Poems of Meng Jiao
Cold sky a deep and distant grey as
This north wind withers the mulberry trees.
Thick ice, with no meaning in its cracks.
Brief sunlight, with no warmth in its radiance.
My attempt to strike a fire fails,
Force of shadow overwhelming the light.
My bitter song ends inaudibly,
Sealed by my frozen cry.
Meng Jiao is cold. Very cold. But he is not out in the wilds. Mulberry trees were cultivated. Meng Jiao is out in the farmlands, probably in a cold shack. Farmers lived in shacks, often several families to a single shack. But farmer's wives could keep a fire going. So he's probably in an old abandoned shack where he fails to start a fire, probably from lack of practice. It's beginning to sound like he is a young man. He is certainly not a middle-aged, married official. No wife in the poem at all. So he's not yet forty and it's before or after his first wife dies. A single bitter winter will make a proficient fire-starter out of anyone who doesn't freeze to death. So Meng Jiao is, possibly, quite young here, never married, on the fringe of farmlands, in a ratty old hut, freezing his honeybuns off. But 调 suggests a tune, which suggests a qin2 (琴), which usually gets translated as "lute" but is really much more like a koto. Playing a qin, writing a poem which he sings as he plays, too cold to finish the song, a fine start for a poetic career that endures for fourteen hundred years.