Poems of Meng Jiao
Chill River Chant
Winter solstice, bright sunlight,
Heaven's passive energy congeals.
Chill river, waves of ice,
Three hundred miles frozen and flowing.
Flying birds, all come to ground.
Travelers all fall to silence.
Reedy shoals, white in the distance.
Towering banks, rough and bare.
Suddenly, mists block our progress.
Winds fall away, emptying our sail.
Suddenly, all is so different,
Our confidence becomes our only hope.
Frozen ford cannot be crossed alone --
One must rely on friends.
These friends are not young gentlemen
But men who say just what they feel.
Frozen river again resumes its flow.
The grounded birds again take flight.
Everyone explodes with curses.
Rude echoes return in chorus from high walls.
It really doesn't take a genius
To see that the river runs deep.
How will your spring winds blow
If you don't travel the dangerous way?
Meng Jiao is giving us a proto-"Mourning the Gorges" in a poem that may well take place on the Yangzi by the Three Gorges in winter. It's cold enough to freeze the water. But the river breaks up its own ice with its strength. Only a wide ford is shallow enough to stop a boat's progress with its solid ice. In one of his poems, Bai Juyi describes these conditions from a vantage point on the dry and warmer shore. Meng Jiao runs down the icy river with the boatmen. Bai Juyi is filled with compassion for those boatmen. Meng Jiao encourages us to run the river. I'm not really comparing the two poets. I'm just thinking about the differences.