Poems of Meng Jiao
A Musical Hunan Lament
I hide here, well, for the sake of virtue ...
The bitter, the fragrant, I uproot them all the same.
Mad changes rage through these autumn woods.
Our songs, our justice, they wither just the same.
The best trees avoid this deep corruption.
Thinking men mourn this common, clever slander.
A man once entered such a backwards flow and,
Clinging to his best ideas, famously chose death.
I wish I could sort out all their motives --
Clear or murky, each runs in its own channel.
I wish I could sort out all the players --
Bad or good, all come from far away.
My ambitions, I guess they are hard to maintain.
These feelings of mine, how will they turn out in the end?
Few understand this Hunan tune I'm playing
With its lonely echo of useless hesitation.
If I translated merely the surface layer of this poem, it would be one more petite chose de chinoiserie. Which is all most translators, past and present, give us. A well-known 20th C translator of Mourning the Gorges gave us no more than that. Ah, trés amusante. But, while I have no idea what was going on in Hunan that set Meng Jiao off, in his wandering years, sufficiently to have these deep feelings, I can still avoid trivializing his work. I can give you a deeper layer than, in lines 11-12, "I wish I could distinguish all these nests. Owls'nests or mythical phoenix-like birds' nests, they are all far away." Nest (巢) is also "lair" which suggests "factions" or "players." Similarly, spring (泉) is also "origin" and so "motives" of the players. I'm sure that at the time 嘉木 or "excellent tree" alluded to more than "tree." But the allusion escapes my resources, perhaps everyone's present resources. One suspects that this poem was chanted by Meng Jiao to the accompaniment of his lute (琴) which means he sat, out in the woods or in his ratty hut, singing this more than once or twice.