Poems of Meng Jiao
Late Snow Chant
Rich and poor love it when snow turns clear.
Everyone goes outside to take their ease.
Every detail of the mirrored lake stands out
As the frozen heavens slowly float away.
Everyone becomes a wandering immortal.
Every house again appears brand new.
Children clap their white hands together
As the elderly sing praises of the emperor.
Affability flows on without cease.
Auspicious immortals, how rare you are.
At first you know them by their impressive gaze
But in the end you doubt they're really gifted.
Even the village marketplace is clean
And by the gate a crowd's excitement heightens.
The common folk are all gazing to the east.
Far in the west, imperial banners can be seen.
Study the heavens. Blessing or curse?
In the palace there are plenty of problems.
And to solve them we get their peace and tranquility.
It's just like living in the time of Emperor Yao.
Old ways are not yet understood.
New words are yet too fine and subtle.
It is pleasant to stop drinking and
Sit, humbled by the delicacy of a singing-girl.
Choosing the right word is never easy.
Getting it all just right keeps me up till daybreak.
Dawn comes before old writing
But regulated or not, it's still a poem.
I want to take the Emperor Yao's jade flute
And blow out the most depressing song.
What a strange poem. We start out in the aftermath of a late snowstorm. Everyone comes out and, rich or poor, they all act like normal people. And then normalcy returns as we listen to the local big mouths, or big shots, talk. But the crowd is still excited about something, the passing storm perhaps, in the east. While in the west, imperial war banners.
Oh. So maybe it wasn't a snowstorm. Maybe this was all just the people's relief after the battle passed them by, leaving the village standing. The character for snow, 雪, can also mean revenge. So maybe it was an imperial punitive expedition. This is even more possible by Meng Jiao's use of "peace and tranquility" (太平) which is often a political phrase like "hearts and minds" in our time. The soldiers brought their bloody peace and tranquility and, praise the emperor, we're still alive to talk about it. This is followed by a little more sarcasm bounced off the emperor Yao, who lived so long ago his great kingdom was probably about ten villages of dirt huts.
But wait. Now we go into old ways and new ways and the rest of the poem is about poetry itself. Except for the end, which is about how watching pretty women sing is better than most other things anyway, at least for half the people on the planet. The "old writing" here is 古文 which also means "old script," as in really old stick-figure script.
But it is also a literary movement which was started by Han Yu. A sort of "conservative" rebellion against the newer Tang regulated verse. A return to the ideals of Han and earlier poetry, anachronistically achieved like all retreats into golden ages. Meng Jiao has mentioned 古文 before and I'm starting to think he has been playing with ideas he's gotten from Han Yu. Which dates our poem at least into Meng Jiao's forties.
Of course, nothing I've said so far is certain. Which is a good sign. If you are certain about the meaning of a classical Chinese poem, it's a sure sign that hell has frozen over.