Poems of Meng Jiao
Leaving the East Gate
On a starving horse, bony and driven,
A lone rider emerges from the East Gate.
One day of travel for a young man,
Will take this weak old man ten days.
This chilly scenery is not for me,
Scampering down the grassy plain.
I am tiny and silent in a grassy desolation,
Frightened at night, beneath a dark moon.
All my life I've woven
A thousand verses from big fancy words.
My way is like a thrashing silkworm --
Winding, held back, emotions manifold.
I could be completely wrong here. This could easily be recast as "What a Lone Rider Makes Me Think of" with only a few changes. The rider and not Meng Jiao could be heading out into the wastes. But Meng Jiao could be traveling alone to an official posting as I have him here. Men usually went ahead of their wives, if the wives went at all, if Meng Jiao has his second one yet. Traveling alone on a post horse would be dangerous, more because of violent men than anything else.
And the Chinese, at least among the Tang poets, are quick to call themselves old. A grey hair or two and they moan forever more. But there is a point to this Tang aging that is easy to overlook. Even if you were relatively well off, which Meng Jiao never was, life was way harder then, day to day, than you can easily get your mind around now. Think of the quickly-aging homeless you pass in today's cities, if you notice them at all and don't just turn away from their quickened passage from life into death. The friction of a hard life, for most people, wears that life away.
So, at forty-six, with his first official appointment, Meng Jiao may feel pretty ground down sometimes, especially traveling at night across desolate grassy wastes.