Poems of Meng Jiao
Old Hunan Bamboo
(For Duke Lu Qianduan who sang A Musical Hunan Lament with me.)
You firmly grasp the new sound of
Old Hunan Bamboo which the people have yet to hear.
What do we call those who know this sound?
On this clear night, I play it for you.
Once upon a time, along this Hunan river
There floated a Hunan river cloud.
With a shout, he changed into a phoenix, then
Suddenly he was a crane without a flock.
In autumn, the river flowers did not fall.
The mountain sunlight darkened at midday.
The corrupted people cried out in a tumult.
Our lonely cloud longed for the spirit of harmony.
I almost feel our resentment is tangible.
I want to turn to those who are our friends.
I weep in sympathy for the good man who chose death.
These thousand years this Hunan river has flowed on.
So Meng Jiao was singing the last poem and he wasn't singing alone. Let's make some guesses here. He's in Hunan and still in his wandering years. But he has become known as a poet to the extent that dukes will join him in singing his poetry. So he's at least in his thirties. So Dezong is emperor. He is in his second phase of his reign where he is struggling with rebellious circuit governors and alienating his own generals and troops. So the empire is descending into a mess of strife and factions. What I translate here as "Old Hunan" is the earlier kingdom of that region, Chu (楚) and the Hunan river in both poems is the Xiaoxiang or Xiang, except this Xiang can mean the river or Hunan itself. The man who chose death in both poems is Qu Yuan (aka Ling Jun (灵均) in the poems) whose suicide on the fifth day of the fifth month of 278 BC has long been celebrated as the Dragon Boat Festival. Our cloud who became an phoenix and then a crane could be a Daoist who became an emperor and then lost power during the Chu. But this is just a guess based on the symbolism involved. And without more data, the combinatorics of symbolism will lead us astray. Clearly, Meng Jiao and his duke know who it is.