Poems of Meng Jiao
What I'm Thinking
Strings of purity, five-stringed sound,
In their soothing honesty, my heart soars.
These chaste strings cherish the old ways.
Straightened and relaxed, I'm a high, pure peak
With a floating voice and its wild blossoms.
Barbarian-like, I want to go conquer something.
Chinese poetry being what it is, if I showed Meng Jiao this translation, I'm sure he would say, "Yes, you can read it like that. But you're missing the point." I take some comfort in the fact that his peers found his poetry a bit difficult. In this poem, he is playing with pairs -- 弦 and 贞, 松 and 直, "strings" and "purity," "relaxed" and "honest." And I think he is playing with the structure as well, creating both couplets and triplets.
In Chinese, with characters AB, A modifies B. Usually. So "strings" modify "pure" in line 1 and "pure" modifies "strings" in line three. These are almost certainly lute or qin (琴) strings. These two characters are straightforward. But 松 is not. This character can mean several flavors of relaxed (it's used the the "relax and sink" of taijiquan). It also means "pine tree." And the Daoists use it to mean "long life." What we need here is a context for this poem and we're not (ever?) going to get one. So we're stuck with sorting out "relaxed/pine tree/long life" modifying and being modified by "honest." We had these two in a bigram in the last poem and "pine tree" seemed to work. Which means it's probably wrong there too.
And then, if we are reading the Chinese directly, we are aware of three couplets and two triplets, so that the middle two lines break and don't break at the same time -- which is impossible to convey in translation without the equivalent of poetic 3-D glasses for the mind.
On the plus side, we learn that Meng Jiao played the lute.