations near the root of his right foreleg, leaving the foe to select among his own members; and so there were three united for life, as if a new kind of attraction had been invented which put all other locks and cements to shame. I should not have wondered by this time to find that they had their respective musical bands stationed on some eminent chip, and playing their national airs the while, to excite the show and cheer the dying combatants. I was myself excited somewhat even as if they had been men. The more you think of it, the less the difference.


wood-pile, collection of firewood, heaped in a pile.

stumps, the part of the tree that remains after the trunk and the branches have been cut off, usually a little of the trunk left protruding from the ground and the roots. Thoreau’s wood-pile is made up of these upturned stumps now dry and ready to be chopped up and burned.

contending, fighting; struggling.

chips, the thin pieces that fly out when one is chopping wood. These chips lay strewn over the whole ground, in Thoreau’s woodyard.

incessantly, without stopping.

combatants, fighters; warriors; contenders.

“duellum”and“bellum.”Duellum is a contest between two persons, while bellum is the Latin word for war, a contest between two races, a war between many persons.

pitted, matched in a fight; fighting; set in a pit to fight.

legions. The legion was a body of soldiers, from 3,000 to 5,000 men, forming the principal unit of the ancient Roman army. The word is used here to denote a military force or army.

Myrmidons. According to Greek mythology, the Myrmidons were a fierce Thessalian tribe, in northeast Greece, who colonized the island of Ægina. Homer immortalized them as the warriors of Achilles, the great Greek hero. They were said to be descendants of ants (Greek myrmex=ants), metamorphosed into men. In this essay, the Myrmidons are taken as representatives of the best type of fighters.

hills and vales, the uneven ground of his woodyard.

internecine war, war to the death; war in which neither side was willing to yield, in which the ultimate result would be destruction of both sides.

Why did the author use red with republicans, and black with imperialists?

resolutely, decidedly; steadfastly; full of resolution and determination.

life went out, they were no longer alive; they were killed.

sun went down, night came, when it was the custom in ancient times to stop the battle. After a night of rest, the battle was continued the next morning.

vise, a tool or device having two jaws, closing by a screw, lever, cam,and the like. Here, the jaws of the ants are compared to the jaws of the vise.

adversary, opponent; enemy.

feelers, organs in the ant for testing things by touch or for searching for food. You might call them the arms of the ants.

to go by the board, to go over the board or side of the ship; hence, figuratively, to suffer complete destruction or overthrow.

dashed, flung; threw; knocked.

divested, taken away from him; removed from him.

members, feelers and other parts of ants.

pertinacity, stubbornness; obstinacy. That species of dog known as bulldog, with its large jaws and stocky body, is noted for its stubbornness. Once a bulldog has his jaws on any part of your anatomy, he will not let loose, even if beaten to death with a stick.

manifested, showed; displayed.

dispatched, put to death; sent out of the world.

return with his shield or upon it. This is the well-known charge or parting instruction of a Spartan mother to her son upon his departure to war. The meaning of the mother is very clear. Her son was either to return from the war victorious and honored, or to die fighting bravely for his country. It was the custom then to place the bodies of dead heroes upon their shields to convey their corpse home for burial. Return with your shield victorious and alive; or, be carried back upon your shield, honored among the dead. This story comes down to us through Plutarch, in whose “Apothegms of the Laconian Women,” the story appears thus: “Another (Spartan mother) on handing her boy his shield, exhorting him, said, ‘My son, either this or upon this.’” This truly Laconic exhortation is generally extended to read as Thoreau gives it. Sparta is in Laconia, in the southern part of ancient Greece. The Spartans were noted for their military organization and vigorous discipline and steady valor. The Spartans were likewise known for expressing much in a few words. This concise mode of expressing oneself is now called “laconic.”

three united for life. The two red ants and the one black ant were biting one at the other and were so closely embraced together that they seemed to make one ant instead of being three separate ants.

locks and cements serve the purpose of linking things together or of fusing them. Now, however, these three ants were fused together closer than any cement could fuse them, and locked tighter together than any lock could unite them. They have found an attraction that is superior to the attraction of locks and cement, that puts the other things to shame.

eminent, high above the ground, in an elevated position.

excite the show, make the show more exciting; rouse the fighters to a more fervent pitch of excitement.


  1. Show by what means Thoreau magnifies the battle of the ants so as to decrease the difference between ants and men.











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