Poems of Meng Jiao
Broken Willow Branches
Willow full of broken branches.
Tokens of leave-taking times.
Parting gifts, pulled and broken,
From gentle branches hanging down.
Spring arrives as we expected.
Parting happens unforeseen.
I fear now, as time approaches,
Regret for my far-off return.
Broken branches have no voices
But linger long in memory.
Your beauty and those green willows
Joined at our leave-taking time.
Spring winds blew about the tower.
In the wind, the willows sang.
Without a branch, parting was bitter,
Long regretted through the years.
Flowers, startled clouds of swallows,
Leaves alight in clear pond's waves.
Who could bear to say goodbye there
By Jiao River's border town?
Willows (柳) are, in Chinese, a wordplay on "Stay!" (留) and a broken willow branch was a gesture saying, "I wish you would stay." For Meng Jiao, this is a personal remembrance, I think. Else, why name the town? The details of memory seem too clear and are unlike the normal language of a Tang parting-poem. If the later collators can be trusted (???), this poem comes substantially after the death of Meng Jiao's first wife and during his western wanderings. He met someone on Jiao River and was close to her. I say this because the 春风 is a code for sex. Usually, it just means "spring breezes" until sexually-mystified sinologists get a hold of it. But I think, this time, Meng Jaio remembers sex among the singing willows. And this, combined with her not even offering a willow branch when they parted (probably for his having to work somewhere) was a sadness that stayed with him.