Poems of Meng Jiao
For the Cultivators
I urge you, diligently plow your fields
And fill your barns with grain.
Cut down your mulberry trees
And be satisfied with plainer clothes.
Clear frost covers the earth
And the grasses are no longer green.
Harsh winds enter the woods
And no leaves remain upon the branches.
It's as if I spent my youth not plowing.
How can I be complete?
The title is literally, "For the Farmers." But Meng Jiao has no farmers in mind for these exhortations. This could be a final draft of the last poem. He is speaking to those who are studying in order to assimilate their culture. This is not the same as education. In America, we have no culture, only education. In China, in Meng Jiao's time, there was a common culture. I'm not idealizing here. It was a practical acquisition these scholars had to achieve and demonstrate. But it was a culture. And Meng Jiao can see that the landscape of culture is covered in frost, its grass is dead, harsh customs, another meaning of "wind," strip bare the trees of its woods. And the woods (林) are a symbol of culture. The Hanlin Academy was the Wood of Writing Brushes Academy. Finally, Meng Jiao realizes that he has failed to gain what he needed in his efforts to become cultured. He seems, as he enters his thirties, to be truly growing up. Which puts him above most men, who simply spread out upon a patch of rocky ground, like lichen.